Wednesday, 29 May 2013

28/05/13 League Play Off Final Watford (n) 1-0 win (aet)

Thank you Wilf (picture courtesy of @hulfie)

It was a two week wait and what a long two weeks it was. Plenty of time to get over the long regular season and bath in the play off semi final result, at least that was what us fans were doing. For me it was a very unproductive two weeks, I cannot deny that. 

In the break Palace elected not to change anything and train as they have all season, at Beckenham and using Selhurst on occasions. Watford chose to train in Spain. No idea what could have been read into that but interesting to not how management choose to deal with the big occasion on the horizon.

On the balance of previous meetings, I had it in my mind that it was our turn, we owed Watford one. Opening day defeat at home to them this season and a fight back at Vicarage Road to earn Palace a draw. But the big one we owed them was the last time we met in the play offs where Watford turned us over relatively easily.

This was no ordinary day. The last of the play off finals and being played after the all German Champions League affair at Wembley. I was perhaps not alone to wish my life away and for 3pm to arrive as quickly as possible.The team sheets were in and no surprises for Palace. The team that got us to the final albeit kicking and screaming to start with the attacking flair of Bolasie and Moritz on the bench alongside aged goal poacher Kevin Phillips.

The fans were certainly playing their part before kick off, literally painting Wembley red and blue. The balloons were to come, it's what we do. The teams arrived and it was electric. As good as I remember such previous occasions. But this was the new Wembley, our first visit.

The first half was forgettable on the whole. It is all too common that this game is rarely about the football. It's bigger than that. But Palace took control, Jedi doing what he does, breaking up the play and protecting the back line. Wilbraham occupying the lone striker role up front and doing a great job hassling the Watford defenders. It was a sliding challenge on him which earned Ekstrand the first booking of the game. Only blip was losing KG to injury who was so disappointed. What this team have shone through with most of the Palace players seeing him off. It was Stuart O'Keefe that replaced him. But oddly enough the absence of KG seemed to bring Zaha more into the game and his skill was evident tormenting his opponents throughout.

The second half began in similar fashion but Vydra did not re-appear for Watford due to injury. After the posturing of the first half and sizing each other it was time to push on. Palace continued to create chances through Wilbraham's hard work, Zaha's skill and Williams youthful bursts. Early exchanges saw Watford claim a penalty and straight after a chance for Wilbraham. Then the heat of the game turned, a crude challenge by Abdi on O'Keefe with the latter kicking the ball at him for perhaps his comments in the press earlier in the week. Both booked.

The sparring continued. Jedi continuing his immense presence even though he went over on his ankle in the first half. O'Keefe with a great chance saved by Almunia. But it was time for the old man Kevin Phillips to make an appearance on the scene. The veteran of three play off finals and yet to win one replaced Williams. The chances came and went but Almunia was in fine form for Watford luckily for them. It ebbed and flowed but the game was heading for extra time.

Wilf continued to torment, his sole aim was to get Palace up into the big time. And ultimately it his run and skill that lead to the turning point, encouraging the Watford full back to make a challenge which he duly obliged. Penalty! Perhaps the biggest roar of the afternoon but there was a small matter of scoring the penalty. Were we worried? Kevin Phillips wasn't. It's what he does. Palace had the lead with the second period of extra time to go. The longest fifteen minutes I have experienced, the seconds just ticked away so slowly. With each Watford attack I had kittens. Then injury time, Ward heads off the line and a deflection puts an effort just wide for a corner. Clear this and we are promoted ...... final whistle! And the unbelievable became a reality. The 33,000 Palace fans in complete raptures, tears, disbelief. Every emotion going. Had we really done it? You better bloody believe it ....

The celebrations began that end an absolutely bizarre season. I was choked watching the players in ecstasy. Every one of them included those not involved in the game. But regardless, those that had played some part in the season. Every player played their part but those on the pitch in the final were truly fantastic. Right the way through from Speroni to Wilbraham up front. Ward, Gabbidon, Delaney and Moxey formed a defence that looked the strongest it has done for a while. And ideal timing. Jedi his usual self protecting that back line. KG being his able deputy until being replaced by O'Keefe who put in a massive shift. Garvan and Williams being those links for the incredible Zaha and Wilbraham. Not to mention Moritz and the ever green Phillips. And Ian Holloway. Always there to be shot at whatever happened when he took on this team. But he did it. Saw it through to the end. Would this have been the fairy tale ending if Dougie had been in charge? Who knows, and frankly I don't really care. We are Premier League and absolutely bloody loving it!

01 Julian Speroni
02 Joel Ward
33 Danny Gabbidon
27 Damien Delaney
21 Dean Moxey
15 Mile Jedinak
08 Kagashi Dikgacoi (Stuart O'Keefe 17' - booked)
10 Owen Garvan (Andre Moritz 84')
16 Wilf Zaha
20 Jonny Williams (Kevin Phillips 64' GOAL 105')
18 Aaron Wilbraham

Subs (Unused)
34 Lewis Price
28 Peter Ramage
03 Ashley Richards
07 Yannick Bolasie

Referee - Martin Atkinson
Attendence (Wembley) - 82,025

Article for The Eagles Beak by Jason Crame (@JayTheEagle)

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