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Matt Holland's Blog 41

28 May 2013

It might not have been the classic npower Championship Play-Off Final we'd all been dreaming of, but the better team won so there can be no complaints at the outcome. Well played Crystal Palace.

In fact, had Glenn Murray not suffered a knee injury in the semi-final, I have a feeling Palace wouldn't have required extra-time to see off Watford 1-0 at Wembley.

The prolific front man, who helplessly watched on holding his crutches, would surely have made the game done and dusted in his team's favour had one of the gilt-edged chances that was created, fallen his way.

Watford will have lots of regrets. They started brightly, but overall they will look back and admit they never turned up. I've seen Gianfranco Zola's men quite a few times in the flesh this season, and they've always performed far better than they did underneath the arch. They'll be gutted.

Manuel Almunia had a fine match, as did Lloyd Doyley at the back, but going forward their usual spark and verve was missing. Losing Matej Vydra to injury at half-time didn't help their cause, but at no stage did they ever really produce the fluent, attacking football that had propelled them into third place.

Palace came up with a tactically excellent performance, and full credit has to go to the manager Ian Holloway for organising his team so well. They defended deeply, denying space in behind, and when called upon to make a key block, header, or tackle, each and every defender stood up tall to be counted.

I thought centre-back Damian Delaney was magnificent. This is a guy that was released by Ipswich Town last summer after enduring a difficult time at Portman Road. He wasn't popular with the fans, and you had to wonder if his career was on the slide.

So hats off to him for getting himself a deal at Palace - and then playing such a pivotal role in their promotion. No wonder he looked absolutely overwhelmed with happiness at the final whistle. It's some personal turnaround for him in just 12 months.

Joel Ward at right-back was another hero. He made a brave block with his body in the second half, and was then in the right place to clear the ball off the goal line in the dying seconds when Fernando Forestieri's curler was heading towards the far corner.

That clearance, and Delaney's determined defending, typified an extremely resolute display from the Eagles.

In attack, Wilfried Zaha made the difference. He's still very raw, he occasionally takes too many touches, and his final ball isn't particularly consistent but this is a player that frightens defenders - and he tormented Watford all afternoon.

In a game that lacked real craft, he was the one player on the pitch that had you out of your seat, expecting something to happen. And, as sure as eggs are eggs, he was the one who won the penalty, proving too quick and too clever for Marco Cassetti inside the box.

Then came the decisive penalty kick, and luckily for Crystal Palace they had the one player on the pitch who they would have wanted to take it. I'm not sure there's anyone else in English football I'd have felt more confident in than Kevin Phillips. He was never going to miss from the spot.

As an ex-Watford player, playing in possibly his final ever professional game, it was written in the stars that he'd get the winner. What a story.

Crystal Palace will have to invest heavily this summer if they're to survive in the top flight next term. And it's ironic that the two players who helped them to promotion - Zaha and Phillips - are both unlikely to play a part next year. But for now it's time for the Eagles to enjoy the moment. These days don't come around too often.

That's all from me this season! I'll hopefully see you for more in August.

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