“As soon as I jumped and felt the ball come onto my head I knew I was going to score”: those were the words of Crystal Palace match winner Christian Benteke in his post-match interview with BBC Sport, whose last minute header after an unmarked run into the penalty area completed an unlikely and dramatic comeback for the Eagles at Sunderland.
After dominating the first half, Palace found themselves a goal down against the run of play when Joe Ledley’s bizarre back-pass gifted Jermain Defoe with the opener, before the capped England forward seemed to have put the Black Cats out of sight with a second. However, Joe Ledley quickly redeemed himself with a deflected goal, before substitute Zeki Fryers’ cross was headed in by James McArthur. That put the match at 2-2, and Benteke’s late show was right on cue, marching completely unmarked into the penalty area from a Lee Chung-Yong free-kick and heading in from six yards to break Sunderland hearts.
The Belgian made a little history also for Palace, his goal ensuring that the Selhurst Park outfit came from two goals down to win for only the second time in the Premier League, the last time out being a 3-2 win at Turf Moor over Burnley back in January of 2015. He took his goal well, though opposition manager David Moyes was incensed that nobody picked him up, allowing him to have an unmarked five-yard run onto the edge of the six yard box to connect with Lee Chung Yong’s ball in.
The goal was Benteke’s biggest impact from set-piece situations, the Belgian provided an obvious presence in the Sunderland box before that, but he was well-shackled by the centre-half pair of Papy Djilobodji and Lamine Koné. He enjoyed a total of eight shots throughout the match, scoring with the last of them, but he found himself often isolated up front and restricted from playing off his team-mates with only an overall 52% of his passes and knock-downs reaching their intended targets.
He also didn’t manage to complete any dribbles or take-ons beyond opponents, simply because his main role was isolated to working with aerial balls forward and having efforts on goal from chances created for him.
Remaining central to provide Palace with a constant threat and a target man to play off, the Belgian didn’t have the chance to create any opportunities for teammates or run the channels and provide balls into the middle, but he did win 50% of his tackles and an overall 56% of his aerial battles. It was simply a case of the target man taking his one chance when it came, and when given too much free space in the box, he took it with aplomb.
His lack of influence out wide shows the existence of natural width that Palace had, in that Benteke was free to roam centrally rather than be forced deep or out wide to get hold off the ball himself. In his own area however, when the Eagles were under the cosh, he did made good use of his aerial presence with three clearances throughout the match to aid his team.
Overall, it was a somewhat quiet game for Benteke where he found himself restricted and simply played the spearhead role as best he could whilst being harried by Sunderland’s centre-halves, but he showed the signs of a good striker by taking his one big chance when it came his way, and it just so happened to be the difference.
He is on a fine run of goal-scoring form for Alan Pardew’s Palace with two in his first four games for the club, and his manager will be hoping it continues for a long time to come after his team seem to have finally found a winning formula this calendar year.
Featured Image: All Rights Reserved by Gordon Judge.