Crystal Palace 3, Albion 2: Seagulls fightback falls short after slow start against arch rivals
Brighton & Hove Albion were left cursing a slow start as they fell to a 3-2 defeat away at Selhurst Park to bitter rivals Crystal Palace this afternoon.
All five goals came in the first half with defending at a premium from both sides, who are still not safe from the Premier League relegation battle.
Palace led 2-0 with just 15 minutes on the clock through goals from Wilfred Zaha and Luka Milivojevic after some lacklustre defending and goalkeeping.
While former Palace man Glenn Murray did pull one back for the visitors, Zaha restored the home side's two-goal cushion. Jose Izquierdo made it 3-2 just past the half-hour mark to send Albion into the break with some hope.
But despite plenty of possession from the Seagulls in the second half and a great chance by Murray to level on 90 minutes, Palace held out to narrow the gap on 13th-placed Brighton to just one point. Huddersfield beat Watford late on to move level on points with Albion, while Chris Hughton's side do remain seven points clear of the bottom three, the table is tighening up below them.
The arch rivals were locking horns for the third time this season, with both bidding for much-needed points to ease their fears of relegation from the Premier League.
The Seagulls went into the clash having picked up just one point from their past three matches, 13th in the table with 35 points from 32 games, seven points above the relegation zone and four points above Palace, who were 17th.
Chris Hughton made two changes from the side that drew 1-1 with Huddersfield Town last weekend. Jurgen Locadia came in on the left-hand side in place of Solly March, while Beram Kayal replaced the suspended Davy Propper in midfield. Anthony Knockaert returned to the bench after serving a three match ban.
Joel Ward was a surprise inclusion in the Palace side, being there one change, although it was only the defender's second start since December.
The home side led after just five minutes as short corner routine was badly defended. Milivojevic's shot was blocked by Maty Ryan, who also could have done better, but the ball broke across the goalmouth and was tapped home by Zaha from a yard.
Andros Townsend then had a speculative volley that forced Ryan to parry behind and from that resulting corner Palace doubled their lead.
A goalmouth scramble saw Ryan get something on an initial shot, Shane Duffy put in a vital goalline block, but Ryan should have saved Tomkins' effort that hit the goalkeeper and deflected into the net.
On 18 minutes, Albion pulled themselves back into it. A Pascal Gross corner was met by a bullet header from Lewis Dunk and Murray got the last touch to lift it up onto the underside of the bar and in past Wayne Hennessey.
Albion had appeal for penalty waved away by referee Andre Marriner after a handball in the area as a neat break saw Izquierdo played in and twist and turn and get his shot away.
Just a minute later, however, it was 3-1. An inch-perfect delivery from Milivojevic saw Zaha ghost past Ezequiel Schelotto and head past Ryan at the far past.
Ten minutes before the break, Albion again hauled themselves to within a goal. Locadia put in a lovely-weighted pass inside Ward and set Izquierdo away, he raced into the box and slotted into the bottom corner.
In first-half added time, Milivojevic forced a diving save from Ryan with the goalkeeper pleased to see no Palace player on the follow-up tap home the loose ball.
After the frentic action if the first half, the second was a lot more subdued. A couple of routine catches from both goalkeepers was the only real action until the hour mark.
It was the visitors that went close to an equaliser as Kayal's ball over the defence picked out Murray, who volleyed wide of the far post.
Both managers added strikers with 20 minutes to play as Christian Benteke replaced Yohan Cabaye and Leonardo Ulloa came on for Pascal Gross.
With eight minutes left to play, Hennessey twice came to Palace's rescue. The goalkeeper denied Brighton as he just beats Ulloa to punch away half-time substitute Knockaert's cross and then produces an outstanding save to keep out Dale Stephens' 25-yarder.
Albion had a great chance to level in added time when Ulloa flicked on Kayal's cross for Murray, but he couldn't convert as he looked to flick the ball home.
Albion: Ryan, Bong (March 85), Dunk, Stephens, Kayal, Gross (Ulloa 70), Schelotto, Duffy, Izquierdo, Murray, Locadia (Knockaert 46). Unused subs: Krul, Bruno, Goldson, Baldock.
Palace: Hennessey, Ward, Sakho, Tomkins, van Aanholt, Cabaye (Benteke 69), Milivojevic, Loftus-Cheek (Riedewald 78), McArthur, Zaha, Townsend. Unused: Speroni, Sarloth, Lee, Bissaka, Kelly.
Referee: Andre Marriner.