Palace secured their Premier League status in fine style as they thrashed Hull City by four goals on a perfect afternoon for the Eagles.
In a game that the Eagles couldn’t afford to lose and Hull just had to win, the result ensured that the Tigers became the third and final team demoted to the Championship, ensuring that Sam Allardyce achieved the challenge that was handed to him back in December at clinching a record-breaking fifth successive top-flight campaign in 2017/18.
Any pre-match fears were alleviated thanks to a composed finish by Zaha just two minutes into the encounter, with Benteke adding a second in typical fashion on 34 minutes. After the break, Milivojevic dispatched a penalty before Patrick van Aanholt tucked home late on to ensure the Eagles will be dining at English football’s top table again next year.
There was a big game atmosphere inside Selhurst from the moment the players entered the pitch, with a cacophony of noise and a fantastic display in the Holmesdale adding to the sense of occasion, and all that helped inspire the hosts in the opening stages who rewarded the support with a tension-easing opening goal after just two minutes.
From the left flank Andros Townsend hooked a hopeful ball forwards which was nodded backwards to relative safety by Sam Clucas, but a mis-kick by Andrea Ranocchia allowed Zaha to zip behind him and go one-on-one with Eldin Jakupovic, and casually slid the ball through the goalkeeper’s legs to sweep relief around SE25.
Allardyce’s side could have doubled their advantage before the 10 minute mark when James Tomkins was a whisker away from heading in a Jason Puncheon corner, but Palace continued to look the more likely to get on the scoresheet as the half went on, despite Alfred N’Diaye blasting over from 30 yards in what was the Tigers’ first attempt.
And on 34 minutes, the Eagles got the all-important second goal that virtually secured their top-flight status. Another corner was whipped into the box by Puncheon, and Benteke was able to get a good leap and power the ball downwards into the net to reach 15 league goals in his first season for the Eagles.
He almost made that 16 four minutes later when a fabulous sweeping move involving Zaha, Yohan Cabaye and the Belgian led to a sight of goal, but as well as seeing Japukovic block his attempt, the offside flag would have curtailed any celebrations anyway, and in stoppage-time Cabaye fired into the Whitehorse Lane stand moments before Palace headed into the changing rooms at the interval to rapturous applause from an appreciative, boisterous crowd.
Within five minutes of the restart, Marco Silva had made all three of his substitutions as he desperately searched for the three goals that would keep their dreams of remaining in the top-flight alive, but Hull did suffer the blow of seeing Player of the Season Harry Maguire forced off through injury. Still, they pressed and caused Palace some nervy moments, and Jarred Bowen saw a golden chance go begging as he fluffed his lines at the back post around the hour mark.
One more goal would have sealed safety for Allardyce’s men, and Benteke nearly added it in fantastic fashion when he was picked out by a fine cross by Zaha and controlled the ball on his chest before thrashing it goalwards but saw it fly just wide, however on 83 minutes they had the chance to put the issues at the bottom of the table beyond doubt.
On a counter-attack, Zaha picked out Jeffrey Schlupp who sped into the box and was brought crashing down by Michael Dawson for a clear penalty, and Milivojevic casually rolled it into the corner, sending Jakupovic the wrong way from 12 yards.
And then the icing to the survival cake was added with a minute to go when James McArthur spotted fellow substitute Patrick van Aanholt at the back post, and he once again dispatched the ball through Jakupovic’s legs to add a fourth and emphatically retain the Eagles’ Premier League status.
Palace: Hennessey, Ward, Tomkins (Delaney 86), Kelly, Schlupp, Cabaye (McArthur 62), Milivojevic, Zaha, Puncheon, Townsend (Van Aanholt 75), C. Benteke. Subs not used: Speroni, Flamini, Sako, Campbell.
Hull City: Jakupovic, Maguire (Davies 50), Ranocchia (Bowen 46), Dawson, Robertson, N’Diaye, Clucas, Elmohamady (Maloney 46), Evandro, Grosicki, Niasse. Subs not used: Marshall, Elabdellaoui, Huddlestone, Mbokani.