This was a lunchtime kick-off that had threatened to go largely unnoticed but the explosive return of Wilfried Zaha coupled with another video assistant referee controversy, which led to West Brom being reduced to 10 men with an hour to play, ensured debate would continue long after the full-time whistle.
Matheus Pereira was found guilty of violent conduct after an innocuous collision with Patrick van Aanholt and, while there was no commotion, his red card paved the way for Crystal Palace to run away with victory, with Zaha scoring twice and Christian Benteke registering his first goals since July.
Things looked ominous for Pereira from the moment the referee, Paul Tierney, headed to the pitchside VAR monitor. Pereira stood hands on hips, nervously awaiting his fate, and Slaven Bilic hovered behind Tierney, attempting to peer over his shoulder at the collection of replays but powerless to change the outcome. The official had booked Pereira, who appeared to make contact with Van Aanholt’s groin after trying to drag himself to his feet, but the VAR, Michael Oliver, encouraged Tierney to take a second look and, presumably with the sound of Stockley Park ringing his ears, he upgraded the punishment.
That decision flattened West Brom, who had a spring in their step for all of four minutes after a superb equaliser by Conor Gallagher, a player on Palace’s wishlist in the summer. The Chelsea loanee, who opened his account in victory last weekend, coolly finished by converting Darnell Furlong’s cutback after a superb weighted pass by Semi Ajayi.
If West Brom felt aggrieved at Pereira’s dismissal, they were up in arms when Vicente Guaita, the Palace goalkeeper, appeared to wipe out Branislav Ivanovic. Tierney later ignored Gallagher’s half-hearted appeal when the midfielder went to ground under pressure from James McArthur.
Benteke scored twice in a Palace shirt for the first time in three years and this was also their first five-goal haul on the road in the top flight. Not so rare is Zaha’s virtuosity – they had lost 15 of their previous 17 matches without their talisman – and, after missing defeats to Burnley and Newcastle following a positive coronavirus test, he was brilliant on his return here and the architect as Palace opened the scoring on eight minutes. Moments after skimming the bar, he rolled Pereira, picked up Luka Milivojevic’s pass and delivered a fiendish cross, which Furlong haplessly put past Sam Johnstone.
Zaha rattled in Palace’s second after dancing inside the box off the left flank and, from there, the floodgates opened. Benteke nodded in Van Aanholt’s cute cross at the front post before Zaha doubled his tally after feeding off the scraps of a fine run by Eberechi Eze. There was still time for Palace to amplify Albion’s agony, with Benteke hammering in a fifth late on.