An excellent Palace produced their best pre-season performance so far at the Madejski Stadium as they thumped Reading to boost confidence a fortnight away from the Premier League kick-off.
A quiet opening 45’s highlight saw Alexander Sørloth open the scoring on 33 minutes before the visitors moved through the gears in the second half, with Wilfried Zaha scoring twice and James Tomkins adding a fourth with 20 minutes to play to complete a scoreline that didn’t flatter the Eagles at all.
Roy Hodgson’s team dominated throughout and barely gave their hosts a sniff of goal, and had the ball in the net after three minutes when Zaha slipped in Sørloth but the striker was correctly flagged offside, and in the 11th minute Zaha again pulled the strings to tee up Andros Townsend but his tame shot was straight at Royals stopper Vito Mannone.
Despite that promising start, strangely chances were at a premium in an open contest. That suited Reading whose gameplan revolved around springing counter-attacks while Palace dictated possession and tempo, but they were guilty of butchering a couple of good openings which cost them dearly on 33 minutes when Palace claimed a deserved lead.
During a spell of sustained pressure in the Reading half, the ball found its way to Jeffrey Schlupp who laid it off for Zaha, and the Ivorian international drove to the byline and fizzed a low pass into a dangerous area which was just begging to be dispatched, and Sørloth did so emphatically by slamming the ball into the top corner to register his second goal of the summer.
All Paul Clement’s team could muster in the opening half was a poor John Swift free-kick which sailed into the strong travelling support, and there was a late chance for Sørloth to add another to his tally just before the break but he screwed wide after some good work by Aaron Wan-Bissaka.
Following his World Cup exploits, Luka Milivojevic was handed his first action of pre-season at the break, and just three minutes after his introduction his team doubled their lead. Patrick van Aanholt controlled the ball on the left flank’s whitewash and played a one-two with Schlupp which caught Reading napping, and the Dutchman found Zaha inside the box who casually stroked an accurate finish past Mannone.
With the game drifting away from them, Reading produced their brightest attack when Mo Barrow found Swift unmarked around the penalty spot, but fortunately for the Eagles Mamadou Sakho got the faintest nick to a shot that heading ominously towards the bottom corner, and on 56 minutes Thiago Illori finally dirtied Wayne Hennessey’s gloves but his header caused no issues.
After that brief flurry, the Royals were soon on the back foot again as Zaha continued to be a constant menace, and he nearly added a second in spectacular fashion when Wan-Bissaka picked him out with a deep cross to flash a volley just wide, but that was just a precursor to what he would produce on 64 minutes.
Once again, some neat build-up play saw Palace gradually work the ball upfield until it came to Townsend, who guided it to Zaha on the left edge of the area. Despite being surrounded by three defenders, he managed to nudge a pass to James McArthur who rolled the ball back into his path to hammer past a helpless Mannone from the edge of the area to complete his brace.
The hosts seemed to give up the ghost after that and on 68 minutes Palace profited again. After seeing a corner cleared, Townsend robbed Omar Richards of possession and after linking up with Van Aanholt sent over a teasing cross that Mannone flapped at and missed, allowing Tomkins to convert an easy header from close range.
Connor Wickham was then handed a taste of first-team action for the first time since November 2016 when he was introduced to a thunderous roar from the Palace supporters, and in the final seconds Hennessey made a good save to deny Marc McNulty to keep a first clean sheet of the summer and complete a positive afternoon all round from Hodgson’s perspective.
Reading: Mannone, Yiadom, Ilori, McShane, Gunter (Richards 34), Meyler, Kelly, Barrow (Clement 69), Aluko (Blackett 69), Swift (McNulty 63), Meite (Bodvarsson 63). Subs not used: Walker, Evans.
Palace: Hennessey, Wan-Bissaka, Tomkins, Sakho, Van Aanholt, Townsend (Puncheon 82), McArthur (Williams 82), Riedewald (Milivojevic 45), Schlupp, Zaha, Sørloth (Wickham 72). Subs not used: Guaita, Ward, Souare, Kelly, Kaikai.
Watch the highlights of the victory and post-match interviews now or on the app go to Palace TV and into the video section.