Half Mag / Half Zine

On nights such as this it is almost impossible to imagine Wilfried Zaha playing for anyone else. A spectacular goal in Patrick Vieira’s 50th match as Crystal Palace manager in the week that the hero of SE25 was once again linked with a move away from his boyhood club looked like being enough to see off Brentford, until the substitute Yoane Wissa spoiled the party late on.

It was a sucker punch that said everything about the resilience of Thomas Frank’s squad and left Vieira to take out his frustrations on a nearby water bottle, with Ben Mee’s late header hitting the crossbar as the visitors almost snatched all three points.

“I didn’t believe we were going to lose,” said Frank, whose side have rescued points after the 80th minute on three occasions this season.

Zaha’s presence in the hosts’ starting lineup after he missed their matches against Aston Villa and Manchester City with a knee injury would have calmed the nerves of any Palace fans concerned with rumours that the Ivory Coast forward could be on his way in this transfer window.

Vieira’s cryptic response to a question about the 29-year-old’s future before this match that “there is what I think and there is what the chairman thinks and there is what the player thinks” certainly did not help dampen speculation over links with a move to Chelsea, although he was adamant that Zaha will be going nowhere on transfer deadline day.

“The smile on his face when he scored that goal says everything,” Vieira said. “It shows how happy he is at this football club.”

The home supporters made their feelings clear in the early stages, breaking into their first Zaha chant within minutes of the start. With Michael Olise, making his first Premier League start of the season after a foot injury, and Brentford’s summer signing Keane Lewis-Potter selected alongside Ivan Toney and Bryan Mbeumo, the omens at least looked good for an improvement on the two encounters between these two sides last season.

A pair of instantly forgettable scoreless draws were only really notable for providing Vieira with his first point as Palace manager last August, since when they have gone from strength to strength as an attacking force under the former Arsenal midfielder. Yet under Frank Brentford are nothing but astute and organised opponents and Palace found it hard to create openings throughout the first half.

The visitors’ first real sight of goal came on the half-hour after Olise felt he had been fouled outside his own box. But Mathias Jørgensen could not hit the target from close range after being set up by Toney’s touch from a deep cross.

Olise’s driving run from the right flank then found Zaha inside the penalty area but Aaron Hickey was able to block his goal-bound shot. The Palace forward felt aggrieved when he went down twice under pressure but the referee, Simon Hooper, waved away the protests on both occasions.

Zaha almost had his revenge on the stroke of half-time after another excellent cross from Olise, only for Hickey to come again to his side’s rescue with a timely block. At the other end Toney was inches away from connecting after Jørgensen headed a free‑kick back across the Palace goalmouth.

It seemed as if the only way the deadlock could be broken was via a mistake and Jeffrey Schlupp should have made more of his opportunity at the start of the second half after Cheick Doucouré had stolen the ball from Mathias Jensen on the edge of Brentford’s box. Olise was much closer with an unstoppable shot from long range that cannoned off the outside of the post and away to safety.

Almost inevitably, though, Palace’s breakthrough owed everything to Zaha. Hickey knew exactly what to expect when he received the pass from Doucouré on the left side of Brentford’s penalty area but there was no stopping him cutting inside and unleashing a shot that nestled in the top corner. Zaha celebrated his goal by clenching his fists in front of the adoring Holmesdale Road stand.

“The relationship with the Palace fans is massive,” a disappointed Zaha said afterwards. “Everybody understands me.”

Frank’s response was to make a triple substitution, with Josh Dasilva producing the first save of any note from Vicente Guaita. Wissa was not so wasteful when Vitaly Janelt’s cross picked him out at the far post with two minutes remaining to break Palace’s hearts. It could have been worse had Guaita not saved from Rico Henry before Mee’s header that would have completed the unlikeliest of comebacks.