Crystal Palace 1 Chelsea 0 match report: John Terry administers the fatal cut to Chelsea’s self-inflicted wounds
Mourinho sees his title hopes fade away with a lacklustre and spiritless display against a Palace side that finally rediscovers their vim
As the final whistle blew in south London, Gary Cahill slumped to the floor and his Chelsea team-mates trudged from the pitch knowing they had almost certainly lost any chance of becoming Premier League champions this season after another damaging away defeat.
Jose Mourinho went to Cahill, picking him up physically and mentally, but now he must do it to the rest of his squad, some of whom do not deserve the same commiserations as the centre-half, before the Champions’ League quarter-final first leg away to Paris St-Germain on Wednesday. Too many of them seemed to feel this would be a stroll in the sunshine to three more points, hopelessly underestimating the spirit that Tony Pulis has installed into his Crystal Palace side after they lost nine of their first 10 League games.
After losing at Aston Villa a fortnight ago, Chelsea recovered to knock out Galatasaray a few days later, but PSG are a cut above that. Mourinho is left to hope that his big game players can rise to the occasion in a manner they were never close to doing here. Of course there were chances, both before and after the unlucky John Terry headed a cross into his own net early in the second half. Even so, two excellent saves from Julian Speroni were all it took to repel them and effectively end the title challenge.
The surprise tactically, and one possible criticism of Mourinho, was that even with David Luiz and Nemanja Matic to mind the shop, Frank Lampard sat so deep in a conventional 4-3-3 formation. What little support there was for Fernando Torres, who was out-of-sorts again, therefore came from Eden Hazard and André Schürrle cutting inside, which in turn meant a lack of width. Not surprisingly Mourinho changed things at half-time, sending on Oscar for Luiz but the Brazilian made as little difference as later substitutes Mohamed Salah and Demba Ba.
A series of different formations in the second half, all equally futile, illustrated Chelsea’s impotence, and Mourinho summed up their frustration near the end when he rebuked a ball boy; claiming later he did not want the youngster to be attacked by one of his players for hanging on to the ball.
In contrast, Palace, after two successive home defeats, have rediscovered all the vim from the early days of Pulis’s reign before Christmas, when a series of home wins had them believing again. No prima donnas here, although their worst mistake after a League victory over Chelsea for the first time since August 1990 (so long ago that Ian Wright scored the winner) would be to slip into the sort of complacency their opponents displayed yesterday.
“To beat Chelsea will give everyone a boost to push on for the last seven games,” Pulis said. “The Premier League is the most competitive league in the world and that’s why it’s a great league. The top teams always have to play well or they can come unstuck.”
After the goal, Palace were able to counter-attack through Cameron Jerome, who hit a post, and Jason Puncheon, a figure of fun when he took the worst penalty of the season at Tottenham, who was outstanding down the right in combination with his full-back Adrian Mariappa.
Like so many Palace managers down the years, Pulis has been talking about the club’s “enormous potential”. Like most of them, however, he has never been in situ long enough to bring it to fruition. To avoid a fifth relegation from the Premier League immediately after going up, they need to start picking up some points on their travels – preferably starting at Cardiff next weekend – as Manchester City and Liverpool are the last visitors to Selhurst. Surely neither can be as anaemic as Chelsea were.
Presumably relieved at how little the visitors had to offer, Palace grew in self-belief. Before half-time they had two strong appeals for penalties as Jerome and Yannick Bolasie went down, as well as a good chance for the latter, who could get no power onto Puncheon’s cross.
Seven minutes into the second half, the left-back Joel Ward crossed and Terry, stretching to beat Joe Ledley to the header, directed it past Petr Cech. With Selhurst rocking and rolling, Chelsea finally forced Speroni into action, the goalkeeper responding with two excellent saves low to his left from Hazard.
Yet the final five opportunities of the match were made by the home side, mainly through breaking out at a pace their opponents did not possess. Jerome, sent through by Mile Jedinak, hit the near post; Ledley hooked wide and pulled another shot across goal; Cech saved from Puncheon and then substitute Stuart O’Keefe. In added time Speroni clutched Branislav Ivanovic’s cross to a Cup-winning roar and Palace had three invaluable and thoroughly deserved points.
Crystal Palace (4-4-1-1): Speroni; Ward, Dann, Delaney, Ward; Puncheon (Parr, 89), Dikgacoi,Jedinak, Bolasie (O’Keefe, 69); Ledley; Jerome (Murray, 87).
Chelsea (4-3-3): Cech; Ivanovic, Cahill, Terry, Azpilicueta; Luiz (Oscar, 46), Matic, Lampard (Salah, 56); Schurrle (Ba, 69), Torres, Hazard.
Referee: Lee Mason
Man of the match: Jason Puncheon (Crystal Palace).
Match rating: 7/10
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