The first meeting between two of the greatest midfielders to have graced the Premier League in their new habitats as managers ended with a triumph that Steven Gerrard must have savoured.
Trailing to Matt Targett’s early goal and having delivered their worst performance since Patrick Vieira took over from Roy Hodgson in the summer, Crystal Palace were left frustrated by a stubborn rearguard effort from Aston Villa before John McGinn made sure of the points for the visitors late on. Marc Guéhi’s consolation goal arrived far too late for Palace.
The victory not only made it two in succession for their new manager since his arrival from Rangers but, as Gerrard acknowledged, can also provide a benchmark for the rest of the campaign as they inflicted Palace’s first home defeat of the season in his first away match before facing Manchester City on Wednesday.
“Our first-half performance was excellent and we knew we would have to roll our sleeves up in the second half,” he said. “It’s a fantastic away performance because this is a difficult place to come. We have to take confidence from this.”
Gerrard has spoken of his admiration for Vieira as a player, describing the former Arsenal captain as a “role model” and admitting to have based large parts of his game on the Frenchman. He also paid tribute to the start his old midfield rival has made to life as a Premier League manager whereby Palace began this game three points ahead of their opponents having lost only to Chelsea and Liverpool.
The absence of the outstanding Joachim Anderson from the heart of his defence due to a hamstring injury forced Vieira to hand James Tomkins a first league start of the season, with Michael Olise the other change from Palace’s draw with Burnley last week. Perhaps surprisingly Gerrard opted to leave the summer signings Emi Buendía and Danny Ings on the bench and chose Ashley Young and Leon Bailey to support Ollie Watkins.
Having survived an early scare when Wilfried Zaha dragged his shot just wide of the post after a flowing Palace attack, Villa won a corner and promptly took the lead. A misjudgment from Cheikhou Kouyaté allowed Targett the opportunity to take a touch before firing through the Senegal midfielder’s legs – the 10th goal Palace have conceded from a set piece this season.
“We didn’t defend well enough as a team,” admitted Vieira. “I’m very disappointed with the performance.”
Missing the industry of the injured James McArthur, Palace struggled to find a response as Zaha and Conor Gallagher were denied space by a compact defence. Indeed Villa looked more likely to extend their lead as McGinn curled a sumptuous effort just wide of Vicente Guaita’s far post before Tyrone Mings made a hash of Young’s brilliant free-kick into the penalty area. There were more than a few murmurs of discontent among the home supporters after a bizarre moment of indecision in which Tomkins and Guaita each left a cross to the other before Joel Ward came to the rescue.
Palace emerged in determined mood for the second half. A raking crossfield pass from Olise that either manager would have been proud of set the tempo, even if Zaha failed to pick out Christian Benteke with the resulting cross.
A moment of madness from Luka Milivojevic almost gifted Villa a second when his short free-kick was intercepted and the Serbian brought down Watkins just outside the box. Gerrard was next to count his blessings when Matty Cash and Ezri Konsa nearly conspired to turn Gallagher’s cross into their own net.
The return of Eberechi Eze after nearly six months out with a knee injury raised the atmosphere inside Selhurst Park. A VAR check then spared Villa’s substitute Douglas Luiz after replays showed he had hardly made contact with Kouyaté’s shin despite being initially shown a red card by the referee, Michael Salisbury.
Benteke’s volley straight at Emi Martínez after being set up by Tomkins became even more costly when Buendía and Anwar El Ghazi combined to set up McGinn’s brilliant curler that ended Palace’s resistance. Guéhi’s late strike could not spoil Gerrard’s day.