CARDIFF CITY 2
Kelly 31 og Reid 90
CRYSTAL PALACE 3
Zaha 28 Batshuayi 39 Townsend 70
BY MATT WOOSNAM AT CARDIFF CITY STADIUM
Rampant, marauding, free-flowing and entertaining.
Crystal Palace have provided plenty of memorable moments on their travels this season, and in defeating Cardiff City they showed what they are capable of when they play without fear and with an open, attacking game-plan.
It helped that the Bluebirds were abject, but Palace’s finishing let them down – as it has all season – in that it denied them a greater margin of victory than just the single goal which belied the true tale of the match.
Andros Townsend, who was awarded Palace’s goal of the season during the week, was excellent on the right, while Wilfried Zaha once again demonstrated his exceptional ability on the opposite wing, tearing apart Lee Peltier at every single opportunity as he ran the show.
The attacking threat possessed by the visitors was evident, in particular the speed with which they broke out of defence.
It is difficult to see many teams offering so many potential chances to shoot at goal, or so much space with which for players to run at.
When you allow Palace’s players to do that, especially Zaha, it makes them almost unstoppable.
The formation which suits them most going forward leaves them short at the back.
Zaha, for his indisputable attacking prowess, is not anywhere near as proficient in the defensive phases. Playing him on the wing invites an overload on the left-back. That position is usually occupied by a primarily attack-minded Patrick van Aanholt – not ideal.
Hodgson has opted to pull out the Dutchman in favour of Jeffrey Schlupp and latterly the right-footed Joel Ward. Van Aanholt has been disappointing since the turn of the year, despite Palace securing an impressive haul of 19 points on their travels.
A back four of Aaron Wan-Bissaka, Martin Kelly, Scott Dann and Ward has performed above expectations, but Kelly struggled in South Wales. So much so that the travelling support sang, tongue firmly in cheek, that the centre-back “wants Brighton down” – suggesting he wanted to throw the game and give the hosts some chance of retaining their top-flight status over the Eagles’ arch-rivals.
Zaha had fired them ahead with a finely-placed strike from the edge of the box after some early home pressure, but then just three minutes later Kelly got it horribly wrong when trying to clear a Leandro Bacuna cross, aided by poor communication with goalkeeper Vicente Guaita, to turn into his own net.
Josh Murphy had been unlucky not to put the Bluebirds ahead when he cracked an effort against the post inside two minutes, while Guaita was also on hand to keep Nathaniel Mendez-Laing’s header out.
Michy Batshuayi restored the lead shortly before half-time from close range after some superb interplay in the build-up.
Townsend added a third when he cannoned a shot in off the post, having carried the ball from his own half.
Bobby Reid rewarded those Cardiff fans who still remained steadfast to the end with an excellent finish in the final minute of normal time.
Aside from Palace’s continued away excellence, the main thing to come out of this is how adept the Eagles are without their two first-choice centre-backs and having dropped their only recognised left-back.
Compact and cohesive, Palace play as a team. They ought to have won here by more. Bakary Sako fired wide, Townsend and Jordan Ayew spurned chances too, but it didn’t matter.
There was little to play for but those fringe players – Ward and Ayew in particular – may have put a lingering thought into their manager’s mind for next season’s campaign.
Crystal Palace (4-4-2): Guaita 7, Wan-Bissaka 8, Kelly 5, Dann 6, Ward 7, Townsend 7 (Kouyate 84), McArthur 7, Milivojevic 6, Zaha 8, Batshuayi 6 (Sako 73), Ayew 7 (Meyer 78). Not used: Hennessey, Van Aanholt, Riedewald, Wickham.