Neil Warnock insisted he was proud of his relegated Cardiff City team, but was unable to confirm he would stay in charge at the club next season.
The Bluebirds manager – who had hoped to take his side’s battle to avoid the drop to a final match at Manchester United but lost 3–2 -admitted a ruthless Crystal Palace side were simply too good for his players on a day when they had to win.
But after weeks of insisting he would remain at the club to see out the final year of his contract, the 70-year-old was uncertain about his future. He would, he said, take some time to reflect and have talks with the club’s Malaysian owner Vincent Tan.
“Everybody is disappointed when you suffer a relegation,” said Warnock. “It would be wrong not to feel like that, if you’re not hurt. But I can’t be any prouder.
“The lads put so much effort in. But you saw the limitations. Their front four were just too good for us.”
As to his own future, he added: “I’m sure we’ll have a chat, either today, this weekend or the next couple of weeks.
“I think we’ve just to relax for a few days and have a think about everything. I’ve not spoken to anybody. You can’t make rash judgements at this stage of the season with one game to go.
“I will be working next year, I will have a year somewhere. I am looking forward to that challenge again now.
“It’s been a great experience for me and probably my best job ever to have done what we’ve done with the club. I’m right proud of the club.”
Cardiff were languishing near the bottom of the Championship when Warnock took over three years ago. They were also a club badly divided following the rebranding Tan had introduced which involved a switch of playing colours from blue to red.
Warnock added: “I think when you look back to when I came to the club, I thought the club was broken, I thought it was really in a poor state.
“You saw the fans tonight, I think club is almost reborn now. I’m so proud that the fans have been like they have been because I’ve never experienced anything like that in my career.
“We created so many chances second half, but that’s the story of the Premier League, you’ve got to take chances like that. And we haven’t really had a goalscorer this year.
“As daft as it sounds, I think this season has been the best I’ve ever had in management – I’m quite proud of what we’ve achieved, and we’ve got relegated. It is a difficult thing to digest, but that’s how I feel.
Having already sent down Huddersfield in this campaign, as well as Stoke and Hull in recent seasons, Palace accounted for Warnock’s brave but limited Bluebirds.
Wilfried Zaha, Michy Batshuayi and Andros Townsend all scored for a creative and incisive Palace who made it five victories in their last six away games. They boast the best away record in the Premier League in 2019, after Manchester City.
Needing a win to keep alive their hopes of avoiding an immediate return to the Championship, Cardiff levelled the game at 1-1 when they forced Martin Kelly into an own goal.
They also have their fans – who gave loud and loyal support throughout – something to cheer with a late goal from Bobby Reid, but their vulnerability to counter-attack was their undoing.
They become the first team in Premier League history to come up and go straight down again, twice – following their relegation in 2014.
Perhaps liberated by the fact he could no longer hold any regrets, Warnock picked his most attacking line-up of the season, with two wingers – Josh Murphy and Nathaniel Mendez-Laing – supporting strike Danny Ward and two attacking midfielders in Victor Camarasa and Bobby Reid.
The intention to make amends for their subdued showing in defeat at Fulham last week was clear and within 40 seconds Murphy thumped a dipping 25-yard drive that struck the post.
Disruption to the plan soon followed, however, when the Spaniard Camarasa was forced off with a thigh injury and replaced by the less adventurous Leandro Bacuna.
Palace began to ease their way into the game with Wilfried Zaha – who spent time on loan at Cardiff during his unhappy spell at Manchester United – at the centre of their most dangerous moments.
The Ivory Coast international had already tested his range when he hit the side netting after cutting in from the left and in the 28th minute he Palace put ahead.
It was Zaha who began the move before exchanging passes with Andros Townsend and then twisting away from a helpless Aron Gunnarsson to fire low past Neil Etheridge.
It was Zaha’s 10th goal of the season, with nine of those coming away from Selhurst Park.
Warnock has bemoaned Cardiff’s bad luck in recent weeks, but he can have few complaints of the break they were given two minutes later which led to an equaliser.
Bacuna’s swinging cross from the right looked too short to reach the advancing Danny Ward, but Martin Kelly made a hash of his clearance and stabbed the ball past a stranded Vicente Guaita.
The goal lifted Cardiff and gave their supporters fresh hope, but although they pressed forward in numbers it was Palace who looked far more potent on the counter.
Michy Batshuayi was finding plenty of space in which to threaten and it was the on loan Chelsea striker who put Palace ahead for the second time in the 39th minute.
Luka Milivojevic threaded a pass into Batshuayi and the striker played a slick one-two with Jordan Ayew before firing a shot into the roof of the net.
Moments later, Cardiff were ripped open again only for Zaha’s shot to strike Ayew as it flew towards goal.
The Bluebirds continued to press, but only looked threatening from set-pieces and with Sean Morrison and Manga going close with headers from corners.
When they lost possession, though, the pace of Zaha, Townsend and Batshuayi exposed huge holes in the home defence and Cardiff were lucky not to concede again before the break as Batshuayi was twice denied by Etheridge.
Cardiff showed more variety in the second-half as Murphy, Nathaniel Mendez-Laing and Reid combined to better effect with the ball on the ground.
They also kept a better shape when they lost the ball, although they remained behind due to the kind of wayward finishing that has blighted their campaign.
When Mendez-Laing picked out Murphy with a superb cross, the winger got his feet tangled and fluffed a golden opportunity.
Murphy almost made amends, but his shot struck Martin, and then Kenneth Zohore – on for Ward – could not beat Vicente Guaita when he only had the keeper to beat.
Palace’s counters were less frequent, but in the 70th minute Townsend proved they were no less deadly as he made it 3-1.
Cutting in from the right, the former England winger teased and tormented a retreating defence before firing a low shot in off the post from 20 yards.
It was all over for Cardiff – for this match and their Premier League status – but they responded with courage again and only James McArthur’s goal line clearance denied Mendez-Laing.
On the stroke of 90 minutes, Reid finally found some reward when he drove the ball home from 20 yards as Cardiff refused to go quietly.