It is, as many before me have observed, a funny game. With Aston Villa’s bleak record in London; with the eighth-minute injury to Joe Cole, the most influential player in last Saturday’s draw against Burnley; and with a Crystal Palace team that seemed to be attacking in waves from the opening whistle, there were few if any signs that Villa’s trip to Selhurst Park would end in anything but tragedy. Even Benteke seemed out of form in the opening minutes, his self-inflicted three-game layoff appearing to have broken the form he was starting to find.

Christian Benteke: The Lion Scores Tonight
Christian Benteke: The Lion Scores Tonight

But then, after a terrific strike in which he turned defender Scott Dann and forced a fine save from goalkeeper Julian Speroni, Benteke proved again why he is so important to the team. Stealing the ball from Dann on the sideline, he raced toward the goal and used the body of Brede Hangeland to screen an inch-perfect shot that curled into the lower right-hand corner.

Imagine how things might look if we’d had him all season. Certainly, the Lambert Out contingent would have less to complain about. A couple more goals at the right moment and everything would look different.

Everything certainly looks different this morning. Yes, Palace certainly had more and better chances. And yes, our defending was desperate for long stretches of the game. And yes, it at times resembled bordered on farce as we offered up chance after chance to score—chances that Palace were unable to capitalize on. In the battle of The Team That Can’t Protect a Lead versus The Team That Can’t Score, Palace proved to be just a little bit more awful on the day.

I almost felt sorry for them, knowing what it’s like to cheer for a team that can’t put the ball in the back of the net. But as I say, almost.

In the battle of The Team That Can’t Protect a Lead
versus The Team That Can’t Score, Palace proved
to be just a little bit more awful on the day.

And Villa’s grit and determination are something to cheer about. They came into the game with an utterly awful run of nine games without a win and they fought like hell to end that streak yesterday. A team without Vlaar, Delph, Senderos, or even Cole and Baker.

No two Villans seem able to agree on our best starting lineup—some detest Sanchez, some were furious he wasn’t starting. And at least one fan seems to think, bizarrely, that Cissokho is the worst player ever to pull on a claret and blue shirt. But everyone, everyone, is feeling better today. We’ve woken from our most recent nightmare. And, if Villa can beat Leicester City at Villa Park on Sunday, which they should, we’ll be dreaming again of a top-half finish.

Hell, I’ve already started.

Premier League table December 2, 2014

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