Connor Wickham’s 15-month injury lay-off came to an end at Selhurst Park as Palace’s development side restored their healthy eight-point lead at the top of the table by beating Cardiff City.
James Daly opened the scoring in the first half before quick-fire strikes by Levi Lumeka and Jason Lokilo virtually put the game to bed around the hour mark, paving the way for the introduction of Wickham who featured in his first game since injuring his knee at Swansea City in November 2016.
The gloss was put on the result in stoppage-time when Joseph Hungbo bagged his first goal at this level to complete the perfect day for Richard Shaw's side.
The game began slowly with very little action of note in the opening half an hour. Cardiff’s only sight of goal came after a corner on eight minutes when Tom Bexton had a shot blocked before Matt Campbell scuffed the rebound wide, while a wild, wayward 40-yard blast from trialist right-back Richard Bakary was all the Eagles could muster in return.
However, on 39 minutes Palace scored with their first shot on target. Lokilo was clattered by James Waite and as the visiting defence switched off, the Belgian winger played a quick free-kick to Erdal Rakip whose centre deflected off Rhys Abbruzzese, and Daly was in the perfect place to slam home his sixth goal in his last six under-23 outings.
That livened up proceedings and the Bluebirds had a couple of chances to equalise before the break when Ciaron Brown headed a Waite free-kick straight at Joe Tupper before Brad Carr spun away from Jaroslaw Jach and forced the Palace keeper to push the ball around his post, but the last say of the half went to the hosts when a good move involving Lokilo, Rakip and Lumeka carved out a chance for Daly, but he headed it onto the roof of the net.
Shaw’s team continued in the ascendancy after the break and after Lokilo shot straight at Warren Burwood, they netted twice in three minutes to virtually secure the win with just under an hour to play.
On 59 minutes a long-ball by Oliver O’Dwyer allowed Lumeka to scamper behind the defence, and the attacker showed good composure by controlling the ball on his chest before deftly poking the ball past Burwood to register his 10th goal of the campaign, and three minutes later Lokilo saw a curling free-kick deflect off Waite in the wall and deceive the Bluebirds custodian to make it 3-0.
With 20 minutes to play Wickham was introduced for his first appearance in red and blue since November 2016, but it was Cardiff who nearly grabbed the game’s fourth goal when Brown pounced on some hesitancy by Pape Souare to strike the post from the byline.
Late on Wickham’s eyes lit up when Lumeka stood a cross up to the back post for the hitman but he could only divert his header at Burwood, but with the final kick of the game Hungbo, who had been on the pitch for around a minute, converted a Lumeka centre to maximise the margin of victory as thr Eagles claimed a fifth win from their last six games.
Palace: Tupper, Bakary, O’Dwyer (Brown 82), Jach, Souare, McGregor, Rakip, Lokilo (Hungbo 90), Flanagan, Lumeka, Daly (Wickham 71). Subs not used: Webber, Bryon.
Cardiff: Burwood, Coxe, Brown, Bexton (Davies 85), Abbruzzese, Carr, Young, Waite, Obi (Deacon 46), Campbell (Humphries 76), Harris. Sub not used: Ratcliffe.