Halfway through September is far too early to be labelling matches six-pointers, but this was an encounter with a fiery edge to it from the start. Wilfried Zaha produced a moment of brilliance on his return to the team as Crystal Palace earned their second win of the season against Huddersfield.
It looked as though it might be a frustrating afternoon for Zaha, who missed Palace’s defeat to Southampton before the international break with a groin injury after he was booked for a late tackle on Florent Hadergjonaj.
But Zaha regained his composure and in the 38th minute knocked the ball between two defenders before smashing past Jonas Lossl. The hosts offered a threat in the second half, flooding the Palace box with high crosses, and Aaron Mooy came close to finding the equaliser only to see his well-struck volley clatter off a post.
Huddersfield’s wait for their first win of the season continues but Palace move up to 11th in the table. Sometimes, being forewarned is no help whatsoever. Huddersfield, like the rest of the Premier League, know all about how valuable Wilfried Zaha is to Crystal Palace and the danger he poses to opponents, but they were unable to stop him from determining the outcome of this fierce clash.
The home team played well, but Palace made off with all the points thanks to a wonderful solo goal by their most precious player. The result leaves Huddersfield without a win after five league matches, while Roy Hodgson’s team celebrated the end of a three-game losing streak.
Zaha was cast straight back into Palace’s side here after missing the home defeat by Southampton because of a groin injury. He may have been stationed on the left wing, but he was always going to be in the heart of the action – and foremost in both teams’ minds. Palace had complained about the robustness of Huddersfield’s attempts to subdue Zaha when the sides met last season, but this time the visitors began as if intent on firing pre-emptive strikes.
James McArthur was booked early on for crunching into Mathias Jorgensen, while Cheikhou Kouyaté and Luka Milivojevic were lucky that the referee, Lee Mason, opted for leniency when they committed similar fouls a short time later. But when Jorgensen brought down Zaha after the winger intercepted a slack pass by Christopher Schindler in the 27th minute, Palace players lobbied angrily for a red card. Mason settled for a yellow while the home crowd denounced the perceived hypocrisy of the visitors.
The atmosphere was turning febrile. And Zaha made a hot-tempered challenge himself moments later, his splenetic clatter into Florent Hadergjonaj effectively forcing the referee to book him.
Then Zaha made his mark in a more skilful way. In the 38th minute, he received the ball on the left and glided forward before cutting between Hadergjonaj and Elias Kachunga and into the box, and lashing an angry shot high into the net from a difficult angle. It was a spectacular goal and Zaha’s celebrations suggested that the bad blood in the game made it a particularly enjoyable blow to land.
Until then Huddersfield had created the better chances. Most of them came via Philip Billing’s long throw-ins, which regularly triggered chaos in the Palace box. But the clearest opportunity was the product of an elegant move, as Aaron Mooy swept a splendid crossfield pass to Chris Löwe, whose delivery from the left was well met by Steve Mounié. The striker’s header from 10 yards flew inches over the bar.
Huddersfield came out even stronger in the second half and outplayed Palace for a spell, with Löwe continually making gains down the left and Mooy and Billing elegantly dominant in midfield. Mooy almost made that point with graceful power just before the hour, but his crisp volley from 20 yards out bounced back off the post.
Wayne Hennessey had been too surprised by that shot to even move and, with Huddersfield continuing to press, one minute later he had to improvise awkwardly to keep out a low effort by Hadergjonaj.
Palace might have scored on the counter a few minutes later, but Jordan Ayew mis-hit a volley from 12 yards out. He was acting as a like-for-like replacement for the absent Christian Benteke, one might say.
McArthur was guilty of equally inept finishing in the 71st minute after an even swifter break, this time led by Zaha. Most of the match unfolded at the Palace end, however. But a lack of a sure touch around the box let Huddersfield down, never more so than when Schindler blasted over from 16 yards out in the last minute.
Source: BBC News