It’s now down to the time of the season best described by Sir Alex Ferguson as “squeaky bum time”. None more so than for Stoke, who were facing down the barrel of relegation to the Championship if they failed to get any points in their last home game of the season. Crystal Palace had been in this situation before, last season they hosted relegation threatened Hull City to Selhurst Park. A 4-0 win that day sealed their Premier League status at the expense of the Tigers, but could they do the same on a sunny Saturday afternoon in Stoke?
Stoke City – 442 – Butland, Johnson (Campbell 77’), Shawcross, Zouma, Pieters, Shaqiri, Allen, N’diaye, Bauer, Diouf, Crouch (Sobhi 67’)
Crystal Palace – 442 – Hennessey, van Aanholt, Sakho, Tomkins, Ward (Kelly 40’), Loftus-Cheek, Cabaye (Benteke 63’), Milivojević, McArthur, Zaha, Townsend (Schlupp 88’)
Attendance – 29,687
Stoke came into the game knowing that anything other than a loss would keep they survival hopes alive, going into the last game of the season, and Palace knew that a win would see them safe for another season mathematically. And the game certainly started out like both teams wanted to win. It was pretty much end to end for much of the opening minutes. Another poor pass back from Tomkins almost let Bauer in, but Hennessey was there to spare the defender’s blushes. From the Palace countered, and Loftus-Cheek’s long-range shot went just wide of the far top righthand corner.
There were several more chances for both sides as the half continued. Zaha had a shot that was drilled across the goal only to go wide of the left post. Stoke’s best chance came as Shaqiri raced down the right wing, crossing it to the penalty spot where it was met by the head of Diouf, who could only redirect it wide of the far post.
The pace of the game then slowed after a couple of stoppages. Firstly, when Palace’s Joel Ward went down with an injury after lading awkwardly on his heel, jarring his leg which would see him forced off towards the end of the half. McArthur went for a clearance and his follow through caught Pieter’s on the knee that looked pretty painful, but the Dutch defender would carry on.
The game looked to be petering out towards halftime, but with 2 minutes left of the 45, the breakthrough came. Loftus-Cheek was caught by Shaqiri trying to play the ball too much when bringing it out after a Stoke corner, and he brought down the tricky Swiss winger. From the resultant freekick, the Bet365 Stadium was sent into raptures as Shaqiri curled the ball over the wall, and with a glance off the head of Loftus-Cheek and flew past the statuesque figure of Hennessey in goal. The perfect time to score and Stoke went into halftime a goal to the good, and with survival in their hands.
The second started much like the first, both side attacking and the defenses holding strong with bodies being thrown in the way of shots as both sides looked to grab the next goal. Stoke, having dropped the most points from leading positions so far this season, needed to get the next goal to cement their lead. Unfortunately for them, it was the away side that scored that vital second goal of the game. It came from another Palace counter attack, as Zaha burst forward from the midfield before passing it off to Loftus-Cheek, who redeemed himself for his part in Stoke’s opener by slipping the ball to the overlapping McArthur who would slot the ball inside the far post. You could feel the atmosphere and collective air of the Stoke fans and players being sucked out of the stadium.
From that point on, the game changed, and Palace had much more of the ball as Stoke pressed to find another goal. The Eagles had several chances to take the lead, whether it be a weak first time shot from substitute Benteke that dribbled wide, or a Loftus-Cheek shot that was too high and powerful with Zaha screaming at him for the pass back. However, it was from Stoke’s first corner of the game, in the 86th minute that Palace dealt the blow that would knock Stoke out of the league. The corner was a poor one, Shaqiri on able to find Allen at the near post who went down under the challenge of the Palace defense, but the Stoke claims for a penalty went unacknowledged by the referee.
Palace played it out from the back as Stoke tried to reset themselves to fend off another attack, but the back four were all over the place as a simple ball forward from Benteke left Zaha one on one with Pieters. Seeing the on-rushing van Aanholt in acres of space on the left-hand side, Zaha tried a cross ball pass over to him, Shawcross tried in vain to get the ball, but his attempted interception done no more than knock the ball into van Aanholt’s stride and he slotted home his 4th goal in 9 games under Butland. A goal that sent the Palace fans into rapturous cheers but left the thousands of home fans collectively holding their heads, with many already heading for the exits.
There was still time for a moment of controversy as Shaqiri, in a moment of visible frustration, raked his studs down the calf of Loftus-Cheek, a possible sending off offence that only saw him see a yellow.
The final whistle blew, and that was it, Stoke’s decade long love affair with the Premier League was over. What awaits them is a dogged fight in the Championship as they try to make that return to the top flight at the first time of asking. Palace on the other hand now find themselves outside the top ten on goal difference, had mathematically secured Premier League football for another season, and setting another record of being the first top flight side since Liverpool in 1899-1900 to survive relegation after losing their first seven games of the campaign.
Both teams only have one game left, but games that could prove to be important in the fate of other relegation threatened teams. Stoke visit South Wales to face a Swansea side whose form has seen them fall into a fight with Southampton (they face each other on the Tuesday before the final weekend). Palace could be relegation executioners again as they host West Brom, who have been in excellent form in recent weeks, beating Manchester United and Spurs along the way, as they scrap and fight for every point in their fight for survival.
Stoke will be missed in the Premier League, because they did become the benchmark for any player or team who entered the league. After all, Messi and Ronaldo may be the best players on the planets, but can they do it “on a rainy Tuesday night in Stoke?”
Written by Migtavius.
31-year-old Londoner, Crystal Palace supporter, and Team Correspondent for 90MAAT. Co-host of the FPL PopInPod.