Crystal Palace vs Sunderland match report: Steven Fletcher double hands Gus Poyet vital win at Selhurst Park

Crystal Palace 1 Sunderland 3

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The Independent Football

There is no such thing as an “ugly win” two weeks after an 8-0 defeat, and Sunderland have every right to be delighted after a crucial victory at Crystal Palace.

This was a poor, tight game between two sides who are probably not going to be very far from the relegation zone at the end of the season. Sunderland played well for a patch of the first half but were hanging on for much of the second, having lost Patrick van Aanholt to a dislocated shoulder and with no available answer to Wilfried Zaha.

Palace had forced their way back into the game and they should have gone on and won it, as they needed to. They had all of the confidence and the momentum through the middle of the second half. And yet it was Palace who made the decisive errors in the final minutes, conceding twice and having a man sent off. Sunderland escaped with the points, which is all that they came for.

“We needed a win, and it was all about winning,” said a very relieved Gus Poyet afterwards. “Some managers like performance, or identity, or a way of playing. But today was about winning. Today we knew that we needed to suffer for periods, and that it would be ugly in moments. And that is the best part of it.”

Poyet was understandably thrilled with his players’ aptitude for the ‘ugly side of the game’. They conceded eight goals at Southampton too recently and the decision to throw Premier League debuts to Costel Pantilimon and Anthony Reveillere was an attempt to provide a bit more stability in defence. They never looked watertight, and should have conceded a penalty after 25 seconds when Santiago Vergini brought down Fraizer Campbell. But in the end they just about did enough.

Neil Warnock was frustrated with Phil Dowd’s failure to award a penalty for that, or for another incident involving Zaha, but insisted that his team played well despite losing a game that they needed to win. “I am proud of how we played,” Warnock said, “they put in a really good shift. The team were fantastic, super, but the goals were disappointing.”

Fletcher celebrates his opening goal

The first half was tight, tense and low on quality, but Sunderland showed just enough patience and skill, on a night short of both, to take the lead.

Van Aanholt had the ball out on the left wing, and he worked passes with Jordi Gomez and Connor Wickham before getting down to the by-line. From there, he crossed the ball back into the box where Steven Fletcher had pulled away from Joel Ward, back towards the centre-circle. Fletcher saw the gap at the near post and bounced his header into it.

A better team, with more confidence, would have taken advantage but neither Fletcher nor Vergini could convert chances just before the break and so Palace came back into the game early in the second half. Zaha and Campbell both had shots blocked by Wes Brown before the first-half substitute helped Palace level with a calamitous own-goal.

Zaha stood a cross up to the far post, where Chamakh’s header was clawed off the line by Costel Pantilimon. Campbell followed the ball wide and, unable to shoot, backheeled it hard back into the danger area. Brown, hurtling back to help out, diverted the ball into the narrow gap between Pantilimon and his near post.

That goal inspired Palace but, just like Sunderland in the first half, they could not exploit their superiority, failing to turn positions into chances or chances into goals. Sunderland were there to be beaten but Palace could not do it, and they paid the price.

Jordi Gomez watches a beautiful strike find the net

After a long spell on the back foot, Buckley brought the ball forward down the right wing. Jordi Gomez was free 20 yards from goal and Buckley rolled him a simple square pass. Facing not one real challenge from a Palace player, Gomez controlled the ball and drove into the far bottom corner of the net. It was almost an insultingly easy winner for Sunderland, having contributed almost nothing to the second half before then.

This was a must-win game for Palace and they knew it. Mile Jedinak took out some of his frustration on Gomez’s legs, and was sent off by Dowd. Palace were finished, Sunderland kept playing and in the fourth minute of added time Bridcutt broke forward, slipped in Fletcher, who lifted the ball over Speroni.

“After the difficulties of last two weeks,” said Poyet, “it would have been very easy for team to go weak and flat and lose. It was not easy to win the game.”

Crystal Palace: Speroni, Kelly, Hangeland, Dann, Ward, Jedinak, Ledley, Zaha, Bolasie, Chamakh, Campbell.

Sunderland: Pantilimon, Reveillere, Van Aanholt, O'Shea, Vergini, Cattermole, Larsson, Gomez, Buckley, Wickham, Fletcher.

Booked: Sunderland Buckley, Cattermole, Pantilimon.

Sent off: Jedinak (86)

Man of match Fletcher

Match rating 6/10

Referee P Dowd (Staffordshire)

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