By Chris Harris at Selhurst Park
Our hopes of qualifying for next season’s Champions League were hit hard by a heavy defeat in this London derby.
Andros Townsend opened the scoring with a close-range finish after Wilfried Zaha’s miskick rolled into his path, and a slightly more intentional Zaha pass set up Yohan Cabaye for an exquisite second goal.
The game wasn’t quite up at that point but it was when Townsend went down under Emi Martinez’s challenge and Luka Milivojevic rammed home the penalty.
Mohamed Elneny and Alexis had our best chances but goalkeeper Wayne Hennessey kept them at bay.
The defeat leaves us in sixth place, seven points adrift of fourth-placed Manchester City with a game in hand.
Arsene Wenger stuck with the team that started our 3-0 win over West Ham United.
Emi Martinez and Gabriel kept their places in goal and central defence, and Danny Welbeck got the nod ahead of Olivier Giroud, who scored with a spectacular scorpion kick in the reverse fixture on New Year’s Day.
There was one change to the squad, Francis Coquelin returning for Alex Iwobi.
Palace started brightly but Cabaye scooped an early chance over the bar and Milivojevic fired wide.
Elneny was prominent for us and he stretched Hennessey to the limit with a fine curling effort from 25 yards following Theo Walcott’s lay-off.
We were growing into the game but the home side took the wind out of our sails with a slightly fortuitous goal.
It started with a long ball that was allowed to bounce, before Cabaye and Townsend exchanged passes and picked out Zaha on the right.
Zaha slipped as he attempted to cross and the ball squirmed across the box into the path of Townsend, who applied an easy finish.
ALEXIS LEADS RESPONSE
Alexis had been kept pretty quiet until this point but came alive to lead a spirited recovery.
The Chilean started and finished a long spell of possession, getting a shot away that Hennessey smothered. Then Alexis cut inside from the corner of the box to arrow a fierce effort wide.
Mamadou Sakho kept a low cross away from Walcott and then blocked brilliantly as Alexis latched onto the loose ball.
We looked full of ideas and, with Palace breaking at pace, this was an open, entertaining game. But we couldn’t find an equaliser before the break as Welbeck fired wide from an acute angle.
CABAYE DOUBLES LEAD
Palace made a flying start to the second half, Zaha skipping away from Nacho Monreal to drift in a cross that Benteke collected at the far post, only for Hector Bellerin to block.
Seconds later Benteke had the ball in the net but an offside flag rescued us after Martinez had parried Townsend’s low shot.
Elneny fizzed a shot wide but Palace were on top and Martinez had to grab hold of a header from Jason Puncheon.
Wenger brought on Aaron Ramsey and Giroud in an attempt to turn the tide, but Palace had other ideas. Zaha got down the right again and his cut-back was beautifully curled in by Cabaye.
THREE FOR PALACE
It went from bad to worse.
Townsend sprinted for a ball inside the box and Bellerin came across to cover, but Martinez got there first. Over went Townsend, the referee pointed to the spot and Miliviojevic planted his penalty in the bottom corner.
Bellerin lifted the ball over Hennessey but it bounced wide of the far post.
And although we didn’t give up the ghost, Palace defended diligently to preserve a clean sheet and almost grabbed a fourth when Benteke’s volley was cleared by Monreal.
A night to forget.
Referee: Michael Oliver
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