Christian Benteke blasted his way back into Roy Hodgson’s good books by scoring his first goal for seven months and creating another for Wilfried Zaha before Bakary Sako gave a suitably emphatic look to Crystal Palace’s first away win of the season. Palace had not even mustered a goal on their travels this season but they were worthy winners here, the south London side showing the zest and sharpness that was strangely absent from a Leicester team that came into the game in vibrant form.
Wilfried Ndidi being sent off following a piece of simulation in the second half seemed apt on a day when Leicester played like a poor imitation of their recent selves. Benteke, meanwhile, was far removed from the hapless figure who was lambasted by Palace fans and team-mates after defying orders and missing a late penalty against Bournemouth last Saturday.
Palace were the better side from the start here, as Leicester spluttered like the aeroplane that failed to take off after their thrilling midweek win over Southampton, forcing them to make a long bus journey home from the south coast instead. But even though the visitors looked bright, there was no early indication that Benteke would find redemption. Jeffrey Schlupp presented him with an opportunity to do so in the sixth minute by firing a low pass across the face of goal, but the striker failed to connect with it.
He persisted, however, and achieved atonement in the 19th minute, aided by a wonderful cross by Andros Townsend and diabolical defending by the home team. Benteke was allowed to amble between Wes Morgan and Ben Chilwell to meet Townsend’s perfectly flighted cross from the right and guide a downward header into the centre of the goal, as Kasper Schmeichel was caught out.
It was the Belgian’s first club goal since May and, by way of celebration, he plugged a finger in each ear, as if to show he was not interested in hearing praise from people who had ridiculed him during his long barren streak. He almost gave critics a chance to jab back moments later by scoring an own goal. Happily for him, however, his defensive header from a free-kick by Marc Albrighton flew inches past the post.
Albrighton’s excellent crosses, along with occasional runs by Demarai Gray, were the only threats that Leicester posed to the visitors in the first half in which the hosts lack intensity, which made Claude Puel’s decision to omit the dynamic Shinji Okazaki after his two goals at Southampton all the more dubious.
Palace, meanwhile, regularly looked dangerous on the break. It was no surprise when they increased their lead. Benteke, brimming with new-found confidence, created the goal after Mahrez coughed up possession in midfield. The Belgian shrugged off Ndidi before slipping a pass through to Zaha, who feinted his way past Chilwell and fired into the net from 10 yards.
Leicester were booed off at half-time by fans who could not compute how a team that had been full of energy and ideas in recent weeks could suddenly look so hollow. But Puel made no changes at half-time.
Benteke’s fortunes were not completely transformed. He fluffed a chance to score again just after the break, missing a close-range header after another cross by Townsend. A couple of minutes later he was harshly booked for a foul on Vicente Iborra, incurring a ban that will deprive him of the opportunity to build on this performance at Swansea next week.
Leicester threatened to slash Palace’s lead in the 49th minute but Julián Speroni plunged low to his right to claw away a shot by Mahrez. Then things got even worse for the home side. They only had themselves to blame.
They attempted to shift some of that blame on to the referee, Martin Atkinson, but that was disingenuous. Iborra had a goal correctly ruled out for a push on James Tomkins. Then Ndidi was booked for collapsing in the box without being touched by a defender. Coming less than a minute after he had seen yellow for a foul on Ruben Loftus-Cheek, Ndidi had to go. Those were not the sort of cards the midfielder had hoped to receive on his 21st birthday, but he deserved them. Rather than jeer Atkinson, the crowd should have condemned their own players and perhaps even offered some praise to Roy Hodgson and Palace, who are unbeaten in seven matches and making all those relegation fears seem alarmist.
Hodgson withdrew Benteke in the 87th minute so that the striker could bask in a personal ovation from the travelling fans. His replacement, Sako, rounded off the scoring in stoppage time, finishing nicely from the edge of the area after a break by Loftus-Cheek.