The final away trip of the season ends in success, but what did we learn from the three points and sending down the opponents?
1. If ever there was a game that was going to suit Palace, this was it. Cardiff simply had to win, which meant they were forced to commit men forward and vacate gaps in which Palace’s front four were able to run riot. The hosts were arguably fortunate to get level through Martin Kelly’s own goal, but as the Eagles continued to break into space it never felt like the next goal was far away. Cardiff simply became the latest club to fall into the trap that the Eagles have continued to set away from home, but one that has been difficult to replicate at Selhurst Park. Irrespective of what you think of Palace’s home form, the Eagles have now accumulated a record points total away from South London – and to beat last season’s overall tally with a game to spare is an achievement for which Roy Hodgson deserves praise.
2. As soon as the Cardiff fans started booing Wilfried Zaha, you knew it was likely to end one way. Palace’s talisman has regularly relished proving people wrong, and he soon showed his former employers exactly how good he has become since his subdued loan spell at the Cardiff City Stadium. His goal aside, Zaha was Cardiff’s chief tormentor, gliding past Lee Peltier with ease and generally putting himself at the heart of everything that was good about Palace’s attacking play. Despite what some have said about his form this season, Wilf has now hit double figures for the first time in a Premier League campaign, and is starting to demonstrate a maturity in the final third that will only serve to inflate any potential transfer fee.
3. If Jordan Ayew is available for less than £5million in the summer, then Palace could do a lot worse. The Ghanaian might not be the goal-scoring centre forward that the Eagles desperately crave, but he has shown himself to be a useful second striker or back-up wide player when called upon. Ayew’s chances have been limited of late, but against Cardiff he demonstrated a hunger to win the ball back in his own half and could often be seen driving Palace forward from deep. It could be argued that Palace fans’ expectations of Ayew have been somewhat skewed, but if we are able to accept his limitations and appreciate the other things he can offer then the 27-year-old could well be a worthwhile permanent addition to the squad in the summer.
4. The emergence of Aaron Wan-Bissaka seemed to have signalled the end of Joel Ward’s illustrious Crystal Palace career, but the 29-year-old appears to have pounced on Patrick van Aanholt’s poor form to find a route back into the team. Ward has filled in at left back for Palace in the past, but his performances against Arsenal and Cardiff have shown that he remains as capable as ever of stepping in when required. Just like Scott Dann and Martin Kelly, Ward might have his limitations, but he is never one to kick up a fuss or complain at a lack of game time, and there are few more reliable players that Palace can bank on.
5. Can we play the same team against Bournemouth, please? Roy Hodgson admitted after the game that it was a defensive risk to play Zaha and Townsend as out-and-out wingers, but the end result was one of Palace’s best attacking displays of the season. The front four were so fluid that they were free to swap positions at will, which meant Cardiff’s defenders were unable to pick one man to mark and were consequently dragged out of position all afternoon. The same system might not work to the same effect against a solid Bournemouth side, and might even leave us more exposed, but Palace’s long-suffering home support at least deserve to be entertained for the last game of the season.