Cardiff City have been helping to set the pace for much of the Championship season, but Dave Jones's team are in danger of running out of puff before they hit the finishing straight. A second defeat in four days was damaging enough, but the manner of Cardiff's loss at Selhurst Park last night should also be a major concern.
The result might have been different had Peter Whittingham not missed a second-half penalty during Cardiff's one spell of domination, but they created few clear-cut opportunities. Crystal Palace, unbeaten in 11 matches at home, are desperate for points at the other end of the table and deserved the win after another spirited performance.
Cardiff showed a curious lack of urgency in the first half. All too often they pushed forward at what felt like training ground pace. Kagisho Dikgacoi and David Wright cut off the supply lines to Jay Bothroyd, Michael Chopra and Craig Bellamy, and Julian Speroni barely had a shot to save in the first half.
Palace, in contrast, looked lively from the start and always tried to play the ball in early to their strikers. James Vaughan, a bundle of energy, had two decent chances in the first 12 minutes. Stephen Bywater rushed off his line to deny the Everton loanee after he had cleverly controlled Wright's precise chip, while Kevin McNaughton came to the rescue after Dean Moxey's long through ball had released Vaughan. Vaughan's determined challenge on the edge of the penalty area created the best chance of the opening half, but Neil Danns missed the target from 12 yards.
There was more dynamism about Cardiff at the start of the second half, thanks largely to the decision to switch Jay Emmanuel Thomas to the right flank. The on-loan Arsenal midfielder went on a series of surging runs, one of which ended in a thunderous shot from 25 yards which Speroni pushed over.
Stephen McPhail tested the home goalkeeper with another fine strike from outside the penalty area and Palace, appearing to wilt under the pressure, conceded a penalty after 68 minutes when Wright handled Chopra's follow-up after Dekel Keinan's header had hit the crossbar. Whittingham, however, hit the post, his third miss from the penalty spot this season.
Four minutes later Palace thought they had scored, Vaughan netting after Bywater had failed to hold Danns' shot, but the striker was adjudged offside. With nine minutes remaining the home side made the breakthrough. Dikgacoi ran on to Pablo Counago's pass, appeared to overrun the ball, but managed to flick it past Bywater with his heel from 10 yards.
"It was a very hard-fought game," Dougie Freedman, Palace's manager, said afterwards. "We had desire and commitment and I thought we edged it."
Jones did not agree. "It's a game we should have won after the pressure we applied during the second half," he said.
Crystal Palace (4-4-2): Speroni; Clyne, McCarthy, Gardner, Moxey; Danns, Dikgacoi, Wright, Ambrose (Davis 85); Vaughan (Scannell 89), Iversen (Counago 69). Substitutes not used: Price (gk), Garvan, Zaha, Easter.
Cardiff City (4-4-2): Bywater; Quinn, Hudson, Keinan, McNaughton; Whittingham, McPhail, Bellamy, Emmanuel-Thomas (Parkin 84); Chopra (Burke 80), Bothroyd. Substitutes not used: Brown (gk), Rae, Gyepes, Blake, Matthews.
Referee M Russell (Hertfordshire).