Had Crystal Palace held on to win here, this would have gone down as a Roy Hodgson masterclass. Brighton took 19 of the game’s 20 shots and commanded two thirds of possession but, up until the 89th minute, Wilfried Zaha’s first-half penalty constituted 100 per cent of the goals. Graham Potter had turned up with his slick passing team and their unpredictable movement and fancy 3-4-3 formation, and Hodgson’s dogged 4-4-2 had taught them an old-school lesson.
But Palace’s creaking door finally split under the weight of Brighton pressure as added time loomed. Substitute Alexis Mac Allister thrashed home an equaliser from the edge of the box, and although Lewis Dunk was sent off in the final throes for an appalling two-footed tackle on Gary Cahill, Brighton were well worthy of a point from a derby which will be remembered for the noise of its blood and thunder more than its aesthetics.
After both teams concede four in their last match before the international break perhaps it was no surprise that they adopted a more resolute stance here. Potter named four players whose primary occupation is centre-half as Ben White took up his station in front of a towering back three of Adam Webster, Lewis Dunk and Dan Burn, rendering the chances of Michy Batshuayi winning a header all afternoon somewhere near zero. Hodgson meanwhile picked three defensive midfielders with Cheikhou Kouyate continuing at centre-back behind the excellent Jairo Riedewald and James McArthur, the latter playing the role of relentless pest to perfection.
To be in the stadium was to appreciate the appetite both side had for this game. For once this season it felt like the absence of fans added order, not chaos, as both sides were able to focus on their well-drilled shapes that seemed to cancel each other out in the opening stages. Youngsters Tariq Lamptey and Tyrick Mitchell traded blows in a duel of wide scurriers on one side while in the middle McCarthur-Reidewald vs Bissouma-White became more battle ground that football match, tackles shaking the old metal frames of Selhurst Park.
Potter’s surprise move to play White out of position almost proved a masterstroke when the makeshift midfielder had the first clear sight of goal in the first half, but he looked a little confused to be there and dragged wide, and moments later Palace were in front.
As a cross arrived from Palace’s right side, Lamptey pulled back Batshuayi arriving at the far post and referee Stuart Attwell took a moment before pointing to the spot. It was the sort of call Palace fans would understandably find correct and Brighton fans would understandably complain was a bit soft. Certainly it felt like one of those moments when the punishment didn’t quite fit the crime – for all the muscle and energy put into the game to that point, a minor pull of the shoulder gave Palace a free strike from 12 yards. Brighton goalkeeper Mat Ryan earned a yellow card when his meticulous declogging of studs dragged out the moment, but Zaha was unmoved, sending him the wrong way.
Palace thought they’d added a second goal early in the second half when Batshuayi smashed into the roof of the net, but he was adjudge just offside chasing Riedewald’s through-ball, and so Palace retreated.
As the minutes ticked by, the gaps through the centre became smaller and smaller. Hodgson switched from 4-4-2 to a 4-3-3, though they had so little possession it was to all intents and purposes a 4-5-1, with Zaha and Townsend chasing back into their defensive third. At one point Adam Lallana attempted to weave through an impossible tangle of legs, somehow emerging on the edge of the box with the ball only to come up against another layer of blue and red resistance and lose it. Solly March had an opening on the left side but Palace didn’t offer up the couple of seconds he wanted and he was crowded out too.
But finally Palace made a crucial mistake. Neal Maupay pounced on a mis-clearance by Joel Ward and the striker’s pass bounced off Aaron Connolly’s heels and into the path of fellow substitute Mac Allister, whose half-volley took a slight deflection as it flew past Vicente Guaita. It was well deserved, as was Dunk’s late red card for a needless lunge on Cahill, one of many moments when tensions boiled over, and in a strange way both managers will feel frustrated that one point might have been three.