Brighton 0-2 Palace
After all of the bad results, after all of the criticism and after all of the doubt that has swept around SE25 in the last few months, Crystal Palace entered into the Championship Play Off Semi Final against Brighton & Hove Albion and stood up to be counted.
Whilst the bookies, the press, our own fans, the Brighton fans, Gus Poyet and Play Off history had all but written us off, one man and his team never had a moments doubt. As 27,500 Brighton fans (please note this figure includes fans that have Brighton as a second team) all armed with clackers stood in the stands of their beautiful £100m stadium to welcome their soon to be heroes onto the field with a display of Blue & White stripes, one man and his team quietly let the Seagulls from Sussex soak up the atmosphere. Then when all of the talking was done and all that was left was one football and eleven vs eleven, that one man’s team reminded Brighton & Hove Albion of the one constant in our relationship... There are teachers and pupils, know your place.
There are teachers and pupils, know your place.
Rewind back to Friday night, specifically at half time. This was the time when doubt was perhaps at its highest point for many Palace fans. Brighton had all but run rings around us in the first half as the much revered, yet not good enough to get a contract at Palace, Bridcutt was pulling the strings, Will “Best Player in the World” Buckley was looking strong and only a world class save from Speroni had kept the scores level. As Palace fans discussed the likely impending disaster of defeat to the Weed, Ian Holloway was stood mere yards away in the quaint Selhurst Park dressing room and was hatching his master plan.
As most Palace fans took to the stands for the second half of the first leg, a half that would certainly bring a Brighton winner and a resulting impossible trip to the South Coast, a very different Crystal Palace team was emerging from the dressing rooms. Containment was no longer the plan and attack was on the second half menu.
What Holloway had set into motion was working. We were in full flow and a goal was coming and we could all sense it. Then disaster strikes as Glenn “Thirty Goals, Thanks A Lot” Murray turns inside the area only for his knee not to get the memo. A ruptured cruciate later and Murray is out for the rest of the Play Off campaign. This put a spanner in the works of the Holloway master plan, however, its effects were only temporary.
Poyet took to the post match presser with his usual arrogance.
As the first leg came to a close with the scores level, Poyet took to the post match presser with his usual arrogance and produced a conference that must have Ian Holloway laughing his little ass off. “This won’t take long” and “We’re 60-40 favourites, for sure” were personal favourites, however, it was one little exert that did it for me and, undoubtedly, Holloway.
“Sometimes we managers complicate football too much as we try to be too clever and we try to do what nobody expects. Most of the time that goes against you.”
When Crystal Palace marched into the Amex back in 2011 and strolled away with a 3-1 victory, inflicting the first ever league defeat on Brighton at their new stadium, I said the following in my match report:
“There was not one player in either team that has played in a Palace vs Brighton fixture and what does Gus Poyet know about it? Only what he has been told. Freedman on the other hand has lived and breathed it. His first goal in the 3-2 at the Withdean is career defining, being his 100th goal for the club. He could instil into our players the importance of the game in a way that Poyet could never do.”
I would barely have to change that paragraph now to exactly fit the current situation. Whilst Poyet sat and scratched his head as yet again an un-fancied Palace team ruined the party at the Amex on Monday night, Holloway was stood but ten yards from him with a wealth of Play Off knowledge and experience and used it to pull off a master class in football tactics, a master class that Poyet just could not live with. There are pupils and there are teachers, know your place, Gus.
So let’s get technical and talk tactics. I am not going to talk about Poyet’s failures across the two legs, for there were many. Let the Weed deconstruct his decisions, as I am sure that they will do at length. Instead I will focus on what Ian Holloway did to put paid to Brighton’s season and take us to Wembley.
I would suggest that one has to look no further than the league table to identify Brighton’s weakness. A division high eighteen draws and a mere 39 goals at home highlights that Brighton have a problem with breaking teams down. When teams are sitting deep they struggle to pick their way through from what I have seen of them this season. They look far more dangerous when teams have a go at them as they are extremely dangerous on the counter. Look no further than our 3-0 loss at the Amex in March. We attacked and paid the price. Holloway learned a very valuable lesson that day, both about Brighton as a team and Brighton as a fixture, and was not to make the same mistake again.
Speroni pulled off an incredible save.
In the first half of the first leg we soaked up Brighton pressure and let their frustration grow. Sure this plan is risky as you need an element of luck alongside some solid defending and exceptional goalkeeping. We got the latter from Speroni as he pulled off an incredible save at to deny a point blank header and we had the Danny Gabbidon that we used to watch on Match of the Day. This coupled with a quite phenomenal, man of the match, performance from Joel Ward led to a frustrated Brighton pouring more men forward.
This is where you can beat Brighton. As the frustration sneaks in and they push forward you can get in down the flanks as Buckley, Lua Lua and co just do not track back past the hour mark if their team does not have the lead. This only worked in patches in the first leg but with devastating effect in the second.
With Calderon and Bridge tiring, with the former already in the book for a disgusting foul on Zaha, Holloway threw on Bolasie and all of a sudden we had two of the most dangerous wingers in the division one on one with the full backs in a season that has often seen them double marked. Then it was clear that it was only a matter of time before Palace scored. Sure we had to rely on another World Class stop from Jules, however, as he said in his post match interview, “that’s what I get paid to do.” Throw in a clearance off the line from Dean Moxey, who had arguably his best ever game in a Palace shirt, and it was obvious that the door was firmly closed to Brighton.
I thought it must have been KG who scored.
Then Jedinak is hauled down in the area as yet another stonewall penalty is not awarded to the Eagles, however, this could have worked as a blessing in disguise. Instead of putting pressure on one man to take the most important spot kick of the year, instead all we had to do was release Bolasie down the left who then teased Calderon before whipping in the perfect cross for Zaha who shocked us all by scoring with his head. “I thought it must have been KG who had scored” joked an equally shocked Holloway.
"What followed was eleven Blue and White shirts with absolutely no bottle whatsoever."
What was then expected was twenty minutes plus stoppages of constant Brighton pressure. What followed was eleven Blue and White shirts with absolutely no bottle whatsoever. They mustered one more shot on target and that was only after Zaha had left the Brighton skipper, Greer, for dead before firing past the classless Kuszczak between the sticks to send the 2000 travelling fans behind the goal into wonderland and on to Wembley.
The Holloway Subs
On one hand the stats are clear. Holloway earned the most points through substitutions in the Championship this season. On the other hand, many of his changes have also failed and left people scratching their heads. No one was surprised to see the introduction of Bolasie but it is fair to say that bringing on Andre Moritz baffled all but 0.1% of Palace fans. With Williams looking dangerous and Garvan very assured there is no doubt that throwing on the very up and down Moritz was a gamble, but my word did it pay off!
The Brazilian did not waste possession once and pretty much showed the world why Liam Bridcutt has still got a long way to go before he can even entertain ideas of playing at a higher level. He just could not get near Moritz and the man, who reportedly stormed out of the Palace changing room on Friday night, cashed the cheque that his mouth had written with his post first leg behaviour.
It was just yet another phase of the Holloway tactical master class that was the Play Off Semi Finals.
“It means the world to me” said Wilf when being asked “Your last game for Crystal Palace will be at Wembley, what does that mean to you?”
The rather ludicrous thread on the BBS aside, titled “Should Zaha be dropped for the Play Offs?”most of us believed that once it really mattered, the Manchester United bound wonderkid would show his worth. We were not wrong.
It means the world to me.
“I just wanted to finish one of my finishing games in a strong way and getting two goals is just a dream really” said an emotional Zaha at full time as the Palace fans behind him sung his name.
After all of the abuse that he has received at the hands of Brighton fans, to put them to the sword in such clinical fashion was just perfect.
“What a waste of money” sing the Brighton fans. “He’s just too good for you” sing the Palace fans. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know which set of fans are right.
Man of the Match (first leg): Joel Ward
With a wing heavy attack, Ward was put under constant pressure during the ninety minutes yet stood firm and didn’t allow them an inch. His comeback from injury has been key and he would have definitely been in the reckoning for Player of the Year if he had stayed fit for the season. Rumours are that Redknapp was at Selhurst on the final day to watch him, let’s hope that promotion puts that problem to bed.
Man of the Match (second leg): Dean Moxey
Moxey completes the full back domination of the Semi Final MOTM awards. People were quick to get on Deano’s back when he came into replace Parr after his injury at Ipswich. It is a bit sad when you consider that many people, when talking about Parr, will say that he needs a consistent run of games before he hits form, yet the very same people are not prepared to offer the same bedding in time to the Mox. I guess at Palace you’re either a Moxey fan or a Parr fan. Everybody knows what side of the fence I sit on and that has absolutely nothing to do with the fact that Mrs Moxey waxed my legs for charity... If anything, that should work against him.
"His best performance in a Palace shirt."
Above I have suggested that this is arguably is best performance in a Palace shirt. For me there is no doubt that it was. His effort for the entire game was unmatched as he constantly got forward yet never left us short at the back. His support for the winger in front of him was perfect and his ability to defend when the support was not reciprocated from the winger was amazing.
Then there is THAT clearance off the line. After the game Deano tweeted “that was for you Mrs Moxey” showing the class that this man possesses as a human being and he matched that on the field last night with his football.
Watch the first goal and Moxey’s reaction in the background. Passion incarnate.
Atmosphere (First Leg)
The noise in Selhurst Park was, at points, unrivalled previously. The “Red N Blue Army” that circulated the whole stadium in the first half was deafening and I am just gutted that we couldn’t get a goal as I am sure the celebrations would have been un-witnessed at Selhurst in some 20 years.
Atmosphere (Second Leg)
On the train on the way back a lonely Brighton fan was sat in amongst us and was asked what we sounded like. “I had friends wanting to move away because of the noise” was his response.
There were nervy periods from the Palace fans, no doubt, however, from the second half it was just one way traffic in the stands, culminating in the post match celebrations that were captured so brilliantly by the TV cameras.
Scoring Goals for Palace.
What will forever stand out for me is the “Scoring Goals for Palace” as Glenn Murray stood in front of us clapping his crutches over his head. It was an incredibly emotional moment and provided the striker with the one last piece praise of the season that he so fully deserves.
I know that this has been long and you only have to bear with me for a couple more paragraphs, I promise.
For football fans, experience is king. We live for moments within ninety minutes on a football field that other aspects of life just cannot match. Back in 2011 when Zaha, Ambrose and “FFS” Murray inflicted the first league defeat for the Weed at the Amex, we all went away and gloated about how that could never be taken away from us. The history books will forever show it as fact and they will have to live with that. I said at the time, “we might as well have planted a Crystal Palace shirt in the foundations of the stadium.”
I never thought that this one-up-man-ship would ever be topped where Brighton were concerned. I was wrong.
This can never be taken away from us. In the biggest game in the history of the rivalry between the two clubs, the Red N Blue Army smashed the Scum in their own backyard and there was nothing that the 27,500 clackers could do about it. One last time... There are teachers and pupils, know your place.
I will now leave you with a disgruntled Brighton fans comments. As maybe, just maybe, the lesson has finally been learned:
“We can bang on about Groupon and burning their own town all we like but the sooner we accept that on the pitch, where it matters, we will always be in the shadow, the better!”
Que Sera, Sera....