Crystal Palace rounded off their season on a high note with a 5-3 victory over Bournemouth at Selhurst Park – the most goals Palace fans have seen at SE25 from their side all campaign.
As he has done many times this season, Wilfried Zaha took centre stage on the final day, having a hand in all five Eagles goals and also getting some unwanted, or perhaps wanted, attention from the Bournemouth fans who were intent on making him the villain of the afternoon.
The Ivorian was involved in an altercation with Jefferson Lerma and looked certain to be sent off after questioning Roger East’s decision to book him, although just seconds later the speedy number 11 had bounced through two cynical attempts to bring a halt to his furious run and teed up Andros Townsend.
The focus on the match-winner didn’t end there, though, with Eddie Howe reserving some special praise for him after all was said and done.
Zaha is unplayable on his day and this was certainly a game that belonged to the former Manchester United wide man, as Cherries boss Eddie Howe suggested in his post-match comments:
“We didn’t deal very well with (Zaha) at all. We’ve maybe not had a better individual opponent this season. He was very difficult to contain.
“But we have to be critical of our defending; that’s something to focus on next season. We’ve conceded too many goals and it’s hampered our ability to win more.”
As the 41-year-old says, the Cherries defence could hardly get near Zaha, who had a thoroughly enjoyable afternoon down the left flank and was denied an 11th goal of the season by Mark Travers in the first half, only for Jack Simpson to inadvertently knock the rebound home.
Back in 2017, Howe appeared to question Zaha’s integrity by accusing him of diving, strongly insinuating he had gone down easily in a 2-2 draw. But the Vitality Stadium chief seems to have changed his tune since and, by labelling him as Bournemouth’s best ‘individual opponent’ this season, reserved praise of the highest order for the scourge of his side.
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Indeed, Zaha has established himself as one of the best outside the top-six and Howe’s comments are reinforced by Trent Alexander-Arnold’s statement that he is the ‘hardest’ player he has come up against.
Completing 3.4 dribbles per game this season, the 10-goal star is a nightmare to play against and, like many of the defenders who resort to illegal methods when it comes to stopping him, Howe seems to have finally accepted that, as Palace fans will tell you, he’s just too good.