Stoke’s 10-year stay in the Premier League has come to an end after they were relegated to the Championship by Crystal Palace’s second-half resurgence.
Home fans streamed out of the Bet365 Stadium immediately after Patrick van Aanholt’s winner, with long-time chairman Peter Coates looking on miserably.
The afternoon had started far better for the hosts.
Manager Paul Lambert – appointed in January to turn the Potters around – had celebrated wildly with Xherdan Shaqiri after the midfielder’s free-kick opened the scoring just before the break.
But James McArthur skipped clear down the left and side-footed home the leveller, before Van Aanholt pounced on Ryan Shawcross’ under-hit backpass to consign Stoke to the second tier.
The Potters’ players – who finished 13th last season – collapsed to the turf as a first top-flight relegation since 1985 sank in.
Crystal Palace’s Mamadou Sakho was one of a number of visiting players to console their opponents after the final whistle, with goalkeeper Jack Butland in tears as some of the remaining home supporters defiantly chanted their lifelong allegiance to the club.
Crowd loud, Stoke quiet
Before kick-off, a fan implored the rest of the Bet365 Stadium to do “whatever it takes” for victory over the public address system.
The crowd responded with incessant noise, but – for the vast majority of the match – the Stoke attack was too quiet.
As so often, it was only when Shaqiri got on the ball that the hosts looked able to unpick the opposition defence.
The Switzerland international’s cross was headed weakly wide by Mame Biram Diouf in Stoke’s best chance before his free-kick found the net with the game’s first shot on target.
The 26-year-old’s pass should have put Badou Ndiaye clean through on goal in the second half, but the Senegal midfielder miscontrolled when a settling second goal beckoned for Stoke.
Shaqiri has spoken this season of a “lack of quality” among his team-mates and was planning talks with the Stoke management in the summer regardless of whether the club had stayed up.
Formerly of Inter Milan and Bayern Munich, he will surely be playing top-flight football somewhere next season, with the likes of England international Butland and Wales midfielder Joe Allen also likely to exit.
The big-money missing men
Stoke’s demise is even more damning on those who do not share the teamsheet with Shaqiri.
Record signing Giannelli Imbula has spent the campaign on loan at French strugglers Toulouse.
Defender Kevin Wimmer, bought last summer for £18m, has been dropped down to the club’s under-23 side, where he is joined by out-of-favour £12m striker Saido Berahino.
Lambert’s midfield options on the bench consisted of the ageing trio of Darren Fletcher, Charlie Adam and Stephen Ireland.
The club have not lacked for funds from Coates, but too many of their big-money purchases have been missing in inaction.
Palace safe with time to spare
It was a result that mathematically confirmed Crystal Palace’s place in the Premier League next season, even if survival had become increasingly clear through an unbeaten April.
Considering the visitors’ start to the season, it will also ensure an almighty final-day party at the always-boisterous Selhurst Park.
Palace lost their first seven league matches this season without scoring a single goal.
The appointment of Roy Hodgson in September was greeted with doubts by many whose most recent memory of the 70-year-old was leading England’s calamitous Euro 2016 campaign.
But he has shored up the Eagles’ defence while, less predictably, giving the likes of Wilfried Zaha and Ruben Loftus-Cheek the freedom to pose a threat at the opposite end.
In the final, wide-open exchanges, the visitors looked more likely to add to the scoreline than the hosts salvage their survival chances.
Man of the match – James McArthur (Crystal Palace)
‘We never had enough’ – what they said
Stoke manager Paul Lambert, speaking to Sky Sports: “It is a tough afternoon. I am feeling for everyone connected with the club.
“When teams don’t get results you can be sleep-walking into positions you don’t want to be in. We never had enough. Since I came in the lads have given everything, but we came short. It is a chance to rebuild.
“It is difficult to come in mid-January to try to assess the team and I had a chat with the players on what went wrong.
“No-one can point a finger at the effort of the players.”
Crystal Palace manager Roy Hodgson: “After seven games, or after 11 games with four points, I never saw it coming.
“I was hoping it would be a low-scoring year in terms of points for the lower sides and we’d just scrape over the line.
“But we came here basically safe. I couldn’t see us going down with 38 points, so I think it was a great show of character from us to come here and play really well.
“It’s not easy having that euphoria from last week and then to come to a place like this, where they’re fighting for their lives, and put on a performance like we did.”
Palace pull off century-old escape act
- Crystal Palace are the first top-flight team since Liverpool in the 1899-1900 season to avoid relegation despite losing their first seven matches of the season.
- Since beating Huddersfield in his first Premier League match in charge, the Potters have collected just seven points from 13 games under Lambert.
- Crystal Palace have not lost any of their past 13 Premier League games against sides starting the day in the bottom half of the division, winning eight.
- Of players with at least 15 Premier League goals, no player has scored a higher percentage from outside the box than Shaqiri (67%, level with former Newcastle and Tottenham winger David Ginola).
- Stoke have failed to win any of the four Premier League matches they have been leading at half-time under Lambert.
- By contrast, Crystal Palace have won three of their past seven Premier League games they have trailed at the break.
Stoke head to Swansea on Sunday, 13 May for their final Premier League game for at least a year, while Palace take on West Brom at the same time.