Crystal Palace beat Stoke 2-1 in their final home game of the season to finally secure mathematical survival from Premier League relegation. Dwight Gayle scored twice to help the Eagles come from behind, and while the result was just was everyone at the club wanted, it also left a few questions to be answered.
Namely, how does Palace boss Alan Pardew get the best out of Gayle? The impish forward was superb against the Potters -- pushed all the way by James McArthur for the Man of the Match -- and both goals were brilliantly taken. But all too many times this season, Eagles fans have seen flashes of what Gayle can offer without it ever being backed up with goals.
Some of that is down to Pardew restricting the striker's gametime and some of that is down to the system he chooses, but against Stoke Gayle was paired with Connor Wickham in a more rigid 4-4-2 and it worked very well indeed.
Which leads nicely onto question two; should Pardew consider switching up his formation more often? Rarely does he sway from his preferred 4-2-3-1, but the reverting back to four in midfield and two up front to accommodate Gayle was the right choice against Stoke.
It was something of a game of two halves; a dour and tight first half in which Mark Hughes' team somehow took the lead was followed by an open second half where Palace scored twice and Stoke could have also netted again. Palace's chances came from a combination of a more confident approach and a complete abandonment of any defensive discipline from the Potters.
And while Gayle grabbed the headlines for his goals, the work of McArthur in midfield didn't go unnoticed by Palace fans; the Scot quietly went about his business of breaking up play and using the ball to massive effect. The only Eagles player to come out of the first half with any credit, he got even better after the break and grabbed control of the the midfield for Pardew's men.
Both he and Gayle will give Pardew selection headaches for the FA Cup final in two weeks after not featuring much in the last few months. But that's the sort of headache every manager wants.
Player ratings (1-10; 10=best; players introduced after 70 minutes get no rating):
GK Wayne Hennessey, 7 -- A classic Hennessey performance; one fantastic save to deny Xherdan Shaqiri one-on-one, but almost handed Marko Arnautovic a goal after rushing off his line. Luckily for him the Stoke man missed an open goal.
DF Joel Ward, 7 -- A better game from the Palace right-back, who was positionally more sound than in recent weeks and spent most of the game shackling Arnautovic, which left the Stoke winger visibly frustrated.
DF Damien Delaney, 7 -- Dragged out of position a few times -- including for that glaring Arnautovic miss -- but otherwise was solid.
DF Scott Dann, 8 -- A classy performance from the Palace centre-back. He was infallible in the air and always looking to bring the ball down when possible and play out from the back.
DF Pape Souare, 7 -- Much better from the Senegalese left-back, who remembered he needs to defend as well as attack.
MF Yohan Cabaye, 6 -- Not a vintage performance from the Frenchman, who was forced off at half-time with an injury.
MF James McArthur, 8 -- How Palace have missed his drive in midfield at times. A complete performance. It was like he'd never been away.
MF Jason Puncheon, 7 -- Some nice touches but lacked that killer final ball in the box. Slipped when presented with a good chance in the first half.
MF Yannick Bolasie, 7 -- At times unplayable but at others a passenger. Improved in the second half and set up Gayle's first with a strong run into the box.
FW Connor Wickham, 7 -- Played the big man role up top well and linked up with Gayle impressively. Was unlucky not to score when his header hit the post in the second half.
FW Dwight Gayle, 8 -- Quiet in the first half but deadly in the second. Two well-taken goals and plenty of work to close down the defence from the front.
MF Joe Ledley, 7 -- Replaced Cabaye at half-time and did a job for 10 minutes before going back off with an injury.
MF Jordon Mutch, 7 -- Came on for Ledley and put himself about well.
MF Bakary Sako, N/R -- A late cameo for Gayle.