Tuesday, 21 May 2013

Palace And The Play Offs

It's been quite a love hate relationship. More love than hate I must admit but I am proud to say that I have seen them all in some capacity or another. Since the introduction of the play off system in 1987, you cannot deny that it adds a thrilling end to a season, but boy, it's nerve wracking for those involved. Here we go back and recall the ups and downs of play off games involving Palace.

1988/89 Season (Palace - Blackburn - Watford - Swindon)
Our first forray into the world of the post season play offs. It was two years after the system had been introduced in which Charlton and Middleborough had been successful. Palace finished third in the table and faced Swindon Town who finished sixth. The first leg was away which we lost 1-0 to a Hopkins own goal so it was all to do at Selhurst but courtesy of goals from Wright and Bright, Palace made it to the final. The other semi final had been won by Blackburn on the away goals rule. The final was over two legs and the first Palace lost 3-1 at Ewood Park. But the away goal proved invaluable as the return leg we won 3-0 after extra time. You will find that these play off games live long in the memory of both players and fans.

1995/96 Season (Leicester - Palace - Stoke - Charlton)
Our second effort was not quite as successful. Once again we finished third in the league and faced a semi final against Charlton. A 2-1 away win set us up for a 1-0 home win to see us off to the one game final at Wembley against Leicester who saw off Stoke. All was going to plan in the final, Andy Roberts gave us a lead after the first quarter of an hour. But we let them back in it with a penalty in the final fifteen that was converted. The game went into extra time and neither team looked like stopping the game from going to penalties. But in the final minute it was Claridge that shinned an effort into the net. And that is still painful to think about, type or say!

1996/97 Season (Palace - Sheffield Utd - Wolves - Ipswich)
In an effort to exorcise the demons, Palace returned to the play offs a year later. This time from finishing sixth in the table. The semi finals were against Wolves which we won 4-3 on aggregate, a brace from Freedman in the last couple of minutes in the first leg at Selhurst being crucial. Another trip to Wembley and this time Sheffield United were the opponents. And what a way to almost wipe the previous years disapointment from the memory. A goal less game until Hopkin curled one in the dying seconds to send the Palace fans into ecstasy and promotion!

2003/04 Season (Palace - West Ham - Sunderland - Ipswich)
Another season finishing sixth which was quite a feat considering where we were when Iain Dowie became manager. The semi finals were against Sunderland with the first leg at Selhurst. All the goals came in a frantic second half with Palace winning 3-2. The second leg was as frantic, we were losing 2-0 and heading out of the play offs until Darren Powell levelled the tie in injury time. This time it was a penalty shoot out and it was Michael Hughes scoring the winning effort to this time take us to Cardiff. The opponents were West Ham who arrived with 'The Academy' tops. But it wasn't the academy to take the final Premiership place, it was Palace courtesy of a shinner from Neil Shipperley to make the journey home that much more tolerable.

2005/2006 Season (Watford - Leeds - Palace - Preston)
Another season of finishing in sixth place and this time faced Watford in the semi finals. A desparate 3-0 home loss followed by a goal less draw away saw to our involvement for the season. In the other tie Leeds beat Preston over two legs to win the right to go to Wembley. It was Watford who secured promotion with 3-0 win in the final.

2007/08 Season (Hull - Bristol City - Palace - Watford)
Finishing 5th in the league we faced Bristol City in the semi finals. A desparate first leg for Palace in which Ben Watson equalised late on in the game from the penalty spot but City won the tie with an even later winner. The second leg was tense, another goal from Ben Watson levelled the tie but two injury time goals from the home side saw them through. They faces Hull in the final who overcame Watford in the semi finals. It was Hull that ended up promoted.

2012/13 Season (Palace - Watford - Brighton - Leicester)
And so, here we are. Another pay off experience. Who knows what will happen but finishing 5th in the table was an achievement in itself. A play off final was perhaps beyond any of our imagination. But one more game. We overcame Brighton and we owe Watford one. It's time to make Wembley red and blue once again .....

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

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