Solly March’s superb first-half strike earned Albion a deserved first win in eight against their old rivals and lifted us up to equal sixth in the Premier League table.
Although Albion weren’t quite at their fluent best, particularly in the second half, they thoroughly deserved to win and it was a cracking strike by Solly which settled the 100th league meeting between the teams, appropriately enough in the 15th minute of the 15th day of March.
Sussex born and bred, March, who netted at Selhurst Park last month, cracked a low drive into the bottom corner and Albion dominated the rest of the first half and went close to scoring a second.
The second half was a stop-start affair disrupted by a brief power cut but Albion managed the game – and the occasion – well. And when the final whistle blew after nearly ten minutes of stoppage time the PA announcer’s ‘one-nil to the Albion’ never sounded sweeter.
Roberto De Zerbi had made two changes with Levi Colwill coming for his first start in two months and Welbeck up front as Adam Webster and Evan Ferguson dropped to the bench.
Palace hadn’t had a shot on target in their three previous games but they made a great start and twice tested Jason Steele in the 11th minute.
The Albion keeper had already pushed away Wilfried Zaha’s second-minute angled effort when he produced an instinctive save with his outstretched leg to deny Michael Olise, who couldn’t believe had hadn’t found the net.
Odsonne Edouard’s header was a yard off target and Steele made another more routine save from Edouard’s curling effort.
But when Albion finally attacked with conviction they scored a brilliant goal. Assist king Mitoma slid a pass between Palace’s central defenders and March, timing his run to stay onside, drilled a low left-foot shot across Joe Whitworth, Palace’s debutant keeper. Against the run of play until then, not that the vast majority inside a vibrant Amex could have care.
Albion came again. Cheick Doucoure produced a brilliant sliding tackle to deny Welbeck when he looked set to convert Pascal Gross’s cut-back before Moises Caicedo’s goal bound shot was blocked by Sambi Lokonga’s outstretched boot otherwise it would have nestled in the bottom corner.
Palace had another chance four minutes before the break when Michael Olise’s free kick found its way to Andersen at the far post but his first-time shot went across the face of goal and wide.
Doucoure, who’d already been booked, tested referee Bankes’ patience twice when he brought down Caicedo in full flight and then Joel Veltman. On both occasions the referee decided a free kick was sufficient punishment and Doucoure was replaced at the break.
Whitworth did well to block Estupinan’s shot with his left foot when the full-back burst into the box and let fly early in the second half but it was the last action for several minutes after brief power cut forced Mr Bankes to take the players to the touchline. Shortly after they resumed he yellow-carded De Zerbi.
Albion needed the security of a second goal and they nearly got it when Mac Allister met Gross’s corner with a glancing header but Whitworth plunged to his right to push out.
Ferguson and Julio Enciso came on for the final 11 minutes before Mac Allister picked his way through the Palace defence but fired into the side netting.
It had become a bitty spectacle, and nine additional minutes must have felt like 19 especially when Naouriou Ahamada intercepted Steele’s pass out from the back but dragged his shot wide of goal. In truth it was a rare moment of alarm in a game, the first 15 minutes apart, that Albion largely controlled.
Albion: Steele, Veltman, Dunk, Colwill, Estupinan, Caicedo, Gross, March (Webster 90), Mac Allister (Sarmiento 88), Mitoma (Enciso 79), Welbeck (Ferguson 79).
Unused subs: Sanchez, Undav, Gilmour, van Hecke, Buonanotte.
Referee: Peter Bankes