Palace late show crowns Championship's finest night yet
Invigorating and incredible. And all from the comfort of your own living room. Even as far as the Championship goes, this was pretty remarkable. And it’s hard to know where to start.
Let’s get the relatively mundane fare out of the way first. Derby County moved level on points with Southampton at the top of the table after a 1-1 draw at home to Barnsley. An excellent feat, certainly, but not the story this evening. It was the same result at the Keepmoat where Dean Saunders began his reign at Doncaster Rovers by claiming a point after on-loan striker Martyn Waghorn had put Hull City ahead in the first half.
Watford produced a late turnaround to secure all three points at home to Millwall and banish the memory of Saturday’s 1-0 defeat to Nottingham Forest – and this is where it begins to get really interesting.
Steve McClaren sent Forest out in a 5-3-2 formation for that televised clash at Vicarage Road and he adopted the same setup for the trip to Burnley. They began the night with five at the back… they ended the night with five in their own net. Eddie Howe’s men were 4-0 up at the interval thanks largely to some abysmal defending from the visitors and Charlie Austin rounded off the scoring for the hosts after Ishmael Miller’s second half consolation strike.
On any other evening, Forest shipping five would be the Championship’s main story. But this was the night when all hell broke loose in the last five minutes.
Coventry City thought they had seen off Blackpool when Lukas Jutkiewicz put them in front after 83 minutes, but a Keith Southern equaliser deep into stoppage time made it 2-2 at the Ricoh Arena.
Even deeper into injury time at Fratton Park, Peterborough United somehow found a third goal to claim victory against Portsmouth. Lee Frecklington’s double had given the Posh a half-time lead, sandwiched by a Gabriel Zakuani own goal. Benjani hit a second leveller for the home side but Erik Huseklepp then turned the ball past his goalkeeper in the 95th minute to send the Cambridgeshire club north with all three points.
The travelling fans at Ashton Gate were also celebrating a winner long after normal time was up, something that seemed improbable with 20 minutes remaining and Bristol City enjoying a two-goal cushion. Reading turned things around with goals from Jobi McAnuff, Adam Le Fondre and Mathieu Manset to leave City manager Keith Millen in a precarious position. Losing when you don’t play well isn’t nice but it happens. Losing at home when you look comfortable at 2-0 up with over an hour gone is cause for real concern.
Meanwhile in London, Ipswich Town looked set to leave Upton Park with a creditable point after a fine display against West Ham United. But they didn’t – they left with three with the aid of an 89th minute drive from former Hammers midfielder Lee Bowyer in front of a jubilant away end.
And if that end looked lively, it was trumped by the result of the night. Sorry Burnley, you will have to score far more than five to beat this feat…
Brighton and Hove Albion have been on an upward curve for over a year and have taken to the Championship like ducks to water. This was the big one for the Seagulls though. And they blew it. But while plenty positive has been written about Brighton during their barnstorming League One title win and subsequent showings in the second tier, this was an opportunity for Crystal Palace to spoil the party.
It’s one of the more unusual rivalries in football but also one of the most fierce currently at stake in the Football League. Both sets of fans have eagerly anticipated this encounter ever since Brighton clinched promotion and it looked set to stay true to form when Craig Mackail-Smith stabbed Gus Poyet’s side in front early on.
Palace’s away record has been pretty dismal in recent seasons and their supporters must have feared the worst. In a similar fashion to games up and down the country, however, this one wasn’t over until the fat lady sang. And she belted out a stunning medley in the last ten minutes.
First Wilfried Zaha was allowed to run with the ball and angle a weakly-struck shot into the corner of the net for a deserved equaliser. Then Darren Ambrose put the Eagles into the lead in the dying minutes before Glenn Murray, who left Brighton to join Palace in the summer, scored a third in injury time. Cue pandemonium at the other end of a stadium which had just witnessed its first league defeat at precisely the most inopportune moment.
Unpredictable, unbelievable, unmissable.