The season is only half-run, but this had the feel of a seismic result. Seconds after Dwight Gayle’s brilliant, unexpected winner the final whistle blew. Aston Villa’s players slumped to the turf, Palace’s ran to celebrate with their fans, and those home supporters still in the ground turned on Paul Lambert as he stalked towards the tunnel.
Villa have now lost four on the spin, won twice at home all season, and are just three points clear of a relegation zone they spent most of last season scrambling to stay clear of. Gloom has seeped into the brickwork of this grand old arena and may take some time to flush out.
While Villa peer downwards nervously, Palace are looking up. They have escaped the bottom three for the first time since the season took shape and suddenly it seems as if Tony Pulis may maintain his proud record of never being relegated.
“It is a significant result after being beat 3-0 at home by Newcastle on Saturday,” said the Palace manager. “It also gives me a chance to talk to the chairman and try and bring in a couple of players in the January transfer window.”
Pulis said Villa “will be fine, they just need a bit of luck” Lambert’s view was that they need their spine back with Ron Vlaar and Christian Benteke injured and Ashley Westwood suspended, but Benteke is ten matches without a goal which suggests not too much faith should be invested in him being the saviour.
Villa have scored six goals at home all season, the worst record in the four divisions. There is plenty of effort but a dearth of imagination. That is not just the fault of the midfield; the four-man forward line was static and easy for well organised Palace to defend against.
Over the course of the season, no Premier League team has had less possession than these two sides which reflects the poverty of their passing and counter-attacking approaches. The first-half slid from consciousness amid a welter of misplaced passes. Not until injury-time did a goal loom but Libor Kozak’s header was neatly headed over his own bar by Adrian Mariappa.
It was not enough and the previously somnolent home support roused themselves to jeer off their heroes with cries of ‘roobish Villa’. Stung, Villa began the second period with more intent. However that provided space for Palace to counter and Jason Puncheon twice should have done better after good work by Yannick Bolasie. Brad Guzan also turned a Barry Bannan shot onto the post while Villa’s chances were wasted by Andreas Weimann, twice, and Gabby Agbonlahor.
When Julian Speroni turned a Jordan Bowery header over after 89 minutes, a goalless draw seemed inevitable. Then Dean Moxey broke up a last Villa attack. Moxey was withdrawn at half-time on Saturday after a shocker against Newcastle but football invariably offers chances for redemption. Instead of thumping the ball into row Z he calmly slid a pass into the path of fellow substitute Gayle. Fabian Delph, left minding the shop, was easily turned by Gayle who then bent a shot past Guzan to stun friend and foe alike.