Zaha's Knock Out Blow Was Rich Reward In Epic Bout

Written by Robert Sutherland

Crystal Palace secured a point after an intense half of fighting. Here's Robert Sutherland's look at the game. 

Wilf hands out

There are indicators of internal struggle. When you watch two football teams battling for a win, knowing that the consequence of defeat can be damaging, there are signs that show who is the alpha and who is the beta. You can see it. Not just in body language but in actions. In the way they do the things you expect them to. It's like a boxing match. You can see those with spirit and those without. 

Crystal Palace were the strugglers in the first half. The first goal was a punch to the stomach, the second an uppercut to the chin. West Ham went into half time like a fighter being directed to their corner, impressed to believe the fight had been won. 
There wasn't that premature celebration but there was a sense. It needed one more blow. But that blow didn't come. Instead, West Ham tried to defend. They grappled. They smothered. They pushed. They just didn't throw any punches.

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The boxing analogy runs deep in this game because, like a boxer who thought they just needed to hold on, when Palace knocked them to the floor with the Luka Milivojevic penalty, they were caught in a moment of inertia. 
Palace's punches kept coming. James Tomkins had a header well saved. Yohan Cabaye hit the post. Joe Hart's performance was the strong chin. But still West Ham kept trying to hold on. They could have knocked Palace out but they didn't. 
It was that fixation on defensiveness, and the cynicism which accompanied it,  which became so frustrating for Palace. No one wants to see a fight in which the last six rounds are a contest between a spoiler and a fighter. 
In boxing, when the time runs out the bell rings. But this isn't boxing and West Ham didn't expect that their behaviour would result in six minutes of added time.

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That it did was the least Palace deserved. As the chances rained down on Hart's goal, like the jabs of Anthony Joshua, so West Ham's players fell to the ground at the slightest contact or slowed play down when given the opportunity. It took just ten minutes of second half football for it to begin. 
Hart took his time to take his goal kicks. Arthur Masuaku strolled slowly for throw ins. Corners took that little bit longer to take. Fouls were made a meal of. We know the ploys because we use them. But with another 35 minutes of football to play, it seemed a case of misplaced confidence from a side that comfortably conceded goals. And so it proved, ultimately.
When, with less than a minute to go,  Michail Antonio ran towards the corner flag and opted to meekly cross the ball into the box rather than to hold it there, it was a case of West Ham dropping their gloves. It needed one final, powerful punch. Zaha delivered it. 

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Palace deserved the goal. That it came at the last moment just made it all the more special. Zaha hadn't had the most impressive of games, but that quality of making something out of nothing came to the forefront again. The gap was there - Zaha just needed to exploit it. His beautifully placed shot nestled into the net and West Ham players fell to the ground -- this time from the kind of blow that warranted it.
Palace didn't win but they rescued a point at a time when it was needed the most. The players showed character in their perseverance. They fought one more round. Remembering that the man who fought one more round is never whipped.