Review by Richard Foster (Twitter: @rcfoster)
When a win is so badly needed, being gifted a goal – such as the one Fraser Forster presented to Christian Benteke on Saturday – is like a dream come true. It was Benteke’s first goal at Selhurst Park, and the fact that it was the Belgian striker’s birthday added the icing on the cake. He celebrated again by scoring his second late in the second half.
The first goal came after 30 minutes of tense, taut football, which was understandable after the run of six successive defeats that had drained the players’ confidence. The old adage of goals changing games was never more appropriate. While Southampton had been composed without ever looking particularly threatening before the opening goal, they looked shell-shocked by an error by Forster. He took his time over a simple backpass across goal from Fonte, but completely miskicked the ball with Benteke lurking, allowing the Belgian to easily finish. He then compounded that mistake by allowing James Tomkins to add a second a few minutes later from a corner, and the burden of the bad run was well and truly lifted.
The second half was not without a few scares, with ex-Palace player Jose Fonte missing the best chance when he shot wide from inside the penalty area, but that elusive clean sheet was finally secured.
The return of Damien Delaney to the team was pivotal as he added solidity to the defence that had been sorely lacking, with his trademark steely, effective style. Alan Pardew acknowledged the Irishman’s contribution – “He’d be the first to admit he’s not blessed with masses of talent. But he’s got masses of personality, of desire and of leadership. The back four was better for having him in it today.” Joel Ward’s switch to the left was also key, as Martin Kelly had looked increasingly vulnerable in the last few weeks, and Tomkins slotted in to the right back berth with calm assurance. Added to this, there were also good performances by both James McArthur and Joe Ledley in central midfield, which tightened things up.
Perhaps the clearest illustration of the team’s determination to not concede a goal was provided by an unlikely source. Wilfried Zaha did not have one of his best days going forward, but showed his commitment to the cause by tracking back and dispossessing the dangerous Ryan Bertrand a couple of times in the second half. The newly appointed England manager, Gareth Southgate was in attendance and would have been impressed by Zaha’s attitude and application. Southgate is reportedly trying to change Zaha’s mind over representing the Ivory Coast next month.
None of the three goals scored were things of beauty and they will certainly not feature in any Goal of the Month compilations – all being tap-ins from less than six yards. But their importance cannot be overstated. The team now have to make sure that such momentum is maintained and built upon over the next few fixtures. The abiding image of the game was watching Forster having to endure the many replays of his howler on the big screen, which were cheered lustily each time by a mightily relieved Selhurst crowd.