Brighton edge past Crystal Palace thanks to Solly March’s early strike | Premier League

Beware the Ides of March. Solly March that is. On the eve of Gareth Southgate naming his England squad for the Euro 2024 qualifiers against Italy and Ukraine, the 28-year-old’s seventh goal of the season finally ended Brighton’s four-year wait for a victory against their bitter rivals that leaves Crystal Palace still winless in 2023 and hovering precariously close to the relegation zone.

From the moment that Patrick Vieira was forced to hand teenager Joe Whitworth his debut in goal, the Palace manager may have suspected it was not going to be his evening. But while Whitworth pulled off several excellent saves to keep the visitors in with a fighting chance until the end, there was no hiding the growing chasm between them and Roberto De Zerbi’s side, who now find themselves level on points with Liverpool in sixth place with a game in hand. Having spent 73 days in 12th spot but now only three points clear of the bottom three, Palace clearly have other concerns to deal with.

There may only be 46 miles separating these rivals but the contrast in the respective moods could not have been more different in the buildup to this match. While Brighton fans have been dreaming of potential European qualification next season under their swashbuckling Italian manager, Palace supporters have been nervously looking over their shoulders for several weeks as the threat of relegation looms larger and larger.

See also  Which players have won the most caps against the same opposition? | Soccer

Vieira has tried his best to calm the growing nerves and insisted this week that they had been working hard on becoming “more ruthless” in front of goal having become the first Premier League team in 20 years to have failed to register a shot on target in three successive matches. That unwanted statistic was at least brought to an end inside the opening minute here when Wilfried Zaha called Jason Steele into action at his near post.

Palace’s chances of extending their seven-match unbeaten streak against Brighton had certainly not been helped by the absence of goalkeeper Vicente Guaita due to injury, with Whitworth – who only turned 19 at the end of February – becoming the youngest goalkeeper to appear in a Premier League game since Sunderland’s Ben Alnwick in December 2005. “He has been a ball boy at the stadium and is a true Palace fan. It is a big day for him,” said Vieira beforehand.

Whitworth’s first taste of the action after Odsonne Édouard had squandered a golden chance with a header from Michael Olise’s cross was to rush 40 yards out of his goal to clear a promising Brighton attack. But he could do nothing to stop March’s accurate shot from the edge of the area in the 15th minute when Kaoru Mitoma played him in after the Japan winger had left Nathaniel Clyne trailing.

See also  Mauricio Pochettino watched England's 3-3 draw against Germany at Wembley

March spent two years in Palace’s youth academy between the ages of 11 and 13 but he is now approaching 250 appearances for Brighton and has been tipped for an England call-up by De Zerbi when Southgate announces his squad on Thursday to play Italy and Ukraine. On this evidence, he could do much worse.

Only Édouard will know how he failed to make more of a great opportunity to equalise for Palace when he was played through10 minutes before the break as once again Vieira was left to rue their lack of cutting edge in front of goal. But Cheick Doucouré could consider himself fortunate not to be shown a second yellow card for bringing down Moises Caicedo and then March as Brighton pressed forward in search of a second.

The Mali midfielder was withdrawn for the second half wisely by Vieira, although there was not much else he could do to stem the tide. Mitoma was inches away from connecting with March’s cross before Whitworth denied Pervis Estupiñán with a save at his near post. A short delay when the stadium lights went out and the players were briefly taken to the side of the pitch by referee Peter Bankes who finally gave Palace’s defenders some respite, although it did not last long.

See also  'It's NOT a foul!': Pundits claim Gabriel Martinelli's goal at Old Trafford should have stood
skip past newsletter promotion

An outstanding one-handed save from Whitworth to deny Alexis Mac Allister from a corner was the closest Brighton came from adding some deserved gloss to their victory. But having waited since March 2019 to get one over Palace, the final whistle after March left the pitch to a standing ovation and substitute Naouirou Ahamada wasted a great chance to equalise in nine minutes of added time was celebrated deep into the Sussex night.

Source link