fter a week of calls for Crystal Palace to move on from Roy Hodgson’s “spineless defensive tactics”, the veteran manager pulled off a remarkable victory which will live long in the memory and then made no apology for the smash-and-grab manner of it.
Christian Benteke scored a 95th-minute winner against rivals Brighton as Hodgson defied calls for a more expansive approach, went back to basics and, in the words of Brighton defender Joel Veltman, pulled off a “robbery of the points” at the Amex.
The statistics were all against Palace, who had their backs against the wall for almost the entire game. They only had two touches in the Brighton box, scoring from both, compared to 25 attempts on goal from Brighton who boasted 75 per cent possession.
Brighton had Palace pinned them back for most of the game, with Gary Cahill and Cheikhou Kouyate throwing themselves in front of everything with some heroic defending at the back.
But, right at the death, Palace were clinical to secure a win that Hodgson must privately feel served as vindication for their approach.
“The game's not about touches in the opposition box, is it?” said Hodgson when asked about the statistics. “The game's about scoring goals and not letting any in. I thought we worked unbelievable hard to try and make certain we didn't let any goals in.
“The statistic that counts at the end of the day is goals against and goals for. And ok, they had the better of possession, that's for sure, they had the ball in our box more often, they had more quality. But I'm not going to apologise for coming away with what we consider to be a very good victory.”
New signing Jean-Philippe Mateta was isolated up front for the most part as his team-mates struggled to get the ball past the halfway line.
His only touch in the Brighton box, however, was special as his back heel on 28 minutes found the net through the legs of both defender Ben White and goalkeeper Robert Sanchez.
For the 67 minutes that followed, which saw Joel Veltman equalise for the hosts, Palace offered next to nothing going forward. Any balls into the Brighton half were simply pumped away to give the battling back four a break. That was until the dying seconds of five minutes of added time at the end of the second half.
Jordan Ayew, tireless to the last, pushed forward one final time, played in Andros Townsend who hung a ball for Benteke at the far post. The much-maligned Belgian striker, who is one of a dozen out of contract in June, was moving away from goal but manage to swivel and fire a perfect volley into the far corner to seal a most dramatic win.
“Christian Benteke's strike at the end was sublime, really,” said Hodgson. “I'm really pleased for him. He's found himself quite often in shooting positions and it's not always been the shot that he's tried to execute, but that was a very clinical finish and certainly the shot that he wanted to play. It gave us three very, very vital points.”
It was not sexy, some Palace fans may feel it is not sustainable in the long term, but it was a wonderfully executed plan. Though Hodgson would not say it was vindication for his approach.
"I perhaps wouldn't use that word because the use of the word vindication would suggest something's been going awfully wrong with what we've been trying to do for the whole of this season," said the 73-year-old.
"The fact is, this is what football is today, isn't it? You win two games and you're apparently doing very well; you lose two matches and everything's wrong. That's what we have to accept."