Crystal Palace made it three successive Barclays Premier League wins for the first time since 1994, beating Aston Villa 1-0 to power towards safety.
After referee Howard Webb had reversed a decision to award Palace a second-half penalty at Selhurst Park, Jason Puncheon fired the ball in off a post following fine work from Yannick Bolasie. The 76th-minute strike, Puncheon’s third goal in two games, ensured Palace's impressive revival under Tony Pulis continued, with the London club, who have kept four clean sheets in their last five matches, seven points clear of the relegation zone. Villa, on the other hand, have lost four straight matches and now sit just four points above third-bottom Fulham.
Lambert welcomed back Karim El Ahmadi, Fabian Delph and Gabriel Agbonlahor following injuries, while Ciaran Clark was also recalled. Pulis named an unchanged team but, after Kagisho Dikgacoi went off injured, he was forced into an early substitution, sending on Marouane Chamakh and reverting from a 4-5-1 formation to 4-4-2.
Almost immediately, Chamakh's strike partner, Cameron Jerome, hacked Agbonlahor's downward header off the Palace goalline. Then, following neat build-up play from Delph and Grant Holt, Damien Delaney flung himself in the way of Ashley Westwood's piledriver to make a decisive block.
In the 36th minute, Palace created a great opportunity with a clever free-kick. Mile Jedinak shaped to shoot but gave the ball to Puncheon, who slid the ball through for Bolasie inside the area. Bolasie claimed to have been impeded by Holt as he looked to shoot, but as the ball drifted wide the referee waved away Palace's penalty appeals.
Four minutes after the restart, Agbonlahor tried his luck from the edge of the box, but Julian Speroni made a comfortable save. Jerome missed a glaring chance to score only his second goal in 26 Barclays Premier League matches this season. Bolasie tricked Matthew Lowton with step-overs and unleashed a shot, which Brad Guzan blocked. The ball fell to Jerome, unmarked at the back post, but with the net unguarded he fired the ball against the crossbar.
Bolasie's low drive from the edge of the box went just wide on the hour as Palace ramped up the pressure. Webb pointed to the spot in the 68th minute when the Palace players appealed for handball against Clark, but changed his mind after talking to one of his assistants.
Any frustration Palace felt quickly disappeared as they took the lead. Bolasie sprinted down the left and provided a fine cross for Puncheon, who controlled the ball neatly, swivelled and fired a low shot home.
Puncheon hit the bar after a quick counter-attack, but Palace had Speroni to thank for keeping all three points. In the 88th minute, the goalkeeper, who turns 35 next month, made a superb save to deny Andreas Weimann from close range, leaving Villa to reflect on an increasingly perilous position in the table.
Crystal Palace manager Tony Pulis: "I think the linesman did brilliant for the second [penalty appeal].
“We had a slow 20 minutes and we had to shift the ball from one side of the pitch to the other quickly.
“Jason Puncheon is a cracking lad but they all are. Marouane Chamakh has come on today and I thought he was different class."
Aston Villa manager Paul Lambert said: "It was a really tight game, a physical game, there was nothing much in the game, they took their chance. The game could have went either way. It's a really fine margin in that game today.
“It is where it is, there's loads of teams and games still to play and you have to get over that finishing line as quick as you can. We saw a lot of ball and a lot of possession. There were wasn't too many chances for both teams."
|16 Apr 2014||v Everton (A)|
|19 Apr 2014||v West Ham (A)|
|27 Apr 2014||v Man City (H)|
|05 May 2014||v Liverpool (H)|
|11 May 2014||v Fulham (A)|