Palace 1-0 Watford
Tuesday August 28th 2012 - Preston North End 4-1 Crystal Palace... Having already lost the first three league games of the season, this capitulation at Deepdale had many pundits condemning the Eagles to League One football and Palace fans suggesting that Dougie Freedman was one loss away from the chop. Just two hundred and sixty two days later Kevin Phillips fires home a penalty at Wembley and sends Crystal Palace Football Club back to the Premier League.
It is amazing what can happen in nine months in football, especially in SE25.
I can pinpoint the exact day that I jumped on the Crystal Palace roller-coaster. October 1st 1994. An innocent twelve year old led like a lamb to the slaughter by his father into Highbury. In the near nineteen years that have followed since I have experienced ups and (a lot of) downs like fans from other football clubs could just not imagine. Four promotions, four relegations, Wembley heartache once and six semi final losses only scratches the surface of what it is like to support this incredible football club.
What I have learned across these nineteen years is this: Write us off at your peril.
"Making up the numbers"
Despite putting Brighton, in the midst of a 10 game unbeaten run, to the sword at the Amex in the Semi Final the world and his dog still had us down as just “making up the numbers” at Wembley as Udinese B were certain to brush us aside and head to the big time whilst we would be left reflecting on what would have to be considered a season of progress.
Meanwhile, Holloway quietly laughed to himself and simply knew otherwise.
Why were we able to upset the odds yet again? There are three reasons. First, Holloway’s unrivalled experience of the Play Offs versus Gianfranco Zola’s ‘no experience’. How the press et al can ignore this astounds me. Olly used it to his advantage in the Semi Final against the Weed to devastating effect and it was clear that he would do the same in the final.
Second, Holloway’s ability to learn from his mistakes is unerring. At Vicarage Road in the first half of our league fixture Watford took us apart and took a 2-0 lead into the break. In the 165 minutes that have passed since between the two clubs, Crystal Palace have all but dominated, scoring three goals to none. That’s the league top scorers scoring NONE. Keith Millen talked on the FYP Podcast about Holloway’s brilliant understanding of tactics and picked out this game versus Watford. He harked back to the changes he made making all the difference to the game and ultimately the result. He then bought this knowledge with him to Wembley and left Zola, just like Poyet, scratching his head.
Finally, we wanted it more. From our fans, our players, our owners and all that’s in between.
As fans we humiliated them. 120 minutes plus of constant singing from one half of the stadium versus an occasional half hearted cheer from the other half. It was a no contest from the start and a fantastic RedNBlue atmosphere was always going to lift OUR players. I place emphasis on the word “our” for the reasons that have been highlighted by Holloway earlier in the season. Loans.
“Exploiting a loophole” is perhaps one of the biggest cop-out phrases of all time. The fact that it has to be exploited shows that it is wrong. Playing as Udinese B for the season was wrong and everyone knew it. The fact that Watford fans and the irrefutably vile Adrian Durham had to resort to suggesting that “Palace can’t talk because Zaha is on loan” in order to defend their situation is just laughable and somewhat embarrassing. I feel sorry for the Watford fans that lost with grace; unfortunately they were few and far between.
The only Watford players who looked like they truly wanted it were Almunia, Deeney and Doyley. Can you spot the trend here? Meanwhile a bunch of loanees meandered around Wembley against a team that were ready to bleed for the club they were representing and yes this includes the on loan Manchester United player.
The long and short of it is this: Watford never stood a chance.
This blood and guts was epitomised by Damien Delaney at full time after his Man of the Match performance. Again Zaha won the official award but that is just Sky for you. As Delaney walked up the steps to collect his medal he broke down in tears in the backstage area. He was down and out at the beginning of this season and considering jacking it all in. We give him a chance and he is now heading to the Premier League and is back in International favour with Ireland. How could he not want to give his all for our football club. Flip around the result and tell me with any sincerity that you would expect this sort of emotion from a Watford player. Do you think that the loudmouth Abdi would have been caring a jot about Watford?
Let’s take a moment to reflect on Abdi:
“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.”
Oh really? Jog off back to Udinese and do try not to choke on your words on the way.
Delaney was not on his own at the back. Speroni pulled off his third world class save in three matches to deny Deeney. Gabbidon for the third game running showed just how important he can be to our team with a faultless performance. Ward and Moxey were yet again superb with the former making a last minute goal line clearance. Jedinak was his usual beastly self in the middle of the park despite his early yellow card and showed his unbreakable do or die attitude.
Then there was Stuart O’Keefe. Thrown into the fray after an early injury to KG and what a performance. Most Palace fans will remember his amazing performance at Old Trafford in the League Cup Quarter Final last season and thus would not have been worried to see him come on. The shift he put in was implausible and almost wrote himself into folklore with a goal only for the Almunia to pull off a great save.
Wilbraham will be as disappointed as anyone that he didn’t score but he was tireless yet again in his work. Williams showed equal amounts of energy before being replaced by Phillips and Moritz continued to impress when replacing Garvan. Everyone played their part.
This game was not a classic and it will only ever be remembered for two kicks. A kick by Cassetti on Zaha and a thump by Phillips from twelve yards. A thump worth £120m.
The RedNBlue Rollercoaster is once more up on a high. The question will be whether it can climb higher in the Premier League. Those are questions for another day. I am going to enjoy this and relax for the summer before beginning the quest to complete my third full season in a row.
I say goodbye to the Championship with a heavy heart. In the main it is full of proper clubs with proper fans but it is the Premier League where we must head. Old Trafford, Stamford Bridge, Anfield and a whole heap of stadiums named after their sponsors. It’s a different world but a world that we have earned after a fantastic season and a different world that our owners deserve.