Tuesday, 21 May 2013

Write us off at your peril!

Be honest Palace fans – who really thought we would be going to Wembley this season?! Even when we briefly reached the giddy heights of top, back in what seemed an eternity ago, I never really thought we would stick in the top six. That was not me being negative – or just accepting we are Palace. That was me being a bit of a realist and accepting we have come a blooming long way in such a short period of time and we were competing in probably the toughest second tier division of the world! It is certainly the most competitive. Of course once you get in such a great position you want to remain in those places and nothing has given me more pleasure than not only seeing us hang in there – but securing a place in the Play Off Final at the expense of our poor old foes at Brighton!

I feel the Palace boys have come up for way too much stick from certain quarters and it doesn’t really help when you go onto your own supporters forums (looking for a little bit of hope and inspiration!) and you see such negative comments about our team and manager – so much of it disrespectful. I kind of expect it from a certain radio presenter from a certain national radio station, that gets paid to wind up all and sundry and get us into a frenzy. To be honest, he should have realised by looking at the fixture list he was on dodgy ground and if I had been Holloway in the last week of the season I would have got the team listening to his radio station to get them fired up for that last game against Peterborough. As it happens as much as I was satisfied we did our job on the day, I took only a small amount of pleasure of in us ramming those comments down the presenter’s throat – I did feel very sorry for the Posh going down as they certainly battled hard and played the game in the right way. They just left themselves too much to do in the end, but credit to them for giving themselves a fighting chance. I am sure they will bounce back soon.

Without dwelling on the negativity that we were given on the air, one thing that he kept on about was how we had fallen from the top spot in such dramatic style. I am sure most neutral football fans will agree that Cardiff were streets above the rest of us in this division, but as for the rest – we could all beat each other one day and lose the next. Look how we demolished Hull and then couldn’t win again until the last day. The problem is the Championship is all about form. As much as you can go on unbeaten runs (like we did) and everything is rosy and only going one way (up) – form can also go the other way (like we did) when you can’t buy a goal, let alone a three points. This division is so unforgiving and if you don’t get started – it can be a dangerous game. Just ask Wolves fans how they are feeling after a double relegation. Ironically the Posh went down having done the double over Cardiff, but that just backs up the point – anyone can beat anyone on their day and I am surprised certain people in the media couldn’t see that. It wasn’t necessary about Freedman getting everything right and Holloway getting everything wrong – it was far more complicated than that.

Anyway enough of all that, we are about to finish our season exactly as it started - in London against the yellow of Watford. I felt so low after that last gasp defeat and would have snapped anyone’s arm off for this outcome. What a day it is going to be. Whatever the outcome, we must all enjoy our day out at the greatest stadium in our country. I know the atmosphere will be electric as this is Palace and Palace only do it one way with masses of red and blue and singing until we can’t sing anymore. I get goose bumps just thinking about it. I am so relieved my tickets are all sorted and my friends and I are going to have a great day out. Nobody really gave us a chance when we all worked out we were playing Brighton. That really suited me at the time – Palace are always better as the underdog.

My adopted Palace fan club!
The first leg was so important. My last two playoff experiences have left me feeling like it was over before it ever really began. Last time we lost at home to Bristol City 2-1 in the last minute after getting a late goal ourselves and around that time they really were a jinx! I never expected us to win at Ashton Gate and although we were an inch away from Ben Watson putting us into a late 2-0 win there (with that penalty miss), it wasn’t too be and our dream was over for another season. Before that we were stuffed 3-0 at home to Watford in my previous experience and the realism of the defeat over two legs was AJ was about to go to pastures new. Last time we were successful we were the underdogs again when we took a slender 3-2 lead to Sunderland. That second leg was as dramatic as it gets with that late goal that got us penalties before Michael Hughes sent us into heaven! 

I was certainly not over confident about Brighton, but still had a sneaky feeling they already thought they had done enough. 0-0 was not the worst first leg result as at least we were still in the tie. Hearing Gus Poyet saying they were then 60-40 favourites going into the 2nd leg and then hearing their cocky fans on the Meridian News saying the job was as good as done – just made me think, come on Palace do the talking on the pitch.

I went to my local pub and my girlfriend and some of my good running friends came with me to support me. I promised them a ticket to Wembley if won, in my head thinking we probably won’t win anyway – but I will happily take the stress of getting them tickets if we manage it! It will be a fantastic problem to have! Half-time was all going well – still in the game, still believing. I didn’t want to get over confident, but I couldn’t help feeling that the longer the tie went on as tight as this, the more it was suiting us.

Then the goal – I suddenly didn’t care where I was as I screamed in delight at Wilf on the tele – we had bloody well done it. We had broken the deadlock. Get in there! Now I was more nervous than before! It was ours to lose! Thankfully the boys kept going. They didn’t try sitting back they kept pushing on and causing problems for the boys in blue. I can’t help thinking in hindsight our previous manager would have probably played it differently after we scored. Then the second goal – almost a blur! We were really going to do it now! The whole pub seemed pleased for me as I couldn’t hide my delight! Of course with 5 minutes of stoppage time to go, I did know as a Palace fan that nothing was certain yet although we should get to at least extra time! I kind of expected a last gasp goal to increase our nerves but we stood firm and made it through a bit more comfortable than it could have been. We did it and suddenly I knew I had to get my friends their match tickets!

Hopefully my son has plenty of great Palace experiences to come!
Thankfully I succeeded in my mission being a season ticket holder myself and I am now counting down the days to the big one. I am not overly confident but I am not defeatist either. It is 50/50 now and it’s pretty much down to who rises to the occasion on Bank Holiday Monday and who wants to be the hero of the hour. Losing Murray is a massive blow but if there is any positive it must be that if we don’t know what formation and team we will start with – Watford won’t either. Brighton certainly couldn’t handle us approaching the game differently. As I said in a previous blog I went away on my holiday last year after we lost to Watford and this year I plan to hit sunnier climates at the start of June – so I am really hoping there is a smile on my face this time around! What I will say is anyone that writes of our Palace – does it at their peril and all I would say to some Palace fans is that if it doesn’t quite work out for us next week, then appreciate what we have achieved anyway and give credit where it is due. I know I would rather be a Palace fan than a Wolves one at the moment. Enjoy the day everybody and let’s make Bank Holiday Monday a sea of red and blue. No doubt the media will write us off again but who cares?! We are Palace and anything can happen!  Article for The Eagles beak written by Tim Warren (@Ahsford_Eagle)

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