Wilfried Zaha shows his worth as Crystal Palace hold on against Brighton in thrilling derby clash

Crystal Palace 3-2 Brighton and Hove Albion: The winger struck twice during a 30-minute spell that saw five goals scored between the two sides

Wilfried Zaha celebrates with his teammates after scoring Palace's third
Wilfried Zaha celebrates with his teammates after scoring Palace's third

A match which started as a fun and frenzied meeting of two rivals ended gripped with tension, as Crystal Palace somehow held off Brighton’s late onslaught to win 3-2 and earn three crucial points. All five goals came in a thrilling first half with the impressive Wilfried Zaha twice on the scoresheet. At the end of a long season Palace may reflect on these manic few hours – after Southampton had earlier failed to resist Chelsea’s comeback – as the moment they took a defining stride towards survival.

Brighton may already have completed the hard yards in this campaign, placed as they are seven points above trouble, but they should have added another point here when Glenn Murray squandered several presentable chances against his former club. They will hope the work is done; their five remaining games are all against top-seven teams, and three are away from the Amex.

With all that was at stake this should have been a slow burner, a probing Test match, but somehow the traits of structure and stubbornness instilled by Roy Hodgson and Chris Hughton this season flittered away in the sunshine, leaving something of a slugfest. The moments that mattered came down to delivery; both sides have masters of the art, but the difference was that Yohan Cabaye and Luka Milivojevic had far more opportunities to play raking passes and arcing crosses than their creative counterweight, Pascal Gross.

Zaha put Palace ahead after just five minutes

Selhurst Park delivered an atmosphere befitting the rivalry and the game’s significance. The Main Stand’s old metal frame trembled a little more than usual, the raucous Holmesdale Road pulsated with even more electricity, while the blue and white corner of the Arthur Wait Stand was divided by a noticeably wide partition.

It was Palace who gained control of the initial frenzy, winning stray balls and snuffing counter-attacks, and they were two goals ahead within 15 minutes. The first came via a corner routine conducted by Milivojevic, who played a simple one-two with Ruben Loftus-Cheek as Brighton dawdled before crossing for Zaha to tap over the line. Then an inswinging corner by Cabaye caused chaos: Mamadou Sakho tried to stab home, James McArthur wanted a handball for his blocked effort, until finally James Tomkins finished powerfully from close range.

But Brighton quickly took the sting out of a reverberating Selhurst Park with virtually their first foray forwards. Gross’s outswinger found Lewis Dunk’s meaty forehead, and Murray turned the ball in off the bar from a yard – with a muted celebration.

Jose Izquierdo scored Brighton's second

That made it 2-1 but Palace’s advantage was restored on 24 minutes. Milivojevic backpedalled into the drop-goal slot, and before anyone could close him down he delivered a pinpoint cross on to Zaha’s head. The forward still had plenty to do from eight yards, but expertly steered a header past Mat Ryan into the corner.

There was another swing in momentum, however, before the break. Brighton forward Jurgen Locadia jabbed a pass in behind full-back Joel Ward, who got himself twisted and tangled as Jose Izquierdo flashed across his blind spot, cut into the box and curled an exquisite finish past Wayne Hennessey to make it 3-2.

Hughton had been gesticulating furiously on the sideline and made a change at half-time, bringing on Anthony Knockaert for Locadia. Brighton began making life much harder for Palace, with more bite in the tackle and a higher press, and on the hour they almost levelled: Murray hovered at the back post and side-footed a deep cross inches wide of Hennessey’s post.

Wayne Hennessey and Glenn Murray compete for a high ball

As the match wore on and Selhurst Park became gripped with anxiety, it became all about survival for Palace. Murray had another sight of goal well blocked by Sakho; Hennessey saved from Stephens’ volley; and in added time, Murray somehow shanked a point-blank volley away from goal. Palace clung on to three points, valuable bragging rights, and perhaps ultimately their Premier League status.

Crystal Palace (4-4-2): Hennessey; Ward, Tomkins, Sakho, Van Aanholt; Milivojevic (c), McArthur, Cabaye (Benteke), Loftus-Cheek (Riedewald); Townsend, Zaha. Subs: Speroni, Kelly, Bissaka, Lee, Sorloth.

Brighton (4-3-3): Ryan; Schelotto, Dunk (c), Duffy, Bong (March); Gross (Ulloa), Kayal, Stephens; Izquierdo, Locadia (Knockaert), Murray. Subs: Krul, Bruno, Goldson, Baldock.

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