Under-fire Crystal Palace manager Alan Pardew was pushed to the brink after his side were beaten 5-4 by Swansea City at the Liberty Stadium in what will go down as one of the most spectacular finales in Premier League history.
Fernando Llorente scored twice in stoppage time to finally edge it for Swansea, capping off a rollercoaster afternoon in which the lead changed hands four times.
The Welsh side appeared to be on track for their first win under Bob Bradley when Leroy Fer netted twice following the break to hand his side a comfortable 3-1 lead, after Gylfi Sigurdsson had cancelled out Wilfried Zaha’s first-half opener for Palace.
But Palace launched a spectacular late comeback, with a strike from James Tomkins, an own goal from Jack Cork and a close-range finish from Christian Benteke, all in the space of nine minutes, putting them 4-3 in front – seemingly enough to end their five-game losing streak and earn Pardew some breathing space at the end of a week in which he admitted his job was heavily “under scrutiny”.
Instead, though, Llorente decided differently. First, he deflected Sigurdsson’s shot past goalkeeper Wayne Hennessey in stoppage time to level things up and then he netted again in the 94th minute from Neil Taylor’s assist to end a true classic.
Not that Pardew will remember it as such.
The result sees Swansea move off the foot of the table, a point clear of Sunderland, while Palace are 16th following their sixth defeat in a row, level on points with 18th-placed Hull.
The visitors went close to grabbing an early lead when Benteke wildly blasted a shot over the crossbar from close range after the Swansea defence had failed to clear Yohan Cabaye’s corner, before Sigurdsson was presented with a good chance after some fine work from Modou Barrow at the other end.
Pardew’s men eventually grabbed the lead in the 20th minute via Zaha. Benteke did well to win the aerial challenge and flick the ball into the winger’s path, with the former Manchester United man outmuscling Taylor before firing a low shot past shot-stopper Lukasz Fabianski.
Connor Wickham was unfortunate not to double that lead when he forced Fabianski into a sublime save with a powerful header, before Sigurdsson levelled things up nine minutes before the break via a superb free-kick from 20 yards, after Jason Puncheon was adjudged to have fouled Cork.
Iceland international Sigurdsson curled his set-piece over the wall to beat Hennessey into the top, left corner – but Palace continued to pose a threat, and they almost immediately restored their lead when Cabaye rounded Fabianski and set up Zaha with a fine cross, only for the winger to see his header hit the crossbar. Benteke and Wickham got in each other’s way as they battled for the rebound.
Swansea started more brightly after the break and they got the goal they deserved after 66 minutes when Fer scored his first of the afternoon, tapping home from close range to make it 2-1.
And it was 3-1 just two minutes later, Fer once more beating Hennessey from just a few yards out for his sixth goal of the season.
With Pardew urging them on from the touchline, Palace refused to give up and Tomkins earned them a lifeline in the 75th minute via his knee, before they pulled level with eight minutes left – again in fortunate fashion – as Cork beat his own goalkeeper following a Zaha cross.
Pardew could have been forgiven had he decided to break out a version of his now-infamous touchline dance when 3-3 became 3-4 two minutes later, as Benteke turned home Scott Dann’s knock-down to put Palace within sight of a huge win.
Yet it was Llorente who was left celebrating in injury time, as he grabbed the equaliser by deflecting Sigurdsson’s shot past the helpless Hennessey.
And there was still more to come when the Spaniard became his side’s hero in the 94th minute, beating Hennessey from close-range to settle it – finally.
KEY OPTA STATS
– This was the 21st Premier League game to see nine or more goals scored.
– Wilfried Zaha has been directly involved in five goals in his last five Premier League games (one goal, 4 assists), as many as in his previous 42.
– Since his Premier League debut in January 2012, Gylfi Sigurdsson has scored six direct free-kicks in the top-flight, a joint high along with Christian Eriksen and Juan Mata.
– All five of Christian Benteke’s goals for Crystal Palace in the Premier League have come away from home.
– Alan Pardew’s side have now gone 18 top-flight games without a clean sheet, longer than any other current side.
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