What the Crystal Palace manager Ian Holloway described as “a really important week for us” began with another dogged performance and, more importantly, a first victory when Dwight Gayle scored from the penalty spot after being fouled by John O'Shea, who was sent off, and the substitute Stuart O'Keefe curled a superb third goal.
Whether the week gets even better will depend on how many new players the club can bring in for what seems certain to be a fight against relegation. After the game Holloway was able to confirm the arrival of Jack Hunt, the Huddersfield full-back and Reading's Jimmy Kebe, and said he was hoping for up to five more to build competition in the squad.
If Palace are to be down among the strugglers, Sunderland, who have won only two of their last 18 League games, could well be too on this performance. This morning they sit in the bottom three and must also play Arsenal, Liverpool and Manchester United in three of their next four games. A long winter beckons on Wearside, the one encouraging feature of the afternoon coming with the return after almost six months of Steven Fletcher, whose fine header equalised Danny Gabbidon's streaky early goal.
Holloway, although determined to present himself nowadays as a serious man, could not resist a little jig on the touchline and afterwards he was full of praise for his team's efforts. "We showed great character and no mean skill," he said. "Some of it was as good as I've seen the boys play. There's a lot of games to come and I want us to be a slow burner. But I'm very, very optimistic."
Di Canio seemed equally so and was surprisingly pleased with the performance, blaming only two poor goals conceded. "They took advantage of our mistakes," he said. "We have to avoid goals like these. In general the attitude is good. It's only the third game and we have to make sure we keep going. We have ten new players. We didn't create many chances but at one stage we were 50‑50 in the game."
He had stayed in the dressing-room for a long time after the game but insisted he had not been angry with the players. "Today was difficult to be angry," he said. "My leader [captain] came back in and said sorry [for the penalty]."
Holloway had shown his faith in the players he praised for their performances by sticking with exactly the same starting XI. That meant a flexible 4-3-3 quickly converting to something more defensive when they lost the ball. It was a tribute to Dwight Gayle, the little striker from Peterborough, that he should play through the middle, pushing the more experienced Marouane Chamakh wider into a role that required more tracking back than he is used to.
Selhurst's first home goal of the campaign in the eighth minute was an odd one, although it provided Palace with a huge confidence boost, reflected in some neat one-touch football thereafter. Joel Ward's cross won a corner, the Spaniard Jose Campana took it and after a scramble in the six yard box the last touch was off centre-half Gabbidon. As he once went eight years without scoring a League goal, he was not about to allow anyone else to claim it as his team-mates celebrated.
From then on there was less defending for Gabbidon and his partner Damien Delaney to do than they might have expected. Sunderland's Czech right-back Ondrej Celustka whipped over a cross that Ji Wong-Don should have knocked in; he contrived to miss the ball altogether. Ji and Connor Wickham had been brought in for Stéphane Sessègnon, left out after being on a drink-driving charge, and the injured American striker Jozy Altidore. Neither achieved anything, however, and Ji made way at half-time for Fletcher, which proved a good move.
Palace did not wait long into the second half before making a change, the young Welshman Jonny Williams coming on to add some energy in midfield. That kept them pushing forward on the break, when Mile Jedinak and the otherwise impressive Jason Puncheon both shot too high with team-mates waiting for a pass. Palace were punished in the 63rd minute as Jack Colback crossed perfectly and Fletcher rose well to head past Julian Speroni.
But that was the sum of Sunderland's threat. Palace continued to break well and when O'Shea clearly brought down Gayle, the striker's penalty was low, hard and true. O'Keefe's 20 yard curler in added time was the sweet icing on the victory cake.
Crystal Palace (4-3-3): Speroni; Ward, Gabbidon, Delaney, Moxey; Dikgacoi, Jedinak, Campana (Jo Williams, 54); Puncheon, Gayle (Wilbraham, 83), Chamakh (O'Keefe, 83).
Sunderland (4-4-2): Westwood; Celustka, Diakite, O'Shea, Colback; Johnson, Larsson, Vaughan, Giaccherini (Mavrias, 61); Ji (Fletcher, 46), Wickham.
Referee: Lee Probert.
Man of the match: Jason Puncheon (Crystal Palace)
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