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Dwight Gayle's last-gasp goal earned Crystal Palace a 1-0 win at Aston Villa to lift them out of the Barclays Premier League's bottom three.
The Boxing Day clash at Villa Park appeared set to finish goalless until Gayle collected a pass from fellow substitute Jonathan Williams and curled the ball home superbly from 20 yards. The result moved Palace to 17th in the Premier League, above Fulham on goal difference, and left Villa just three points clear of danger following a fourth successive defeat.
Paul Lambert was without Christian Benteke and Ashley Westwood due to injury and suspension respectively, but Gabby Agbonlahor returned after completing a one-match ban. Palace's top scorer Marouane Chamakh missed out after picking up his fifth yellow card of the season.
The home side dominated possession in the opening 25 minutes, but couldn't break down the Eagles. Palace improved as the half progressed, largely thanks to skilful winger Yannick Bolasie. The 24-year-old collected possession on the left, skipped past Matthew Lowton and fed Cameron Jerome, who over-hit a through-ball to Barry Bannan when he could have shot.
Bolasie got the better of Lowton again and advanced into the box, only for Nathan Baker to get back and force the ball out for a corner. Libor Kozak saw his header superbly nodded over his own crossbar by Adrian Mariappa on the stroke of half-time as Villa came close to opening the scoring.
The second half exploded into life, with an off-balance Baker doing well to deny Bolasie a clear sight of goal. Fabian Delph's fine pass then presented Andreas Weimann with a chance, but the Austria forward's half-volley went straight into the arms of Julian Speroni.
Bannan, against his former club, almost put Palace in front on 54 minutes, but Brad Guzan did superbly to tip the ball on to the post. Agbonlahor raced into the area but hit his shot straight at Speroni and, following a delightful move, Albrighton's clever cut-back set up Weimann, who fired over from inside the box.
Bolasie tricked his way past two opponents on 65 minutes and crossed for Jason Puncheon, whose fierce shot from 10 yards was saved by Guzan. A scrappy finish looked destined for a draw until Gayle grabbed his third Barclays Premier League goal, and all three points for Tony Pulis side.
Palace have won three of seven matches under the former Stoke City manager Pulis, but face a daunting trip to Manchester City on Saturday.
Aston Villa manager Paul Lambert: "We have no time to dwell on it (the defeat to Palace) because there's a quick turnaround. We have to go again on Saturday. It's the old cliche but you have to pick yourselves up. You have to meet the challenge. There's no point wilting. I am disappointed. But you pick yourself up and meet that challenge.
"[Our form] isn't good enough. You have to turn it around. There's no magic formula. There's more pressure because of the size of crowd but you should overcome that. That should be a given. The crowd are right on your side.
"You have to stand up and be counted. We have to get on the front foot. We have to create more. There shouldn't be too much pressure because you've got 40,000 behind you every time. We have to give them something to go with. You can't be critical of the fans here because they have backed us all the way.
"It's important everyone sticks together. I understand their (the fans') frustration. You have to be big enough to take it. You have to see it through. You can't run away from it. It's there. My job is to be as positive as I can. That's my job. I am not going to be downbeat. You have to get them going again for Saturday."
Crystal Palace manager Tony Pulis: "Really we needed that result because we'd let ourselves down with the home performance against Newcastle last week so it was nice to bounce back. I think we had the more clear-cut chances and the better opportunities and the keeper's made a wonderful save off Bannan - how he touches that onto the post, I don't know.
"But the lads kept going and, like I say, that's what we need to do - week in, week out, we've got to give it everything and they've done that so far. We've worked very, very hard on the shape of the team, on making sure that people are in certain positions at certain times and that everybody knows what they're supposed to do.
"And from that, with the two wide players who've got so much pace and power, we then can cause teams problems. But it's very, very important when you work at this level that the team knows what it's doing."
|15 Mar 2014||v Chelsea (H)|
|05 Apr 2014||v Fulham (H)|
|01 Jan 2014||v Sunderland (A)|
|29 Mar 2014||v Man Utd (A)|
|11 May 2014||v Spurs (A)|
|12 Apr 2014||v Crystal Palace (A)|