Back in the Day: May 27th - Play Off Final Pain and Joy
Monday 27th May 1996
Crystal Palace 1-2 Leicester City AET
League Division One Play-Off Final – Att: 73,573
Manager: Dave Bassett
This is up there with the most heart-breaking defeats in the history of Crystal Palace Football Club. Andy Roberts (13) had given Palace an early lead with “a bobble at Wembley”. Good play between Roberts, Ray Houghton and David Hopkin gave the former room for the shot and his low drive bobbled over the hand of Kevin Poole. It’s was Roberts’ first goal in a Palace shirt.
Dave Bassett’s men held the lead until the 76th minute when Marc Edworthy got himself into a mess. The full back lost Muzzy Izzet down the flank and then fouled him as he dove into the penalty area. With no support and three Palace players between the winger and the goal, it was a poor decision to tackle. Nigel Martyn dived the right way and got a slight hand onto the spot kick, but it was too firmly struck and Garry Parker (76) levelled the scores.
The game went to extra time and both teams had clearly settled for a penalty shoot-out. Martin O’Neill turned to his bench and replaced keeper Poole with giant reserve keeper, Zeljko Kalac, as the clock ticked into stoppage time at the end of extra time.
The keeper took his position between the sticks and Leicester launched a ball towards the edge of the box. Dean Gordon won the header on the edge of the box but it fell into a massive gap that had appeared between the Palace midfield and defence. In the middle of that gap was Steve Claridge.
The commentator expected the full time whistle to sound as the free kick was in the air and ended up with a confused silence in the biggest moment of the match:
“Well that could be………….”
The ball bounced twice and Claridge swung a leg at the ball. It squirmed off his shin and flew goalwards.
“…… the winner from Claridge. IT IS!”
The poor connection on the shot completely wrong footed Martyn and the legendary Palace stopper had to pick the ball out of the net with what would be his last ever touch in a Palace shirt.
The Leicester end went crazy as the Palace end fell into stunned silence. It was cruel, so very, very cruel.
Monday 27th May 2013
Crystal Palace 1-0 Watford AET
Championship Play-Off Final – Att: 82,025
Manager: Ian Holloway
“Our promotion chances are very good. I’d actually expected us to be facing Brighton in the final... I’m quite relieved to have Crystal Palace as opponents.” – Almen Abdi
With Palace’s poor form at the back end of the season, everyone had all but written Ian Holloway’s men off. Under Dougie Freedman and at the start of Holloway’s reign, it looked like the Eagles would be challenging for the title – but they couldn’t last the pace.
Everyone seemed to miss that, with a back to basics mentality, Palace had quietly put together a six game unbeaten run leading into the final, with Julian Speroni, Danny Gabbidon, Damien Delaney, Dean Moxey and Joel Ward all in imperious form at the back.
As the game got underway, it was already clear who was going to win the battle in the stands. All of the noise was only coming from one end of the stadium – and those fans were not wearing yellow.
17 minutes into the match, Palace suffered a setback. Kagisho Dikgacoi picked up an injury and had to be replaced by Stuart O’Keefe – it was only his 7th league appearance of the season. Arguably, it was the best thing that could have happened. He run his socks off, prevented Watford from playing and was almost rewarded with a goal, only to be denied by the outstanding Manuel Almunia. Almunia denying Palace would become the theme of the afternoon.
The first big chance of the game fell to Matej Vydra, however. A Troy Deeney back heel put the Championship player of the year away and Speroni would likely have been powerless to stop his effort from finding the bottom corner. Out of nowhere came Delaney with a sliding block, and the chance was gone – as was the first half without any further incident.
Whatever Holloway said in the break worked a treat. Palace took over in the second half and should have been out of sight long before the full time whistle.
Aaron Wilbraham had several chances to write himself into Palace folklore. Three times he was looking at the whites of Almunia’s eyes, three times the former Arsenal stopper refused to blink.
Owen Garvan, Wilfried Zaha and Mile Jedinak all missed further chances before the final whistle sounded and took the game to extra time.
In the stands the conversations were all about how wasting the chances would come back to bite us and moments into the first extra period, it almost did. Abdi floated the ball in to Deeney and his first touch looked to have pushed the ball out of the reach of Speroni, which would have allowed him to tap into the empty net. Instead, the Palace legend turned into Inspector Gadget and flew to his left and managed to palm the ball away from Deeney’s cocked right peg.
All afternoon, Zaha had been causing problems for the Watford defence only to be let down by his end product. On the stroke of half time in extra time, he managed to find himself one on one with Marco Cassetti who, quite frankly, looked like a footballer several years past his best. One burst of acceleration and Zaha was past the Italian and into the penalty area. The challenged that followed was laughable and down went Wilfried. The referee pointed to the spot, Zaha punched the air in celebration and Kevin Phillips, after a battle with Andre Moritz, placed the ball on the spot.
Watching it back, I always think that Almunia is going to save it. Phillips telegraphed where he was going to put the ball and the Watford stopper picked up the signals. Fortunately for Palace, Phillips had some rocket power in his boots and the ball arrowed into the top corner.
It is amazing what the finishing line can do to athletes. Palace comfortably saw out the second half of extra time, only to nearly throw it all away in the final minute.
Fernando Forestieri showed great feet in the box and carved open a chance. His outside of the boot right footed effort beat Speroni, but Ward was on the line to head clear.
Seconds later Palace could have held onto possession of the ball, instead they humped it clear and it gave Watford another chance to throw the ball into the penalty area. Nobody challenged Deeney, his backwards header deflected and I doubt that it would have been possible to get a piece of string between the ball and the goalpost. Up came Almunia for the corner. Gabbidon cleared for another corner. Forestieri’s follow up corner was poor, the ball was cleared and Palace were £120m richer.
Zaha sprinted to the Palace fans, Phillips “the old man of the game” cried and Jedinak summed up the difference between the two sides: “We’ve got a lot of team spirit.”
We wanted it badly, they didn’t - just ask, Damo.
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