Crystal Palace left it late, but Wilfried Zaha’s dramatic equaliser deep into second-half stoppage time was the least they deserved. Goals from Javier Hernandez and Andre Ayew had put West Ham United in a commanding position at the interval, but Roy Hodgson’s side came on strong after the break and could easily have collected three points rather than just one. Although the Eagles still have an awful lot of work to do, there were vital signs of life at Selhurst Park on Saturday afternoon.
That was not the case at the end of the first half, though. Both West Ham goals were preventable, the first coming after a penalty appeal was turned down at the other end and the second arriving on the counter-attack following Luka Milivojevic’s sloppy concession of possession in the Hammers’ half of the field. While Palace were unfortunate to be two down, it was also true that they had struggled to create any chances of note from open play.
The response in the second half was magnificent. First, Milivojevic confidently converted from the spot after Andros Townsend was brought down, with the superb Yohan Cabaye hitting the post a matter of seconds later. Further opportunities fell to Zaha, James Tomkins, Bakary Sako and Cabaye, as West Ham sank deeper and deeper in a bid to hold on to what they had.
Joe Hart was tremendous between the sticks, repelling several Palace efforts from both inside and outside the box, but he could do nothing to stop Zaha’s late, late strike into the bottom corner. Selhurst Park exploded when the ball hit the net; Palace may still be bottom, but this could be a turning point.
“I still think the goal is scant reward for our 90 minutes of football. I don’t think the play of the first half – where we weren’t anywhere near as good as we were in the second half – merited that we went in 2-0 down,” Hodgson told reporters in his post-match press conference.
“And in the second half, the domination and the number of times we had the ball in and around the penalty area, the shots at goal, the corner kicks etc. etc. The fact that we did get those two goals is nothing more than we deserved.
“Its a good point. I wouldn’t go as far to say it was sweeter than the win over Chelsea. That’s three points and a win over the champions of England. But it showed me this team has got more character maybe than they sometimes have been credited with. It would have been easy at half-time for people to feel a bit sorry for themselves. To feel that ‘how on earth can we be 2-0 down in a game like this, that’s not fair.’”
Palace will need to maintain this sort of spirit if they are to haul themselves out of trouble. There can be no doubting the quality within the starting XI, but the south Londoners have put themselves in a precarious position and there is little margin for error. Hodgson will hope that Saturday was just the start.
By Greg Lea