Zaha inspires Crystal Palace to shock victory over Chelsea
LONDON (AP) Premier League leader Chelsea lost for the first time in nearly three months as relegation-threatened Crystal Palace produced a daring attacking display to win 2-1 at Stamford Bridge on Saturday.
Three goals in the opening 11 minutes decided the game as Wilfried Zaha inspired Sam Allardyce's side to its fourth consecutive victory as he canceled out Cesc Fabregas's opener before setting up Christian Benteke for the winner moments later.
Chelsea's run of 10 consecutive home Premier League wins stretching back to October came to an end, while the loss was its first since defeat at Tottenham on Jan 4.
The Blues' lead at the top of the table was cut to seven points as second-placed Tottenham won 2-0 at Burnley and Antonio Conte's side now faces an important test when Manchester City visits Stamford Bridge on Wednesday.
''We deserved at least a draw because we created many chances to score and we dominated the game, against a strong team with very good players,'' Conte said. ''It's a pity but today it wasn't our day.''
''It makes things more interesting in the championship, but I always said that the league finishes when you have the mathematical total you need. Otherwise you must fight, you must play every game to try to win, because in England easy games don't exist.''
Palace's winning run has seen it establish a four-point cushion above the relegation zone with a game in hand over 18th-placed Hull and huge amounts of confidence to carry into the final stages of its campaign.
''The two goals we scored shocked Chelsea and put them on the back foot and then our resilience and some of the saves from the goalkeeper were the reason we won it in the end,'' Allardyce said.
''Wilf (Zaha) must feel really good about himself due to his consistent performances at the moment. He's shown that today with his quality of football in possession.''
Fabregas immediately vindicated Conte's decision to start him in place of the injured Victor Moses as he played Eden Hazard in with an inch-perfect diagonal pass, before ghosting into the penalty area to convert the Belgian's cross at the near post after just five minutes.
Chelsea appeared to think its work was done for the day and sloppily gifted Palace the chance to equalize four minutes later.
Benteke found Zaha on the edge of the box who somehow managed to squeeze his shot past three Chelsea defenders and into the bottom corner.
Before the visiting supporters had finished celebrating their team's equalizer by letting off loud flares, it had taken the lead.
Palace counterattacked and roles were reversed as Benteke exchanged a one-two with Zaha before calmly lifting the ball over the advancing Thibaut Courtois in the 11th.
Placed in the unfamiliar position of trailing at home, Conte's side rallied instantly, forcing a string of fine saves from Wayne Hennessey before halftime.
Chelsea had a strong penalty claim rejected as Pedro's shot struck Andros Townsend on the arm before Hazard and Fabregas combined again to tee up Diego Costa from close range, only for Hennessey to save well with his legs.
Hazard tested Hennessey at his near post once more before the Welsh `keeper did well to repel headers from Nemanja Matic and David Luiz.
It was more of the same after the break as Hennessey raced off his line to deny Costa from close range, before Scott Dann, who himself had replaced the injured James Tomkins at halftime, was stretchered off after hurting himself blocking another Costa attempt.
However, Palace was not content with just holding onto its one-goal lead and continued to search for a third.
Zaha went through on goal as Chelsea left gaps at the back and this time it was the Chelsea `keeper saving his side, as Courtois tipped the Ivory Coast striker's goal-bound effort round the post.
While Zaha provided the inspiration for Palace, it was Mamadou Sakho who stood firm at the heart of its defence, further enhancing his reputation having finally got his opportunity on loan after struggling under Juergen Klopp at Liverpool.
Willian and Michy Batshuayi came off the bench as Conte looked to bolster Chelsea's attacking options but Palace saw out the final stages relatively comfortably to secure a vital three points.