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Championship: Crystal Palace 1 Cardiff City 2

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Crystal Palace ended the season with a whimper rather than a bang as a patched-up Eagles side surrendered an early lead to playoff-chasing Cardiff at Selhurst Park on Saturday afternoon.

From the off, Cardiff showed off the four-man attack which has bamboozled most Championship defences this season. In the third minute, Liam Lawrence’s daisy-cutter from 25 yards was spilled by Lewis Price but Palace’s reserve stopper scrambled and prevented Joe Mason from tapping in an equaliser.

However, the Eagles slowly got a foothold in the game. With Wilfried Zaha playing alongside Glenn Murray, he showed surprising maturity, dropping off and laying off to Darren Ambrose in the 13th minute. Zaha hared back into the space he’d created and got onto the end of Ambrose’s return ball. Beating both the Cardiff defence and David Marshall to the ball, he nicked the ball home from 20 yards to rapturous delight from the home crowd.

Cardiff were increasingly dangerous on the counter attack. On 27 minutes, Mason’s header was saved by Price and two minutes later, his cross across the six yard area was begging for one of his fellow attackers to slot it home. These chances were punctuated by a soft header by Murray from Sean Scannell’s cross, which was simply taken by Marshall.

Cardiff came to increasingly concentrate on Palace’s left-hand side and the inexperienced Matt Parsons. However, they could find no real joy until the 40th minute where a well-worked short corner between Peter Whittingham and Lawrence saw the latter play in an excellent cross for Mark Hudson, though the defender’s header was at a comfortable height for Price.

The Bluebirds came out of the traps fast in the second half. After 40 seconds, Kenny Miller pulled wide on the right and his cross again went begging. However, it wasn’t long before Cardiff found the equaliser. Matt Parsons conceded a freekick down near the byline and Peter Whittingham, in the 53rd minute, stepped up and bent the freekick in from a tight angle, eluding defenders, attackers and the goalkeeper.

The visitors had their tails up, sniffing an end to the uncertainty over their playoff hopes. On 54 minutes, Miller headed wide from a Lawrence cross and unfortunately the tide had turned on the Eagles.Cardiff got their inevitable second on 61 minutes. Aron Gunnarson’s long throw was flicked back by Hudson on the edge of the area. The on-rushing and unmarked Don Cowie smashed a volley into the bottom right-hand corner.

Both teams huffed and puffed but neither really threatened. With their attacking options limited, the home side just couldn’t create the chances to make Cardiff uncomfortable and they simply stroked it around to run down the clock. The Bluebirds go on the playoffs to face West Ham and for the Palace squad it’s an extended holiday.

The uncomfortable truth for the Eagles fans, who have seen the club yo-yo from playoff hopefuls to also-rans in a few short months, is that injuries have decimated the first team and those in reserve, whilst competent, haven’t had enough to keep them in the hunt. However, this is what progress looks like. No relegation battle, a good run in the Carling Cup and another crop of youngsters flirting with the first team. Eagles fans can be cautiously optimistic for the coming season.

Crystal Palace: Price; Parr, McCarthy, Moxey, Parsons; Ambrose (De Silva 73), O’Keefe, Garvan, Scannell (Pedroza 54); Murray, Zaha

Subs not used: Fitzsimons, Wynter, Sekajja

Cardiff: Marshall; McNaughton (Blake 72), Hudson, Turner, Taylor; Gunnarson, Whittingham; Lawrence, Miller (Gestede 79), Cowie; Mason (Earnshaw 89)

Subs not used: Heaton, McPhail

Attendance: 15,510 (2,415 away)

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