Crystal Palace vs. Brighton and Hove Albion: Playoff Semi-Final Preview

By - Thursday 9th May, 2013

After a rollercoaster of a season even by the Eagles’ high standards, Tom Lickley previews the end of season Championship playoffs, kicking off on Friday 10th May against arch-rivals Brighton and Hove Albion at Selhurst Park.

The evening of Saturday 1st December was a glorious one for Palace fans. Having crushed rivals Brighton 3-0 in the ‘A23 derby’ (a media term seldom, if ever, used by fans of either side) to return to the top of a table they had been brushing the pinnacle of since November, the beer soaked celebrations continued long into the cool Croydon night.

Fast forward to Sunday 17th March. Despondent Palace fans splash through the rain-soaked surrounds of the Amex Stadium in Falmer after a grey display resulted in, yes, a 3-0 defeat to rivals Brighton. The recent burst of good form, after a shaky start to 2013 by the Eagles, had been slammed on the head by the team all fans want to beat. Worse was to come; the hangover from the defeat continued for the remainder of the season and Palace ended their campaign last Saturday in fifth place, some way off the automatic promotion slots they had been in close proximity to for much of the season, despite an atrocious start which left them 24th and bottom at the end of August. And so, to the end of season playoffs – and a two-legged semi-final against, of course, fourth-placed Brighton and Hove Albion F.C.

Photo by Tom Brogan. Image used under Creative Commons license.

Thankfully, the playoffs tend to have little respect for finishing position; in the last two seasons, admittedly, the teams finishing in third (West Ham and Swansea) were promoted. In the two seasons before however, Ian Holloway-managed Blackpool (sixth) and Burnley (fifth) showed how the playoffs can favour modern lesser lights. Indeed, on the two previous occasions Palace was promoted (2004 and 1997) the team put in late charges to finish sixth.

What about form? It is common consensus that the ‘form team’ are usually the best bet for ascension to the Premier League. Last season, West Ham went unbeaten in six at the end of the regular season and coasted to glory in the playoffs, winning all of their games. Swansea went on a similar run in the Spring of 2011. This is a worry for Palace; since that Brighton match in mid-March, Palace has ended the season with only one win in ten; albeit being unbeaten in the last four, including a dramatic final day victory over Peterborough which condemned the latter to relegation. However, playoff rivals Watford and Leicester have been stumbling recently, although by all accounts, Brighton are the form team within the playoffs, having gone unbeaten in nine since that fateful fixture against the Eagles.

Two games against Brighton have already defined Palace’s season; two more will shape its destiny

Does Palace even stand a chance? This is a worry amongst fans, given the teams’ soul-sapping loss of form in the last couple of months. However this Palace team is good, and must remember that they needn’t be daunted; in the recent PFA awards, three players – Congolese winger Yannick Bolasie, 30-goal league top scorer and former Brighton striker Glenn Murray, and future Manchester United and England star Wilfried Zaha – were named in the team of the season, (the latter winning player of the season to boot) a higher representation than any other club. Up until December, Palace was undeniably the best team in the league, the swashbuckling, goal-bloated performances humiliating many teams, in particular a storming second-half performance at Selhurst Park against now-champions Cardiff City to score three goals and win having gone in two-nil down at half time. Since then, the physical and mental challenges of the Championship have had an effect on the team – in my opinion, this has had far greater influence than the arrival of manager Ian Holloway in November, whom some fans are quick to blame for the teams current malaise; in reality it has been caused by a number of factors, and many teams in and around the top of the table have suffered more vital losses of form than Palace has endured. The end of season upturn in form showed that Palace may just have turned the corner too in terms of form.

Brighton will be tough. Palace has a good recent record against the Seagulls; since 2002, Palace has won four and drawn two in eight games. This will mean nothing in the humidity of the playoffs though; it is as much about keeping cool mentally as playing the other team off the park. Palace needs the hard-hitting leaders (Irish defender Damien Delaney and tough tackling Aussie midfielder Mile Jedinak) as much as the style of Zaha and diminutive future star Jonny Williams. In particular, they need to pay close attention to former Palace triallist Liam Bridcutt and winger Will Buckley in the Seagulls lineup.

Two games against Brighton have already defined Palace’s season. Two more will shape its destiny; a final at Wembley Stadium and the scent of the Premier League will be in Palace fans’ nostrils with victory. This will be a real chance to give Croydon a Premier League football club once again. Tense doesn’t even begin to describe it.

Crystal Palace vs. Brighton and Hove Albion, Kick-off 7.45pm, Friday 10th May 2013, Selhurst Park Stadium. Live Coverage on Sky Sports 1HD and BBC Radio.

Brighton and Hove Albion vs. Crystal Palace, Kick-off 7.45pm, Monday 13th May 2013, American Express Community Stadium. Live Coverage on Sky Sports 1HD and BBC Radio.

Ticket availability for both games is very limited.

Tom Lickley

Tom Lickley

Contributing a variety of roles to the Citizen since early 2013, Tom now focuses upon regeneration, urbanism and real estate writing. He is a strategic communications consultant specialising in the real estate sector, and counts a number of the world's largest investment and fund management companies amongst his clients.

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