nPower Championship

Watford v Crystal Palace - The npower Championship Playoff Final

On Monday, Crystal Palace joined the likes of Hull City and Cardiff City as they got promoted to the Barclays Premier League, when they defeated Watford 1-0 in extra time in the Championship playoff final.

The talk before the match was all about the money at stake in this game but football should sometimes be about footballers as well, and one of the game’s greatest fantasies came true when Kevin Phillips grabbed the headlines.

Kevin Phillips, 39, who is a three times losing play-off finalist, came on as substitute to score a penalty that sent Crystal Palace back into the Premier League. By the way, that kick from 12 yards was worth a minimum £120 million! The sad part though is Phillips most likely will not play in the top flight, and he knows he is not Ryan Giggs, but no one at Selhurst Park will care about that now as he scored his 285th career goal.

In fairness, Palace deserved to win. They had the better of the clear-cut chances and it was the former Arsenal goalkeeper Manuel Almunia who, with his brilliant saves one after another, took us into extra time. Finally, after 105 minutes, Manchester United-bound Wilfried Zaha produced his trickery, which was too hot to handle for Watford’s Marco Cassetti, who ended up conceding a penalty.

Hence, it was that Palace’s two loanees, remember Kevin Phillips belongs to Blackpool and Zaha has been loaned back by United, who joined hands to defeat the Gianfranco Zola led Watford.
This, though, was a bridge too far for Watford who just didn’t turn up to produce the vibrant passing football that has been their trademark this season. They began with three at the back but Palace’s wide men, Williams and Zaha, pushed on so far that it quickly became a back five. That reduced Watford’s numbers in midfield and as a result, Palace dominated possession for much of the first half-hour.

After a dull first half, both teams started with greater intent in the second. Almen Abdi and Alex Geijo wasted good opportunities for Watford to at least test Julian Speroni, the Palace’s custodian, before Almunia, Watford’s goalkeeper, was forced into a couple of saves in quick succession. First, he denied Stuart O’Keefe with his legs after Zaha had played a lovely trough ball. Many more half-chances were wasted by Palace, and it started to seem the absence of 30-goal Glenn Murray would cost Palace. This fact got highlighted when Watford rallied themselves in extra-time. Speroni, to his credit, was as assured as Almunia.

Finally, Zaha ran at Cassetti and induced a foul which resulted in a spot-kick. Phillips, who ended up losing play-offs in 1997 with Sunderland, also missed out in 2008 (West Brom) and last year (Blackpool), took the penalty. His penalty was so clinical that it got accolades even from Michael Owen.

Palace, for all their euphoria, should realize that life in the Premier League won’t be easy. This match made it clear that they will need to invest significantly in the summer to survive in the top flight, especially as Zaha is off to Old Trafford. How much will they spend? Yes, they have gained £120m by getting promoted, but that ignores the reality that much of this income will go to the increased costs, mostly in inflated player wages.

But such considerations are for some other day as their fans will enjoy their day in the sun. For now, it’s celebration time at Selhurst Park.