Saturday 9th December 2017. The seconds ticking away in what is a crucial game for a Crystal Palace side rooted to the foot of the table. Palace are drawing 2-2 against a wilting Bournemouth side. It is the 93rd minute, and Wilfried Zaha is bought down inside the box; a penalty is awarded, and designated spot kick taker Luka Milivojevic is ready to step up and dispatch it, as he had done earlier in the game.
But Christian Benteke had other ideas. The Belgian, without a goal all season, takes it upon himself against the wishes of his teammates and coaching staff to grab the ball from the Serbian in an act of pure selfishness. A stuttered, nervy run up, culminated with the ball bouncing off the gloves of Asmir Begovic and out of play. He had missed, Palace drew the game, and Benteke was booed off the pitch and vilified in the media by his own teammates and manager.
It was a gutting moment. The scant belief and hope of a side completely bereft of confidence had been washed away by the ineptitude of one of their own. Many inside Selhurst Park that day left the ground seething, vowing to never forgive the former Aston Villa and Liverpool forward should they be relegated by a slender margin.
Fast forward to the 28th April and Roy Hodgson’s once depleted Eagles side are sitting in an astonishing 11th place in the Premier League table on 38 points, their safety all but secured after a start so bad it broke records in English football.
It’s obvious to all that this turnaround has been outstanding; that much is common knowledge. While it shouldn’t be overlooked, one moment in particular from the 5-0 win over Leicester which took them to the lofty position, as aforementioned, is significantly beautiful.
With the score already at 4-0 thanks to goals from Wilfried Zaha, James McArthur, Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Patrick van Aanholt, Christian Benteke drew contact from Harry Maguire inside the very same box as his horror show from December.
So affected by his nightmare against Bournemouth, Benteke picked himself up off the turf and trudged to the edge of the box, ready to watch Milivojevic step up having learned from the errors of his ways. But the Palace squad wouldn’t allow that.
Zaha was the first to encourage him to take it. Benteke politely declined. Van Aanholt relentlessly willed him on to take it, but still, Benteke declined; not through nervousness nor through being a coward, but simply because he respected the way things were this time around.
However, after Milivojevic offered the ball to him, Benteke knew he had the support of his teammates to get himself on the scoresheet. The Serbian left the forward alone with the ball, not before giving him a supportive rub on the head and a thumbs up to the Holmesdale as if to say ‘It’s fine, Bournemouth is forgotten’.
‘Oh Christian Benteke!’ rained down from the terraces as the 27-year-old placed the ball to his liking on the spot, the supporters eager to forget the horrors of Bournemouth and fill one of their beloved players with some much needed confidence.
Nobody, not the supporters or the Palace players needed to do this for Benteke. By his own admission, he has been way off the mark this season. But what makes this football club special is both players and fans rallying around a player so bereft of belief in himself, willing him on to get on the scoresheet.
And that he did. Albeit with a slip, Benteke found the back of the net for just the third time this season, seeing Ben Hamer dive helplessly out of the way as he struck it down the middle and landed on his backside.
Metaphorically, and literally, the Belgian lifted himself from the turf, greeted by all ten outfield players in red and blue, and he was mobbed by his adorning teammates, all smiling wildly. But no one was smiling more wildly than Benteke. A big thumbs up to the Holmesdale ensued after his successful spot kick; this was a real moment of unity, as the staff and subs on the bench, fans and players on the pitch were all desperate to see him score.
Having wanted his head on a stick back in December, the spirit of Crystal Palace FC has seldom been epitomised as clearly as it was in the dying embers of their biggest Premier League win in history. It was football in a nutshell, and was a true show of the romantic side of what is known as the beautiful game.