Crystal Palace 3 Brighton and Hove Albion 2: Zaha double helps Eagles to derby delight
Crystal Palace surged six points clear of the Premier League drop zone in an action-packed 3-2 win over bitter rivals Brighton and Hove Albion at Selhurst Park on Saturday.
All five goals came amid a frenzied first half as Wilfried Zaha's brace either side of James Tomkins' second goal in three matches secured a much-needed first home win in four attempts.
The Eagles had seemed likely to claim derby honours in fine style as they twice opened up two-goal advantages, although the Seagulls were able to stay within touching distance by elevating their tally of top-flight away goals from seven to nine.
But the visitors' vulnerability at the back proved their undoing, with Zaha and Tomkins both netting from corners inside the opening 14 minutes.
Glenn Murray was first to reduce the deficit when he netted against his former club for the second time in all competitions this term, only for Zaha to strike again in the 24th minute - his first headed goal in the Premier League.
And it proved decisive. Jose Izquierdo did bring Brighton back to within one when he skilfully scored 11 minutes prior to the interval, but it stayed that way throughout a nervy second half, Roy Hodgson's men thankful for a poor late Murray miss as they battled to an invaluable three points in their bid for survival.
2 - In completing his first-ever Premier League brace, Wilfried Zaha netted his first-ever headed goal in the competition. Nod.-- OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) April 14, 2018
Zaha spoke pre-match of his desire to exact revenge for their FA Cup exit at Brighton in January and he seemed to take the responsibility upon himself from the earliest exchanges.
The winger's first could hardly have been easier as he tapped in at point-blank range after Milivojevic, dribbling into the area following a short corner, unleashed an effort that burst through Mat Ryan's hands.
The raucous home fans were buoyant again less than 10 minutes later when Tomkins doubled the advantage, the defender firing through a sea of bodies after Milivojevic's curling corner led to an almighty scramble.
Brighton were creaking at the back but, against the run of play, they soon lit the embers of a comeback, Murray cleverly anticipating Lewis Dunk's goal-bound header to hook the ball into the roof of the net.
Halving the deficit only served to paper over the cracks in the Seagulls' under-fire back four. Ezequiel Schelotto was at fault for the concession of a third midway through the half, losing Zaha on the way to the 25-year-old dispatching a diving header from Milivojevic's superb ball over the top.
That restored the home side's two-goal buffer and it seemed as though the stream of goals might be stemmed somewhat by the exhausting back-and-forth nature of the contest.
Izquierdo, though, had other ideas of how a chaotic half should end, getting in behind the recalled Joel Ward and curling a sublime curling finish inside the far post for a fifth goal by the 34th minute.
5 - Crystal Palace v Brighton has seen five first-half goals, the most in any Premier League game this season. Splurge.-- OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) April 14, 2018
It was surprising, then, that the first real chance of the second half did not arrive until the hour, with Murray's outstretched boot diverting Beram Kayal's cross past the far post.
Patrick van Aanholt's lazy, closed-down clearance then gave the Englishman a second chance at bagging a brace of his own, only to have his shot blocked.
Palace managed to inject a measure of calm and were content to keep the Seagulls at bay for much of the final half hour, although a dipping Dale Stephens strike from well outside the box to did force Wayne Hennessey into a scrambling save.
Their best chance for an equaliser arrived deep into stoppage time and it was a golden opportunity for that man Murray again, but he could not deny his ex-employers on this occasion as he somehow conspired to skew a gilt-edge chance wide after being spotted unmarked in the area by Anthony Knockaert.