Crystal Palace signed off from an impressive Premier League campaign in a buoyant mood with a 2-0 win over West Brom on Sunday.
Wilfried Zaha and Patrick van Aanholt netted inside the final 20 minutes to add further gloss to Roy Hodgson’s remarkable revival act at Selhurst Park.
The veteran Englishman took over from the sacked Frank de Boer with the Eagles in a perilous position but will feel a keen sense of redemption after leading his boyhood club to a highly-creditable finishing place of 11th.
Though Darren Moore’s five-match unbeaten run came to an end at the final hurdle, the West Brom caretaker can take similar satisfaction from a brief, encouraging stint that has seen him collect more points than both Tony Pulis and Alan Pardew in a largely miserable season for the Baggies.
They will attempt to make a quick return from the Championship next term – having been relegated by Southampton’s midweek win at Swansea City – and Moore, who will meet the board this coming week, has made a compelling case to be entrusted with that responsibility.
This final outing, though, was all about Hodgson and regular match-winner Zaha, who broke the deadlock in the 70th minute from a Van Aanholt assist, the Netherlands international doubling the advantage eight minutes later.
Bright sunshine and an optimistic crowd created an expectation of entertainment and the two sides initially seemed willing to oblige with Luka Milivojevic and Grzegorz Krychowiak both firing narrowly wide in the opening 10 minutes.
Palace appeared the more likely to find an early way through and might have done so had James McArthur opted to shoot inside the box rather than squaring for an off-balance Zaha, whose mishit finish was met by Ben Foster’s outstretched boot.
The Baggies soon settled into the compact shape Moore has successfully crafted and while it prevented them from posing a genuine attacking threat, they did nullify the danger of Zaha through to the end of a scoreless first half.
The hosts stepped up the intensity soon after the restart as Foster first held Ruben Loftus-Cheek’s meek attempt, before Ivory Coast international Zaha sliced wide from Van Aanholt’s cut-back.
And they should have gone ahead when Zaha led a counter-attack to the edge of the area and laid a pass into the path of Andros Townsend, who slipped as he pulled the trigger and failed to even test Foster in a one-on-one.
Instead, it was left to the Eagles’ main man to do the damage. Van Aanholt overlapped again on the left and his low cross was this time diverted into the bottom-right corner by Zaha, his ninth league goal of an exceptional individual campaign.
Provider for the opener, it was the left-back Van Aanholt who applied the finishing touch as he got on the end of a neat one-touch move, rounded Foster and squeezed the ball home to round off Palace’s impressive end to the season.
Key Opta stats:
– West Brom have finished bottom of the top-flight for a record 10th season and the second time in the Premier League era (also 2008-09).
– Crystal Palace won three consecutive Premier League matches for the first time since April 2017.
– Wilfried Zaha has been involved in six goals in his last six Premier League games (five goals, one assist).
– Patrick van Aanholt has scored five goals in his last 10 Premier League games and scored and assisted in the same Premier League game for the first time.