GARY CAHILL suffered the ultimate nightmare against his former club Chelsea.
The Crystal Palace defender, who has enjoyed a decent first season at the club, faces a long spell on the sidelines after suffering a nasty-looking hamstring injury at the start of this entertaining London derby.
The 34-year-old former England defender spent seven years at Stamford Bridge, winning eight major trophies – and suffered a 2-0 loss on his big return to west London in November.
But it got far worse after just six minutes when he collapsed to the floor as he looked to deal with a pass from Reece James.
Yet as Cahill thumped the ground with his fist while writhing in agony, Willian sprinted clear and pulled the ball back for Olivier Giroud to score the opener.
Christian Pulisic made it 2-0 before Palace star Wilf Zaha pulled one back with a spectacular effort for only his third of the season.
Chelsea substitute Tammy Abraham made it 3-1 before Chrstian Benteke made it 3-2 soon after.
But the game will also be remembered for the injury to Cahill who the day before, was praised by boss Roy Hodgson for his fitness – and the manager claimed the defender could play until he was 40.
Palace’s Luka Milivojevic complained to the officials that play should have been stopped but Willian was quite right to continue as it was not a head injury. You could certainly not blame Frank Lampard’s side.
As the game restarted, the dubious goals committee looked at the effort to see whether it should have been awarded to Pulisic as it may have taken a slight deflection.
While the goal was rightly awarded to Giroud, there was no mistake over who grabbed the second goal just after the drinks break.
Benteke had a lazy forward pass blocked by Andreas Christensen, Mason Mount picked the ball up and fed Willian who combined brilliantly with Giroud.
In-form Brazilian international Willian, who could leave on a free transfer when the season ends, used the outside of his boot to find Pulisic who took three touches in super-quick time to work his way past Joel Ward.
Pulisic hammered the ball past Vicente Guaita at his near post and while Palace’s keeper should maybe have done better, he redeemed himself with a fine save to deny Willian to prevent a total Palace collapse.
And from Palace potentially being three down, the score was 2-1.
Chelsea defender James lost the ball to Patrick van Aanholt but there still seemed little danger when Zaha picked the ball up. Yet he took a couple of couple before unleashing a belting strike past Kepa.
A top-class goalkeeper would have saved it – and Kepa is not one of those – but it was still a spectacular effort. Incredibly, it was Zaha’s first goal since December.
Chelsea defended too deeply but then Abraham gave them breathing space with the third just six minutes after being brought on.
It was a classic counter attack with sub Ruben Loftus-Cheek carrying the ball forward and he played a clever pass to Abraham to deliver a good finish into the corner.
Just a minute later and like the previous week at West Ham, Chelsea proved they are weak defensively away from home. Van Aanholt crossed for Benteke to poke the ball in from close range with defender Christensen all over the place.
Chelsea were wearing their new “arctic blue” away kit for next season.
And with N’Golo Kante injured, Billy Gilmour got the nod ahead of Jorginho, who looked absolutely furious ahead of the game.
It seems unlikely he will be at Chelsea next season.