Superb individual displays from Wilfried Zaha and Christian Benteke helped Crystal Palace come from behind and claim a shock 2-1 victory at the home of Premier League leaders Chelsea on Saturday afternoon.
Both men found the back of the net in a frantic opening 10 minutes to turn the match on its head, after Cesc Fabregas had given Antonio Conte’s men an expected lead. A mixture of good fortune and brave defending saw the Eagles hold onto their slender lead for the remainder of the game, as the hosts’ 13-match winning run at Stamford Bridge came to an abrupt end.
A breathless first-half began with Chelsea taking a fifth minute lead through Fabregas, who had been restored to the starting lineup in place of Victor Moses.
The Spaniard’s long pass forward to Eden Hazard saw the Belgian hold the ball up close to the by the byline. Having toyed with the defender, the winger was then able to make room to cross and return the ball back into the path of the onrushing Fabrgeas, who was able to tuck in at the front post via the goalframe.
Despite the early setback, the visitors took just four minutes to respond and drew level thanks to a brilliant piece of play from Zaha. The winger’s close control saw him carry the ball into the Chelsea penalty area before he then placed a shot across Thibaut Courtois and into the bottom left hand corner of the net.
With Stamford Bridge still coming to terms with the equaliser, most of the ground was left stunned when a minute later Benteke gave Palace a shock lead. With the Blues short at the back, a simple pass from Zaha put the unmarked Belgian through on goal and his neat feint left him with the simple task of lifting the ball over Courtois and into an empty net.
The manic opening showed little sign of ceasing as the leaders poured forward searching for an equaliser of their own, and were only denied by a terrific save from Wayne Hennessey who somehow kept out Diego Costa’s close range effort.
The Eagles’ goalkeeper continued to come to his team’s rescue in the opening 45 minutes, firstly pushing away Marcus Alonso’s cross-shot before he then kept out low efforts from Hazard and Nemanja Matic.
It's all Chelsea at the moment and Hennessey has just made two brilliant stops, from Alonso and Hazard, to preserve their lead. #CHEPAL
— Chelsea FC (@ChelseaFC) April 1, 2017
The final notable action of the first half saw Hennessey deny Matic once again; this time tipping the midfielder’s looping header over the bar, as the home side were unable to convert their dominance into goals.
The pattern of play carried on after the break as the hosts regularly called Hennessey into action. Costa had a number of attempts blocked by the goalkeeper and the unfortunate Scott Dann, who having replaced the injured James Tomkins at half-time, also came off injured just 10 minutes after coming on.
Having spent much of the game camped in front of their own goal, Palace were denied a third goal on the hour mark when a brilliant counter attack led to Zaha’s shot being well saved by the legs of Courtois.
The excellent Zaha/Benteke combination continued to pose a threat to the Chelsea defence, whilst at the other end, Costa’s frustrating afternoon worsened when he somehow sent a free header wide.
As the minutes ticked by, the home side saw countless chances pass them by, but try as they could, they were unable brake Palace’s resolve.
The Eagles were perhaps fortunate to see a number of nerve-racking moments go their way, however, having seen out a mammoth nine minutes of injury time, they were worthy of the three points.
Victory for Palace continues their recent resurgence under manager Sam Allardyce and means they stay well clear of the drop zone.
For Chelsea meanwhile, their fourth league defeat of the season means their large lead at the top has been cut slightly, as second place Tottenham’s win at Burnley means the gap has been cut to seven points.
— Chelsea FC (@ChelseaFC) April 1, 2017