Potters beaten at the death despite controlling encounter in the capital...
MAMADOU SAKHO broke Stoke City hearts in South London on Saturday afternoon as he claimed a dramatic, and undeserved, three points for struggling Crystal Palace.
The former Liverpool ace prodded the ball home from close range deep into stoppage time to complete a remarkable turnaround for Roy Hodgson’s men, whose barren run of form looked certain to continue.
The Potters appeared to be on course to stretching their unbeaten run to four matches thanks to Xherdan Shaqiri’s moment of individual brilliance shortly after the interval.
However, the lead lasted barely five minutes as Ruben Loftus-Cheek swept home an equaliser at the back post after Andros Towsend’s fizzing delivery flew between four City defenders.
With just seconds on the clock, and following skipper Ryan Shawcross’ incredible miss from one-yard, the game took a major and decisive final twist.
A rare Palace foray forward culminated in Yohan Cabaye rattling the woodwork from an acute angle, before the ball agonisingly fell straight into the path of the oncoming Sakho, who was left with the simplest of tasks from point-blank range.
It proved to be a disastrous finale to what was a hugely promising display from Mark Hughes’ men, having controlled and dominated large periods of the encounter.
Having opted to name an unchanged starting XI for a second successive fixture, Hughes will have been pleased that his side looked the far more polished of the two sides during the initial exchanges.
Shaqiri, clearly enjoying a more central role, continued to flourish and very nearly opened the scoring from 15-yards, only for Wayne Hennessey to make a smart save to his right to deny the maestro.
Opportunities continued to present themselves to the visitors with Fletcher whipping an effort wide, before Shaqiri once more tested the waters from distance.
Lee Grant was a relative bystander for much of the first 45 minutes, but was called into action late on when he reacted superbly well to thwart James McArthur, who will feel frustrated not to have hit the back of the net from six-yards.
The second period couldn’t have gotten off to a better start as Shaqiri weaved between several stranded Palace players, pushed the ball past Sakho, and let rip a thumping effort that rippled the back of the net.
It was always going to be crucial not to allow the hosts an easy way back into the game, but frustratingly that is exactly what happened as Loftus-Cheek was allowed the time and space to slip the ball in at the back post after Townsend’s delivery from the left evaded a packed penalty area.
Still though, it was Stoke who continued to show greater endeavour and take far greater risks in a bid to re-establish the lead.
Hughes introduced Jese and peter crouch from the bench, with the former whipping a strike inches past the post just seconds after his introduction, when he should have at the very least hit the target.
By far the greatest opportunity fell to Shawcross however, who was picked out on virtually on the line by a stunning Shaqiri ball, only for the former England ace to somehow flick the ball away from target rather than at it.
At that moment you wondered whether it was in fact always destined to be Palace’s day, and so it proved, as three minutes later Sakho stole the show from an almost identical position to seal arguably the most important three points of the home side’s season so far.