(actual posting date – 4 April)
Match thirty-two vs Watford (home)
Match thirty-three vs Chelsea (away)
Total mileage 5,343.2
Palace games – and long trips for me – rather dried up in March. The arduous, but successful, trip to West Bromwich Albion, was one of only two matches in the month. The other was a home match – against Watford – and the first match of April was the shortest away trip of the season, to Chelsea.
I had, therefore, been going a bit stir crazy. There are, of course, far more daytime telly options than when I was off school ill as a child, but it’s still not great. I developed something of an addiction to US crime show ‘Castle’, at least until I got the shock of seeing fellow Palace fan Jim Piddock hamming it up as ‘Lord Henry’ in one episode.
When the football came it was, however, well worth waiting for. The Watford game was the reverse fixture of Sam Allardyce’s first game in charge. That game had started well for the new manager, with Palace taking an early lead and having the chance to double it from the penalty spot. But the penalty was missed and Watford won one of their own in the second half. Troy Deeney converted it to score his 100th goal for Watford and secure a one-one draw.
The consensus of opinion in the bar before the return match was that Deeney would score again. And so it proved: but what we hadn’t predicted was it would be an own goal and give Palace a one nil win. It took a long time for the Allardyce’s management to turn round Palace’s fortunes, but suddenly we had won three games in a row without conceding a single goal. That run would, however, surely come to an end at Stamford Bridge against run away league leaders, Chelsea, on 1 April.
The ride to Chelsea was a straight forward one – and even slightly shorter than my old commute to work. Highlight of the journey up to Chelsea was being serenaded by a small group of Palace fans outside the Temperance pub just north of Putney Bridge (‘He rides where he wants, he rides where he wants, he’s Crystal Palace, he rides where it wants’).
Chelsea had been in imperious form and, even with our own greatly improved form, they were odds on favourites to win the match. I was, however, confident that we would at least put up a good fight and make it difficult for them. Then after just four minutes that went out of the window as Chelsea scored. It looked like being a very difficult afternoon.
But then came the most incredible two minutes of Palace’s season. First, Joel Ward headed a loose clearance to Christian Benteke, who in turn flicked it to Wilfried Zaha. Zaha was surrounded by defenders, but they couldn’t stop him shifting the ball and firing it into the bottom corner of the net. The away end erupted – and it was going to get even better. Benteke picked up the ball and ran at the Chelsea defence. The ball broke to Zaha who played it back to Benteke. The Belgian forward then calmly lifted the ball over compatriot Thibaut Courtois and into the net. Absolute pandemonium in the away end. Palace were in front.
Now there was the small matter of holding onto that lead for the remaining 79 minutes. But with the much maligned Wayne Hennessey in brilliant form, Palace did just that. And then there was just the 10 minutes injury time. When the referee blew the final whistle the away end erupted again. Until we realised it wasn’t the final whistle; just an offside decision against Chelsea. The ref was clearly just having some fun, though, as as soon as Hennessey took the resulting free kick he blew up for full time and Palace had won.
My journey home – on cloud nine – was via the Croham Arms in South Croydon for a 50th birthday celebration for Palace fan Howard. I was far from the only person going from Stamford Bridge to the Croham, but the efficacy of my chosen method of transport was proved as I was the first to arrive. Great company, music and a smoke machine was a great way to finish off the day. I just hope Palace can arrange something a good for my 50th birthday (28 January 2020, in case you were wondering).
Amazingly, Palace have now won four games in a row. Relegation remains a threat, especially given the difficulty of Palace’s run-in and the fact that Hull City are also finding some form. But we’re out of the bottom three, and if we can win a Chelsea, why should we fear anyone?