For the Brighton supporters who remained here long after the final whistle, this was a night they will surely never forget. Trailing as the clock ticked into the fifth minute of injury time to Wilfried Zaha’s fifth goal in his last five matches against Crystal Palace’s bitter rivals, Neal Maupay’s deft finish with the last kick of the game somehow rescued a point for Graham Potter’s side.
It was not quite what they had deserved on an evening that Zaha celebrated his 400th appearance for Palace by scoring from the spot just before half- time but, despite missing the opportunity to scale the Premier League’s summit, Brighton will not care in the slightest.
A dominant performance from Patrick Vieira’s side until then had seemed enough to earn the points but after Jordan Ayew spurned a golden chance to make it 2-0, there was a sense of inevitability about what happened next.
Vicente Guaita seemed to have done enough to run down the clock after being awarded a free-kick with less than 60 seconds remaining yet the Palace goalkeeper’s punt was volleyed straight back by Joël Veltman to allow Maupay to apply his lobbed finish. Zaha and Maupay then clashed as tempers flared at the final whistle.
“It’s a wonderful feeling for us,” said Potter. “It’s not the easiest place to be perfect and we weren’t but I felt we deserved something from the game. The resilience among the players is fantastic.”
While Brighton were aiming to go top of the table for the first time in their history, it was almost exactly 42 years to the day since Palace achieved the same feat under Terry Venables.
The clashes between sides led by the former England manager and his Brighton counterpart Alan Mullery in the late 1970s and early 1980s have given this unlikely derby a feisty edge ever since and the police presence in the streets around Selhurst Park was an indication of the antipathy that still lingers strongly.
The absence of the influential midfielder Yves Bissouma due to a knee injury forced Potter into a switch of formation while Vieira handed Odsonne Édouard his first start in place of Christian Benteke after the new striker’s heroics here against Tottenham earlier this month.
After a huge reception from the home fans for Zaha, Palace began positively but they found Brighton’s five-man defence difficult to break down and had only a blocked effort from Conor Gallagher to show for their dominance during the opening 15 minutes.
Having made 14 of those 400 appearances against Brighton, Zaha had been urged by Vieira to use his experience of this intense occasion to help guide his younger teammates. However, a lapse from Tyrick Mitchell almost allowed Leandro Trossard to open the scoring just after the half-hour mark before Danny Welbeck wasted a great chance after being played in by Sánchez’s punt forward.
Replays suggested Welbeck may have been impeded as he attempted to lift the ball over Guaita but no penalty was given. But Palace’s endeavour eventually paid off on the stroke of half-time after a period of concerted pressure.
Trossard’s foul on Gallagher left the referee, Andre Marriner, with no choice but to point to the spot and Zaha slammed the penalty past Sánchez before cupping his ears as he celebrated in front of the Brighton fans in the away end.
Potter responded by switching to a back four in an attempt to limit Palace’s superiority in midfield. It seemed to have an immediate effect as Lewis Dunk forced Guaita into a save from a Marc Cucurella free-kick.
The arrival of Benteke with 20 minutes to play was a sure sign that Vieira sensed an opportunity to pile pressure on Brighton’s defence as they went looking for an equaliser.
The chance duly came with 14 minutes left when Gallagher’s interception allowed Benteke to set up Jordan Ayew, only for him to drag his effort wide with the goal gaping and stretch his barren run to 35 games.
“Jordan missing that chance was important but it is down to a lack of confidence and it is my responsibility to bring him back to what we know he can do,” said Vieira.
The true cost of his miss was revealed when Maupay pounced on Guaita’s error to deny the Palace manager a famous victory and leave Potter feeling mightily relieved.
Source: The Guardian