Eberechi Eze had waited a long time for this moment. More than 18 months after his last goal here, the Crystal Palace midfielder’s late winner ensured Patrick Vieira’s side picked up only their second Premier League victory of the season following a spirited comeback against Leeds.
Eze missed the majority of last season as he recovered from the ruptured achilles tendon he sustained in May 2021 but has shown signs of being back to the form that almost earned him an England call-up for Euro 2020. But while this was by no means a vintage performance from the 24-year-old after Palace fell behind to Pascal Struijk’s goal, Vieira will be delighted with the way he and his teammates responded to their early setback.
Odsonne Édouard’s equaliser after Patrick Bamford squandered a great chance against his former club gave Eze the platform to steal the headlines in the second half as Palace moved level on points with Jesse Marsch’s side. Given that Palace had failed to record a victory since beating Aston Villa here on 20 August and began the game level on points with Wolves in the bottom three, Vieira opted to go on the attack. Tyrick Mitchell lost his place at left-back to Jeffrey Schlupp, while there was a return in central defence for Joachim Andersen.
But if the prospect of seeing Eze and Michael Olise lining up in central midfield was an exciting one for the home supporters, the reality was not quite as convincing as Leeds took the initiative from the start. A poor back pass from Marc Guéhi that forced goalkeeper Vicente Guaita to give away possession set the tone for a mistake-riddled opening from the hosts that culminated in Struijk’s early breakthrough.
A brilliant mazy dribble from the outstanding Brenden Aaronson took him past several half-hearted challenges and the American’s curling shot bounced back off the far post into the path of Struijk. His shot was straight at Joel Ward on the goalline but the ball found its way through the Palace captain’s legs and into the net.
Things could have been even worse for Vieira had Guaita not come to Palace’s rescue soon afterwards when Bamford was played through on goal. Marsch said before kick-off that the striker who ended his loan spell at Selhurst Park from Chelsea early back in 2015 after growing frustrated with a lack of opportunities under Alan Pardew is in “the strongest condition since I arrived here”. But Bamford missed a golden chance to remind Palace fans of what they have been missing when Guaita parried his early shot away to safety.
A two-goal lead would not have flattered Leeds, such was their dominance, yet Bamford’s miss was to prove a pivotal moment in the first half. Olise’s free-kick to the back post was perfectly weighted for Édouard to guide his header past Illan Meslier and VAR decided that the striker was inches onside. There was a significant delay when Jordan Ayew’s head needed to be heavily bandaged after a collision following a corner, although the Ghana forward was allowed back on to the pitch almost immediately.
Marsch – who was back on the touchline after serving a one-match ban for his dismissal against Brentford – left the pitch in animated conversation with fourth official Graham Scott. Perhaps in an attempt to replicate their strong start, Leeds were sent out early for the second half but it was Wilfried Zaha who forced Meslier into a save just three minutes in. The Ivory Coast forward had reportedly been feeling unwell before the match and barely touched the ball until then.
Luckily for Palace, they have other sources of creativity these days and a perfectly weighted through ball from Eze for Ayew should have been dispatched before Édouard headed over from Olise’s floated cross. Suddenly the game seemed to be Palace’s for the taking.
Marsch responded by withdrawing Bamford for Crysencio Summerville, while Ayew and Cheick Doucouré, after a particularly busy afternoon, made way for Palace. For a few minutes, the substitutions seemed to have taken the pace out of the game. But there was no denying Eze his match-winning goal after a well-worked move down the left flank saw Zaha flick the ball into his path from substitute Mitchell’s cross and the midfielder hammered home his shot from the edge of the box.