Question Answered! Palace return to the Premier League after tense victory

By - Tuesday 28th May, 2013

After asking the question which meant £120 million to the club, Tom Lickley reports on Crystal Palace’s 1 – 0 victory over Watford FC at Wembley Stadium on Bank Holiday Monday, propelling the Eagles back into the world’s most watched football league

There seemed to be a stunned silence walking down Wembley Way in the warm afternoon sunshine following the final whistle. As Palace fans inched their way towards Wembley Park tube station, under the careful eye of the police to stop overcrowding, not many words were said from a crowd well respected for being one of the loudest in football. Perhaps they were taking in all they had just seen; perhaps the fans had exhausted themselves in providing colour and noise inside Wembley from kick-off to the moment Mile Jedinak raised aloft the Playoff trophy in front of a sea of red and blue. Whatever the reason, one emotion united the 33,000 strong Palace crowd: delight.

The match itself was not a classic – finals seldom are, particularly with the enormous prize on offer and the nature of forty-six league games and two playoff games taking their mental and physical toll on players of both teams. Yet few would disagree that Palace were deserved winners, despite the fact it took until the 105th minute, the 15th out of 30 minutes of extra time, for veteran Kevin Phillips, forty years old in July, to put the ball in the back of the next via the penalty spot. Up until then, Palace had missed numerous chances. The first half was a tight and tense affair; best remembered for mistimed challenges and an injury to Palace midfielder Kagisho Dikgacoi, which forced the South African off in the seventeenth minute, to be replaced by the classic unlikely hero figure in Stuart O’Keefe, a player little-used throughout the season, but when the time came to put in a world class performance he duly delivered. Matters were helped by Watford top scorer and Football League player of the year Matej Vydra taking a knock on his ankle and having to be substituted at half time.

Kevin Phillips carefully placed the ball on the spot… was this to be the fairytale ending?

The second half was more open and more enjoyable for the neutral. Palace created and missed numerous chances, including from O’Keefe and Aaron Wilbraham. When the final whistle went with the scores level at 0-0, it seemed Palace may have missed their chance; both teams would have to play a further 30 minutes of extra time and there had been a subtle change in the initiative to Watford. This was underlined a couple of minutes in to extra time, with Watford player Troy Deeney three yards out from goal and only ‘keeper Julian Speroni to beat. Speroni, signed at the beginning of Palace’s last Premier League campaign in 2004, is much loved among fans and a deserved winner of club Player of the Year on three occasions. With the ball seemingly on its way into the net, the Argentine pulled off an astonishing save, clawing the ball out away from its goal bound trajectory. Palace fans could breathe again.

Palace fans made Wembley Stadium a sea of red and blue. Photo by Rory Maccabe.

A little over ten minutes later, the £120 million question was explicitly asked. Wilfried Zaha, finishing his Palace career with a barnstorming performance, was clumsily bundled over in the penalty box by Watford defender Marco Cassetti – one of the silliest challenges of the season. Now Palace fans could begin shaking with nerves. Kevin Phillips grabbed the ball with authority, and the 39-year old substitute, who was unwilling to commit to a future in the game after the final whistle, carefully placed the ball on the spot, measured out his run up, and took a deep breath. Was this to be the fairytale ending? Phillips had started his long career at Watford, the yellow clad fans having little sympathy for this fact as the boos, hisses, and attempts to put the former England man off began. Time seemed to freeze as he started his run up. Then, pure joy. The ball was smashed, coolly and perfectly, into the top corner of the net, millimetres from the despairing dive of goalkeeper Manuel Almunia. Half-time in extra time was reached. Palace had fifteen minutes to hold out.

It was clear to see what the victory meant to everyone involved with the club

And how that fifteen minutes felt like fifteen years. As the clock on the big screen inched its way towards thirty minutes, Watford went closer and closer to scoring. With just seconds left, and many Palace fans’ heads buried in hands, unable to watch, peeking through fingers, Fernando Forestieri  picked his way through the exhausted defence and shot. Speroni dived but the ball was already past him. Hearts stopped. Then, the firm head of right-back Joel Ward, an astute signing from cash-strapped Portsmouth, met the ball on the goal line and cleared it. Seconds later, the final whistle was blown. Pure, unbridled happiness was unleashed.

As the Palace fans remained in the stadium following the match to see the trophy collected and the celebrations begin, it was clear to see what the victory meant to everyone involved within the club. Palace fans hugged people they’d never met before, thoughts went back to three years earlier, when fans desperately protested in London to save the club from extinction. Irishman Damien Delaney, one of the heroes in defence, wept with joy and exhaustion, himself contemplating the end of his career at the start of the season following the end of his contract with former club Ipswich Town. Top scorer Glenn Murray hobbled about on crutches, smiling as every Palace fan sung ‘Let It Be’ with the chorus lyrics replaced with his own name. Manager Ian Holloway, brilliant on the day, exclaimed “God Help Us” as thoughts turned to just how this team can stay in the Premier League. Now is not the time to speculate as to next season’s prospects; now is the time to savour and enjoy the moment, and look forward to when next season’s fixtures are released on 19th June. Some bookmakers made Crystal Palace as much as 80/1 outsiders for promotion at the start of the season. Eagles fans looked forward to defying the odds once again as the celebrations continued long into the night.


Crystal Palace: Speroni; Ward, Gabbidon, Delaney, Moxey; Jedinak, Dikgacoi (O’Keefe, 17), Garvan (Moritz, 84); Zaha, Wilbraham, Williams (Phillips, 65). Unused Substitutes: Price, Ramage, Richards, Bolasie.

Watford: Almunia; Doyley, Pudil, Cassetti, Chalobah (Battocchio, 74), Ekstrand, Hogg, Anya (Forestieri, 86), Abdi, Deeney, Vydra (Geijo, 46). Unused Substitutes: Bond, Hall, Briggs, Yeates.

Goal: Phillips (105+1)

Referee: M. Atkinson

Attendance: 82,025

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. After three years spent working within the real estate industry, he now works in regeneration and PR following a move back to Croydon.

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