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Crystal Palace 0-1 Tottenham Hotspur

Crystal Palace 0 – 1 Tottenham Hotspur
Sunday 18th August 2013
Selhurst Park, Att: 23,285

The opening fixture of the Premier League season against last season’s 5th placed Tottenham was always going to be a huge test of Ian Holloway’s newly promoted Eagles, and so it proved, despite it being only Roberto Soldado’s 50th minute penalty that was the difference between the two sides.

In front of a packed Selhurst, Palace began brightly but AVB’s side took control with England pair Aaron Lennon and Kyle Walker in particular linking up well on the right hand side. Clear cut chances were few and far between for both sides with a Mousa Dembele effort just offer the bar and Speroni saving well from Sigurdsson, both efforts being from long range. Palace’s best chance came when, from an Owen Garvan free-kick, Aaron Wilbraham headed straight at Lloris.

Speroni, the only survivor from Palace’s last Premier League jaunt, was alert again just before the break to thwart Soldado, the £26 million pound record signing’s near post flick kept out smartly by the Argentinian stopper. Spurs found time for one more chance before the half time whistle went, another new signing Nacer Chadli heading over as Palace sloppily gave the ball away.

The second half started with wave upon wave of Tottenham pressure, and when Lennon found space inside the area his cross hit the outstretched arm of the otherwise excellent Dean Moxey. Mark Clattenberg wasted no time in pointing to the spot. Harsh on Palace, and Moxey in particular, but rules are rules. Soldado, who netted from the spot in Spurs’ final pre-season friendly last weekend made no mistake, sending Speroni the wrong way to give the North Londoners the lead.

Ian Holloway, known for his attacking principles swiftly changed things, throwing on Jonny Williams, Kevin Phillips and new signing Mauroune Chamakh in a bid to get back on terms. The changes worked, and Palace, galvanised by the superb atmosphere, grew in stature, and pressed forward in search of an equaliser. Phillips, becoming only the third outfield player over 40 in Premier League history looked a threat, and with Dwight Gayle freed up somewhat, Palace had half chances, the best falling to Phillips who dragged his shot wide.

Spurs could, and should have wrapped it up as Sigurdsson and then substitute Jermain Defoe wasted excellent chances to seal it for Spurs, shooting wide after an excellent run. As the final whistle approached The Eagles poured forward and Lloris made an excellent double save from KG after a lovely knock down from Phillips.

Ian Holloway’s men can take a lot of positives from a game that even the most dyed in the wool Palace fan wouldn’t have expected three points from, and with Mile Jedinak absolutely superb in the middle of the park, Palace can look forward to next Saturday’s trip to Stoke with optimism.

Youaremypalace Man of the Match: Mile Jedinak

NB – The image for this match report is from the excellent HF Display before the game. I obtained it from Twitter, I could not find the person who originally tweeted it, if that was you let me know and I will credit you/remove if neccesary.

Opening day preview

It’s been a while, but I prefer to stay clear of all the transfer speculation over the summer. So much so that Jim White, he of Sky Sports News, window slamming shut fame has found his way into my top 10 most hated over the past few seasons.

I always feel that the transfer window is a vicious circle, a player is linked, everyone gets excited that it’s a ‘done deal’ and then it doesn’t happen for whatever reason and everyone then starts looking for reasons why, with some even saying they hope the player in question gets injured.

For the most part, the transfer window sums up all that is wrong with modern football, and the endless coverage it receives on Sky Sports News, Twitter et al just feeds the beast.

Ian Holloway has been very active in the transfer market however, bringing in 9 players over the summer. Plenty has been written elsewhere about these signings – the @HLTCO blog has been particularly excellent in it’s coverage of the comings and goings in SE25 – Check it out at HLTCO Twitter

Today, however is what we’ve all been waiting for since the final whistle at Wembley back in May. The opening day of the Premier League (not Premiership) season sees Palace host AVB’s Tottenham Hotspur. I don’t know about you, but i’m absolutely buzzing for this one. With Spurs’ talisman Bale (or ‘Tottenham’ as some call him) missing Palace could easily spring a surprise. With an almost full house at Selhurst and the best fans in the county roaring us on, what could go wrong?

Early team news for The Eagles is that Jerome Thomas and Yannick Bolasie will miss out to injury along with long term absentees Glenn Murray (who has joined Twitter by the way – @GM_83) and Paddy McCarthy. New signing Marouane Chamakh has been subject to newspaper reports of an illness but I’m pretty confident he will lead the line, backed up by Dobbie and Dwight Gayle in a 4-2-1-2-1 formation.

Don’t forget you can pick up the new issue of Five Year Plan (@FYPFanzine) outside the ground today, 48 pages and still only £1.50

Up the Palace

Wemberleee…Wemberleee!

We’re the famous Crystal Palace and we’re going to Wemberlee!

And, what better way to get there than to beat your most bitter rival on their own turf?

The chants from the away end at the Amex stadium last night, after the fire drill heard only by the home fans will stay with me for a very long time. Coming into the game on an awful run of one win in 11, Ian Holloway’s brave side totally and utterly outplayed a Brighton side who’s form was the total opposite.

Following the 0-0 stalemate at Selhurst Park in the first leg, Palace went into the game as big underdogs, particularly as Glenn Murray, the leading scorer in England, would miss the game. Holloway made one change, Aaron Wilbraham coming in to replace Murray up top, with young Jonny Williams shrugging off the injury that forced him off to take his place in the starting line up.

The expected surge from the home side, backed by a crowd of 29,000+ never really came as Palace defended well early on. Will Buckley tested Julian Speroni with a shot from distance after Wilfred Zaha failed to clear his lines. This was after Wilbraham had poked an effort wide from 6 yards. Palace settled into a good rhythm, with Dean Moxey and Joel Ward having absolute blinders.

At the start of the second period Palace had a fantastic chance as Wilf put Jonny Williams clean through on goal in front of the travelling supporters. Time stood still as Williams rolled his shot past Kuszczak but just beyond the post. Had our one chance passed us by? Jonny and Owen Garvan were replaced by Yannick Bolasie and Andre Mortiz moments later, but it was Brighton substitute Ashley Barnes who almost broke the deadlock with both his first and second touches as the home side looked to make Palace pay for their wastefulness in front of goal.

A long ball down field was flicked on and Barnes’ first touch brought a fantastic one handed save from Eagles goalkeeper Julian Speroni who palmed the ball onto the crossbar. From the resulting corner Barnes found space in the box and his free header beat Speroni but Dean Moxey headed off the line. Palace had survived, and 2 minutes later would make the hosts pay the price.

Palace sub Yannick Bolasie whipped in a wicked cross and Wilf Zaha got ahead of his nemesis Wayne Bridge, who slacked off for the first time in the tie to bury a diving header past the despairing Kuszczak into the Brighton net. The Palace fans behind the goal erupted as Wilf took a page out of Shefki Kuqi’s book with a full length swan dive right infront of us!

Brighton struggled to get back into the game, and Palace easily picked them off at will, and with two minutes left KG found Zaha in the box with his back to goal. Wilf span past Brighton skipper Gordon Greer and fired an unstoppable shot off the underside of the bar and into the net to spark a mass exodus of the home supporters (fire drill anyone?) and jubilant scenes in the away end.

Palace had further chances to rub salt into the Seagulls wounds in the dying minutes as Andre Moritz forced a good stop from Kuszczak. As the final whilst went, 2000 joyous Palace fans celebrated in a deserted Amex stadium as Ian Holloway and his players danced with delight on enemy turf.

Palace are at the new-Wembley for the first time on the 27th May and will take on Gianfranco Zola’s Watford. It’s somewhat ironic that the season has come full circle and our opponents in the season’s last game will be the same opponents who we faced back on August 18th in the opening game of the season. With 9 goals between the sides this season (2-3 at home and 2-2 away) we should be in for an absolute cracker of a game come bank holiday Monday.

Whatever happens, Ian Holloway has proved that he’s not the tactical dunce some had accused him of being and Wilf has proved that, despite his impending move to the Theatre of Dreams, while he still wears red and blue, or as was the case last night yellow and blue, he will do all it takes to take Palace into the Premier League with him!

 

Brighton vs Palace – Part two

I don’t ever recall feeling as nervous about a game as I do about tonight’s playoff Semi Final 2nd leg between Brighton and Palace. There have been massive games down the years – FA Cup Finals, relegation deciders and play off finals, but as I write this the feeling I have in the pit of my stomach can only be compared to that rainy day outside Lloyds London HQ almost three years ago.

That day Crystal Palace FC were hours from extinction, and you may say that tonight should be an occasion to enjoy, however the identity of our opponents means that no Palace fan will be looking forward to the game. Whatever happens, win or lose, we will go through a minimum of 90 minutes of absolute, nerve shredding hell with the prospect of 30 minutes more should the scores remain level. Then there are penalties. No one wants that.

We start the game tonight as massive underdogs. Not just because Brighton are the home team, but Ian Holloway is without the country’s leading goalscorer, Glenn Murray, following his horror injury in Friday’s first game. Aaron Wilbraham is likely to lead the line, with Super Kevin Phillips waiting in the wings should a late goal be needed – KP could become the oldest ever goalscorer in a Playoff semi final should he find the back of the net tonight. Jonny Williams was also injured on Friday night, but all reports suggest he should be ok to start tonight – if Ollie decides to go with the same midfield that started the first leg.

If I was Ian Holloway, and I was picking the team, I’d be looking to line up something like this:

GK: Speroni

RB: Ward CB: Gabbidon CB: Delaney LB: Moxey

DM: Jedinak DM: KG

RM: Williams LM: Bolasie

STR: Zaha STR: Wilbraham

For me, in what could be Wilf’s last game in Red and Blue (if we lose), his pace should be utilised more centrally, and he would scare the living sh*t out of Upson and Greer if he was running at them down the middle.

Tonight, Palace need to be brave, and take it to the hosts from the off. Ollie likes to set his teams up to go for it and tonight is the night for balls of steel!

Come on you Eagles!

 

Crystal Palace vs Brighton – A Playoff Preview

So, the day is finally here. The first leg of the Championship Playoff Semi Finals brings together two clubs, who, separated by 37 miles as the crow flies share one of the fiercest rivalries in English football. It is a rivalry that few outside of the two clubs really understand, but one of the most reciprocated none the less. Never before has a game, or a pair of games between The Eagles and The Seagulls meant more, both in terms of bragging rights and the opportunity it brings. For one, the chance to play at Wembley on Bank Holiday Monday for a place in the richest league in the world, the other unadulterated despair and months, if not more, of knowing where the bragging rights lay in this bitterest of rivalries.

The contrast between the form of the two sides coming into tonight’s first leg couldn’t be more stark. Ian Holloway’s Palace finally ended a run of 9 games without a win with their last gasp victory over relegated Peterborough last Saturday, they sit 18th in the Championship form table, with just 1 win in their last 10, and only 2 wins in the last 6 at Selhurst Park. Gus Poyet’s side on the other hand, lie 2nd in the form table. Unbeaten in their last 9 games, a run which started with a 3-0 mauling of The Eagles back in March on home turf.

In the previous meeting between the sides, back in December, it was Palace that ran out 3-0 winners. The early dismissal of Lewis Dunk for a professional foul on Yannick Bolasie set the tone, and Palace were comfortable winners with two goals from former Brighton favourite Glenn Murray before Owen Garvan rounded it off from the spot. Palace moved back to the top of the Championship with that win, with Brighton occupying 8th spot in the table.

So what can we expect from tonight’s encounter? Selhurst will be as full as it can be for the game tonight, the atmosphere will be absolutely rocking, and I’m backing Ollie’s men to come away with a lead to take down the A23 on Monday night. For Palace Glenn Murray, the division’s top scorer will be looking to heap more pain on his former employers – he has 3 goals in 4 games against Brighton since leaving – and Wilf Zaha will be keen to sign off in style in what will be his last appearance at Selhurst Park before his summer move to Old Trafford – plus, I’m sure his new boss David Moyes will be watching, and Wilf will want to show the man who has to fill the un-fillable boots exactly why Fergie made him his last signing for Manchester United.

From a Brighton perspective José Leonardo Ulloa who has hit 9 league goals in 16 games for Brighton, including two in the aforementioned 3-0 win over Palace this season will be a key man. They also have Will Buckley, who, all joking aside is a player Palace must keep an eye on should he start, and in Wayne Bridge they have the season’s outstanding left full back.

All eyes will be on Selhurst Park this evening, so lets hope Palace can perform and get something to take to the Amex on Monday, as Palace striker Kevin Phillips says “”I’ve been in the play-offs many times and it’s the team that holds their nerve and produces on the night that generally goes through.” – lets hope its Palace!

A Playoff History – Part Five

Good morning folks. He were are, one day away from the Playoff Semi Final first leg against ‘The Weed at Selhurst Park. Feeling confident? I am. The atmosphere tomorrow inside the ground should be absolutely rocking, plus we have the added bonus of laughing at all the Tesco jester hats and inflatable seagulls our friends from the South coast are bringing along. I’ll be previewing the game tomorrow morning, but for the time being here is the final part of my Crystal Palace FC playoff history – arguably the best of the lot…

2003/2004 Division One Playoffs

If you think this season was a roller coaster of emotions for all Palace fans, then 2003/4 was the ‘big dipper’. There are plenty of comparisons between the two seasons as well. The season started with a Palace legend at the helm – Stevie Kember had finally been given the job on a full time basis after a couple of memorable stints as caretaker boss. Where as this season started with three straight defeats, the 2003/4 season started brilliantly. Wins away at Burnley and Wimbledon, and a home win against Watford put Palace top of the league with maximum points after three games, Kember was lauded as a hero and Simon Jordan had one of his smug grins on. Then it all went wrong.

A run of one win (at home to Cardiff) in 13 games, culminating in the televised 0-5 hammering by Wigan Athletic cost Kember his job. Lets put things in perspective. Palace had never played Wigan before and they were playing second tier football for the first time in their history. Even though the game was a 12:00 kick off and it was live on Sky, I decided to make the trip to the game – probably one of the worst Palace related decisions of my life. Palace were simply torn apart by an efficient and powerful Wigan side. Kember simply had to go, and two days later, Simon Jordan put the Palace hero out of his misery.

Kit Symons was tasked with keeping the sinking ship afloat. Results didn’t pick up immediately, but one win, three draws and 2 defeats from his first 6 games was still an improvement. It wasn’t until the visit of Nottingham Forest in mid-December that things started looking up. Kit recalled Julian Gray to the side – The chairman had gone on record to state that he would never play for the club again – and Palace picked up a crucial 1-0 win thanks to an Andy Johnson strike.

The televised game with Reading was up next, and rumuors were circulating that Iain Dowie was to the next boss. Palace took high flying Reading apart, two from AJ and one from academy starlet Wayne Routledge gave Palace a comprehensive 3-0 win. The contrast between the two televised performances was as stark as you could possibly imagine and Palace were out of the bottom 3. Dowie’s first game was the Boxing Day visit of Millwall. Palace did everything but score – missed a penalty, hit the wordwork about 400 times and found Tony Warner in the best form of his life. Somehow we managed to lose the game 1-0, but the signs of recovery were evident for all to see as we trudged back to our families for leftover turkey disappointed, but feeling that a corner had been turned.

In fact, Palace hadn’t just turned the corner, they had sped round it like Nigel Mansell in his heyday – 6 wins in the next 7, with 22 goals being scored was a remarkable spell. It included a 5-1 win at Watford, where Palace simply purred and Julian Gray scored one of the goals of the season. The 6-3 ‘St Valentines Day Masacre’ of Stoke City at Selhurst was a joy to behold – particularly Wayne’s last minute ‘Zidane turn’ goal. Of the 22 goals scored in this run, Andy Johnson hit 10 of them, including a hat-trick in the Stoke game. AJ was a goal machine and Palace were flying.

Defeats to Derby, Forest and West Brom on the road appeared to have dented Palace’s hopes of steaming into the playoff places. Another run of 6 wins in 7, including another AJ hat-trick up at Gresty Road put Palace well and truly in the frame going into the last game of the season at Coventry. A win would do it for the Eagles, thanks to a Tommy Black ‘stumble’ in the box and a penalty rebound from AJ in the 86th minute to vanquish Walsall.

In typical Palace fashion, we lost at Coventry. The dream appeared to be over. However news filtered through that Brian Deane had scored for West Ham against Wigan to drop them out of the playoff places and put Palace back in. Palace finished the season in 6th place and would play 3rd place Sunderland. West Ham, who finished 4th would play 5th placed Ipswich Town.

Palace had beaten Sunderland 3-0 at Selhurst just 4 weeks before the first leg in one of the most complete performances of the season – rounded off by a Dougie Freedman wonder goal, so confidence was high in the build up to the game. A goal-less first half played at breakneck speed saw both sides have good chances, with Julian Gray blazing over Palace’s best of the half. 6 minutes into the second period it was Mick McCarthy’s side who drew first blood as Marcus Stewart tucked away a spot kick after Tony Popovic fouled Carl Robinson inside the box.

Palace hit back immediately when Neil Shipperley headed the Eagles level from a Danny Granville cross and Selhurst was rocking again. The game calmed down and Dowie’s men settled into a nice rhythm and took the lead when Danny Butterfield’s drive deflected off former Liverpool man Phil Babb’s heel and nestled into the bottom corner of Mart Poom’s net. Palace’s lead was short lived as big Kevin Kyle found space inside the Eagles’ box to level matters after Aki failed to clear.

Andy Johnson then took centre stage and hit a low drive beyond Poom for his 32nd goal of the season to restore Palace’s lead, and with away goals not counting in the playoffs by this point, Dowie’s men took a one goal lead into the 2nd leg at the Stadium of Light.

If you thought the first leg was packed with drama, and it certainly was, nothing could have prepared you for the ups and downs of the 2nd match. Palace outplayed Sunderland for all but three minutes of the first half, but somehow found themselves two goals down thanks to strikes from the scorers in the first game, Kyle and Stewart. In typical Palace fashion they had gone from controlling the game and looking likely winners to devastation in the space of three minutes.

Julian Gray, the man who’s return the team earlier in the season from exile was instrumental in Palace’s run to the playoffs was dismissed for a lunge on Jason McAteer and Dowie’s men looked doomed. Enter Darren Powell who had been out injured since October. As the fourth official’s board showed 4 minutes of injury time, Palace won a corner after Shaun Derry’s freekick was saved by Mart Poom. Derry ran across to take the set piece and delivered to the back post where Powell rose highest to head beyond the keeper and send the travelling Palace fans and those watching back in South London into ecstasy, Palace had done it at the death and now extra time beckoned.

Extra time was a battle, Palace only had 10 men, but somehow we survived the onslaught from the Black Cats and the game was to be decided by a penalty shoot out. The shoot out turned into a mini  drama all of its own. With the scores locked at 4-4, McAteer missed giving Wayne Routledge the chance to win it for Palace. His kick was saved. Jeff Whitley made the strange decision to try and dink one, which Nico Vaesen easily saved, prompting Mick to boot a water bottle half way to Newcastle. Michael Hughes stepped up and found the net to send Palace into the final after the most tense of evenings. The Palace players celebrated and the travelling fans, some of whom had chartered a plane to get the to North East sung “We’re proud of you”. We were, and we still are.

The final would pit the Eagles against West Ham United at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff on Saturday on Saturday 29th May. The build up to the game was dominated by over confident West Ham fans, former players and pundits talking as if the result was a foregone conclusion – none more so than Tony Gayle on Sky Sports News on the morning of the game – no one really gave Dowie’s men a chance. As we travelled down the M4 on the way to the match the number of limos with Hammers scarfs trailing from the window suggested the fans were in confident mood.

The game went by in a blur. Nico Vaesen made a fantastic save from Bobby Zamora early on, and again from Steve Lomas in the 57th minute as the former Manchester City midfielders 25 yard volley seemed destined for the top corner. Despite West Ham having the better of the chances it was Palace who took the lead on the hour mark. Andy Johnson, who, as the commentary goes was “more than capable of scoring” saw his low shot saved, but skipper Neil Shipperley popped up to prod home the most important goal of his two spells with Palace.

West Ham had the ball in the net twice through David Connolly and Zamora, but they were rightly ruled out for offside. Pardew’s side were unable to break down a very well organised Palace side and the Eagles repelled anything they had to offer. As the final whistle blew I turned to my friend and said “No one gave us a prayer” – Palace were back in the Premiership and the most unbelievable journey was complete.

As Angela Vince on Twitter (@angela_vince) puts it “From a grim morning in Wigan to the unadulterated joy of Cardiff, the perfect illustration of supporting Crystal Palace Football Club.” I couldn’t have put it better myself.

Thanks also to Chris Allen (@chrisofeagles), Phil Morgan (@pnm1979) and Andy Walker (@andytheeagle) for providing their memories of the 2003/4 season on Twitter.

I hope you have enjoyed all five parts of my playoff history – now lets write a new chapter tomorrow and Monday and get ourselves to Wembley.

A Playoff History – Part Four

So far in my Crystal Palace FC Playoff History I’ve covered the successful 1988/89 and 1996/97 campaigns as well as the heartbreaking 1995/96 last gasp defeat at Wembley Stadium to a combination of Claridge’s shin and a freak goalkeeper substitution. For today’s history lesson I’m going to skip past the drama and glory of 2004 (that will come tomorrow) and focus on the two most recent playoff adventures – 2005/6 under Iain Dowie and 2007/8 under Neil Warnock.

2005/2006 Championship Playoffs

Following another last day relegation from the Premier League at the hands of Charlton, Palace had held on to star striker Andy Johnson who signed a new 5 year contract at the club. Chairman Simon Jordan was confident of an immediate return to the top flight, stating “I expect us to win the league. I want us to win the league. I think we have the best manager in the country in Iain Dowie and we have signed one of the best players. We are not playing, we are serious. We are ambitious.
We’ve strengthened and, with no disrespect to last year’s team, we’ve got a stronger side in the Championship than we had in the Premiership”. With Clinton Morrison returning to the club from Birmingham City, there seemed a real chance the team was equipped to back up the Chairman’s words.

Things didn’t start promisingly with a home defeat to newly promoted Luton Town, followed by an away defeat at Wolves and a draw at Carrow Road. Palace did win the next three, all at home, before AJ was injured and Palace were controversially beaten by the eventual Champions Reading at the Madjeski. Palace stuttered along, showing signs of promise but also defensive frailty and couldn’t seem to string a sequence of results together. The 1-0 home defeat to the ‘Weed was particularly galling, even if the “Jobi in the last minute” 3-2 win in the reverse fixture was very sweet.

A good run over Christmas and New Year of 5 wins on the spin seemed to reignite Palace’s automatic promotion campaign, but again inconsistency over the last few months of the season saw us finish 6th. The other playoff places were made up of Watford, who finished 3rd, Preston in 4th and Leeds United, who finished 5. Palace were drawn to face Watford, a side who we had done the double over, 2-1 away and 3-1 at home.

Palace fans were in a confident mood on the morning of the game, predicting an easy win. After all, Aidy Boothroyd’s men had looked a poor outfit when they visited Selhurst Park less than 6 weeks before. Palace had the better of a very competitive first 45. Clinton had the best chance of the half: An intelligent dummy from Johnson created space for Morrison, who curled the ball just wide from the edge of the area – and Palace ended the opening 45 minutes clearly in the ascendancy. The home fans expected Dowie’s troops to push on in the second half and secure a crucial first leg lead.

The second period got off to the worst possible start as everyone’s favourite receiver of stolen goods Marlon King opened the scoring with a cracker to give Watford the lead. Palace responded with a Tony Popovic header which brought the best out of Ben Foster in the Hornet’s goal. The goal however did appear to have effected Palace’s morale, and things got worse when Ashley Young announced himself on the scene with a curling free-kick which beat Kiraly and made it 2-0. Palace found it difficult to compete in a congested midfield as Watford turned the screw and the tie was effectively over five minutes from time when Matthew Spring fired past Kiraly to silence an already shell shocked Selhurst.

The second leg at Vicarage Road is probably the least memorable Palace game I have been to. Remembered mainly for the touchline scuffles between Dowie, Fitz Hall and the Watford bench, and also the last time we saw AJ in red and blue. The game ended 0-0 and Palace’s promotion dreams were left in tatters. Dowie walked out a week or so later, heading back north…to Charlton and legend Peter Taylor came in. Palace never truly recovered.

2007/2008 Championship Playoffs

As mentioned above, the Peter Taylor era was slightly less successful than his time here as a player. Some dire football was served up and attendances dwindled. The 2007/8 season kicked off with a 4-1 away win at Southampton, but that proved to be a false dawn as by October, the Eagles found themselves inside the bottom 3. Simon Jordan, not a man known for his patience with his employees moved swiftly to axe Taylor and brought in Neil Warnock on what he called his ‘dream ticket’. Could Palace repeat the run of 2003/4 that saw them move from the bottom 3 to the top 6?

The short answer is yes. But to say just this would be doing a major dis-service to the job Neil did in galvanising a group of under achieving senior pros and academy prospects into the form team in the division. The additions of former Eagle Shaun Derry and Clint Hill were inspired, and Warnock’s faith in academy products Victor Moses, Lee Hills and Sean Scannell was rewarded with a 15 game unbeaten run which took Palace into the top half of the table.

After the first, but by no means the last, controversial late goal conceded at Ashton Gate, Palace looked to be floundering but a 10 game unbeaten run, including a massive 2-0 win at Vicarage Road in April gave Warnock’s men hope. A loss at promotion contenders Hull City left Palace needing a win on the last day of the season at home to Owen Coyle’s Burnley to secure a play-off spot.

In front of a season’s best crowd of 23,950 Palace roared into a two goal lead inside the first 10 minutes through a Ben Watson penalty after Clarke Carlisle was given his marching orders and VicMo. The result was never in doubt and the young Eagles added three further goals through Soares, on loan Scott Sinclair and leading scorer Clinton Morrison to run out 5-0 winners and finish 5th. This set up a needle tie against Gary Johnson’s Bristol City who had finished 4th.

Hopes were high of another famous Palace playoff success as Bristol City arrived at Selhurst Park, however it was the visitors that set the early tone with former Palace man Dele Adebola bringing the best out of Julian Speroni in the Palace goal. Palace had chances through Sinclair and Morrison, but their weak efforts were easily repelled. City took the lead early in the second half with a training ground special as David Carey found time inside the Palace box from a well worked free kick to fire Johnson’s men into a crucial lead. Neil Warnock, who after the game accused Gary Johnson of sending his side out to “kick” his players, threw Jose Fonte up front as a last roll of the dice and the master plan worked as the Portuguese was brought down by the Bristol City goalscorer. Ben Watson composed himself and slotted home to seemingly get Palace out of jail. As Selhurst celebreated the equaliser David Noble smashed a vicious 30 yarder into the top corner to restore Bristol City’s lead and give them the edge going into the 2nd leg at Ashton Gate.

The second leg was full of feeling, particularly after Warnock’s comments in the press about Bristol City’s tactics in the first game and despite the home side having the better of the opening exchanges, it was Palace who took the lead through Ben Watson. The Ginger Zidane took advantage of a huge mix up inside the Bristol penalty area to head Palace in front.

Palace fought hard to try and get a crucial second goal, and their chance came with 18 minutes left as Tom Soares was brought down by future-Palace man Nick Carle inside the box. Once again Watson stepped up, for this third pressure penalty in as many games. Unfortunately for Palace fans, he couldn’t make it 3 from 3 as his drilled effort bounced back off the post. This turned out to be Palace’s last real chance of the 90 minutes as City sat back and invited Palace on with the Eagles unable to really create a great deal – In fact, it was Lee Trundle who almost won it for The Robins as his chipped effort came back off the bar.

Extra time was a tense affair with both sides seemingly more afraid to lose than actually go on and win the game, and it was a moment of real quality from the aforementioned Trundle that turned the tie in Bristol City’s favour. With Palace forced to commit players forward, Michael McIndoe fired in a fine free kick to make it 4-2 on aggregate and send the home side into the final. Neil Warnock was hit by a home supporter in the pitch invasion that followed which further added to the ill feeling between the two clubs, which would only increase in the seasons that followed.

Neither side would trouble the top 6 again over the coming seasons with both more concerned about leaving the division from the other end. However this season, Bristol City were finally relegated to League One, which still brings a smile to my face after the goading following our 4-1 loss there back in August.

Thanks again for reading Part Four of my CPFC Playoff History. I’ll be back tomorrow with Part Five – The 2003/2004 season which ended with Palace defeating West Ham at the Millennium Stadium to secure a return to the Premier League and also a preview of the 1st leg of this season’s playoffs against ‘The Weed on Friday.