Crystal Palace earned an impressive three points with a 3-1 triumph over Sunderland at Selhurst Park on Saturday, but they were made to work very hard for it by their guests. The visitors could easily have come away with a point or more if not for a moment of madness by skipper John O'Shea that led to a late red card and a penalty kick.
The opener came quickly, and it game in extraordinarily messy fashion. The hosts won a corner and a routine delivery was swung into Sunderland's box. It wasn't cleared, though, and a scramble ensued with the ball eventually ricocheting off the back of Danny Gabbidon's leg and past Kieren Westwood to make it 1-0.
Both sides were full of attacking intent. Sunderland fought back desperately to find an equaliser, but it was probably Palace who were closest to finding the net again in the first half. A brilliant counterattack sparked by Jason Puncheon stood out, but it was thwarted by Mile Jedinak curling high and over from the edge of the box.
The visitors were even more aggressive in the second half, penning their hosts back in their own territory and limiting them to the occasional counterattack. That's not to say those weren't dangerous, but Sunderland would have been feeling pretty confident that an equaliser was coming ... and there was only ever going to be one man who scored it.
Steven Fletcher, on for Ji Dong-Won at halftime, made a brilliant run behind Jedinak and caught Jack Colback's cross sweetly, planting his header in the bottom corner and leaving Julian Speroni with no chance.
Jonathan Williams had a chance to reply immediately for Palace, but he wasted excellent work from Jedinak and Marouane Chamakh by hitting a shot well wide while under no pressure just 20 yards from Westwood's goal. Sunderland came close again when Gabbidon, desperately trying to keep Fletcher from latching onto a long clearance, scooped the ball over his own keeper. That shot sailed just wide of the post, however.
Disaster struck soon after for the Black Cats. John O'Shea thought he had an easy clearance on his hands when the ball bounced back to him but, as he turned, he saw Dwight Gayle bearing down on him. Gayle won the ball on the edge of the box and was immediately brought down, winning Palace a penalty and forcing O'Shea's dismissal. The spot kick was duly swept under Westwood to make the score 2-1.
Sunderland, down to ten men, were helpless to resist the hosts further. Westwood was called into action after the defence was carved open, denying Williams with a good save.The goalkeeper could do nothing, however, as O'Keefe struck with a wonderful curling effort in injury time to make it 3-1 and guarantee Palace their first win of the year.
Crystal Palace (4-4-1-1): Julian Speroni; Dean Moxey, Damien Delaney, Daniel Gabbidon, Joel Ward; Campana (Jonathan Williams, 54'), Kagisho Dikgacoi, Mile Jedinak, Jason Puncheon; Dwight Gayle (Aaron Wilbraham, 83'); Marouane Chamakh (Stuart O'Keefe, 83').
Goals: Gabbidon, 9', Gayle, 79' (pen), O'Keefe 92'.
Sunderland (4-4-1-1): Kieren Westwood; Jack Colback, John O'Shea, Mobido Diakite, Ondrej Celustka; Emanuele Giaccherini (Charalampos Mavrias, 61'), David Vaughan, Sebastian Larsson, Adam Johnson; Ji Dong-Won (Steven Fletcher, 45'); Connor Wickham.
Goals: Fletcher, 64'.