Throughout his managerial career, Graham Potter has had to learn to be patient. But even the Brighton manager must have given up hope after a second half that had seen his side bombard the Crystal Palace goal to no avail after falling behind to a disputed first-half penalty from Wilfried Zaha.
Despite registering only one shot on target compared to 16 from their opponents, it appeared as though Roy Hodgson’s side had done enough to secure a second successive victory over their bitter rivals thanks to a dogged defensive display led by returning captain Gary Cahill. However, a last-minute equaliser from substitute Alexis Mac Allister earned Brighton a share of the points that was no less than they deserved, with Potter admitting it was about time his luck had changed.
“We were punished quite heavily for their goal,” he said. “But we pushed and pushed against a team that is good on the counterattack and had chances ourselves. I’m really pleased that the players got something from the game in terms of reward because we showed our personality on the pitch. I’m probably a little disappointed we didn’t get all three points in the end.”
Potter’s path to the Premier League via Swedish side Ostersund is strikingly similar to the journey taken by Hodgson more than 40 years ago and for large parts of this match it was the more experienced man who looked like he would come out on top. But following a bad-tempered finale that saw Lewis Dunk shown a red card for an awful lunge on his counterpart Gary Cahill, Potter will be mightily relieved to have avoided a fourth defeat in their opening five fixtures of the season.
Palace’s hopes of recording a first home victory over their rivals since April 2018 had been boosted before kick-off with the inclusion of Cahill for the first time this season after a long-term hamstring injury – one of four changes from the 4-0 defeat to Chelsea a fortnight ago. Much to Hodgson’s relief, Zaha was also available having recovered sufficiently from a groin injury he picked up on international duty with Ivory Coast last week.
Having earlier confirmed the signing of Danny Welbeck on a free transfer, Potter opted to leave Aaron Connolly on the bench and recalled Adam Lallana to his midfield, while Dan Burn and Tariq Lamptey – a height difference of 33 centimetres – were employed as the full-backs. Lamptey has made quite an impression since joining from Chelsea in January and looked in the mood once again as the visitors made a bright start. It took all of Palace’s defensive nous to block his effort inside the area in the seventh minute, with the 20-year-old testing his marker Tyrick Mitchell on several occasions during the opening stages.
But despite an effort from Yves Bissouma that whistled just past the post and Ben White’s shot after he had intercepted a stray pass from Mitchell, once more Brighton were made to pay for their profligacy. Palace had barely put a foot in the opposition’s half until the 20th minute, when a high cross from Andros Townsend at first looked destined for the head of Michy Batshuayi but – much to the bemusement of Potter – Lamptey’s tug on the Belgium striker’s shirt was deemed enough contact by referee Stuart Attwell to warrant a penalty. Having assumed spot-kick duties against Manchester United last month, Zaha converted with aplomb for his seventh goal against these opponents.
Brighton struggled to regain their rhythm after that setback, with Palace – led by the impressive Jairo Riedewald in midfield – largely happy to sit back defend their lead until the break. Having seen his side succumb to similar tactics during their 1-0 home defeat to these opponents in February, Potter knew the onus was on his players to up the tempo and Brighton began the second half with much more purpose. Only a brilliant last-ditch intervention from Cahill denied Neal Maupay an equaliser before Batshuayi’s net-buster following an excellent through ball from Riedewald was narrowly ruled out for offside.
More heroic defending from Joel Ward to block Maupay’s effort from close range soon after ensured Palace clung on to their slender lead. Perhaps seeing the writing on the wall, Hodgson opted to change to a 4-3-3 formation in an attempt to stymie Brighton’s increasing attacking threat. It almost paid dividends until Mac Allister’s late deflected strike, although the Palace manager later acknowledged his side’s defensive approach had nearly paid off.
“We came so close to taking the glittering prize but unfortunately we didn’t quite manage it,” he said.