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Match Roundups

npower Championship Play-Off round-up

14 May 2013

Second legs

BRIGHTON AND HOVE ALBION 0-2 CRYSTAL PALACE (0-2 AGG)

Wilfried Zaha ensured his Crystal Palace farewell party will be at Wembley after his two goals sank arch-rivals Brighton and Hove Albion 2-0 in the npower Championship Play-Off semi-final second leg.

The winger has already earned Palace £15million after agreeing a switch to Manchester United in January, which will be completed in the summer. And a well-taken double means he could now leave the Eagles a parting gift of a place in the Premier League next season and the millions of pounds that go with it.

A tense derby encounter was going the same way as the goalless first leg until Zaha broke the deadlock in the 69th minute, just moments after Brighton substitute Ashley Barnes had twice come agonisingly close to giving the hosts the lead. And the 20-year-old England international killed off the Seagulls with a fabulous turn and shot with two minutes remaining.

It means Ian Holloway's Palace, who only secured their place in the top six on the final day of the season following a dismal run of form, will play Gianfranco Zola's Watford in the final in a fortnight.

It was a different story in the first half for Zaha, who struggled to make an impact and became frustrated at some of the close attention he was receiving from Brighton's defenders. Instead the Seagulls bossed the early stages with Julian Speroni having to keep out Will Buckley's drive before David Lopez's shot was deflected narrowly over.

Former England defender Matt Upson headed Andrea Orlandi's corner wide, Dean Hammond was also off target with a fierce, low drive and Orlandi's volley was straight at Speroni. But Palace were a different proposition after the break and Jonny Williams missed a gilt-edged chance to put them ahead when he was sent clean through by Aaron Wilbraham.

The young Wales midfielder's low shot beat the dive of Seagulls goalkeeper Tomasz Kuszczak but rolled just wide of the far post.

Brighton striker Barnes twice came even closer to breaking the deadlock just a minute after climbing off the bench. He latched onto Leonardo Ulloa's flick-on, only for Speroni to tip his shot onto the crossbar and from the resulting corner saw his header cleared off the line by Dean Moxey.

The fine margins which decide these Play-Off encounters were brought home to Brighton moments later. Palace sub Yannick Bolasie got the better of Inigo Calderon on the left and swung in a cross which Zaha, who had got in front of Wayne Bridge, met with a firm diving header which crashed into the net.

And as Brighton pushed for an equaliser they left a hole at the back which Kagisho Dikgacoi exposed by playing in Zaha, who turned Gordon Greer before thumping his shot into the roof of the net in front of the jubilant travelling fans.

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WATFORD 3-1 LEICESTER CITY (3-2 AGG)

Troy Deeney's 96th-minute goal fired Watford into the npower Championship Play-Off Final in the most dramatic fashion, with a 3-1 win over Leicester City, at Vicarage Road.

The Hornets' promotion hopes looked over when, 60 seconds earlier, Leicester were awarded a penalty. But Manuel Almunia pulled off a stunning double save to keep out Anthony Knockaert's spot-kick, and also the rebound.

And as Watford broke up the other end the ball fell to Deeney in the penalty area to crash into an empty net and spark wild scenes of celebration. Watford trailed 1-0 from the first leg and twice levelled the tie on aggregate through Matej Vydra, either side of David Nugent's header.

After Deeney's amazing winner Zola's side will now face Brighton & Hove Albion or Crystal Palace for a place in the Barclays Premier League on Monday, May 27. Vydra had not scored in his last 12 games but ended his drought in sensational style in the 15th minute.

Marco Cassetti chipped the ball over the top and Vydra, on the run, let it drop over his shoulder before crashing a superb angled volley across Kasper Schmeichel and into the net. That levelled the tie on aggregate but Leicester got their noses back in front just four minutes later, Nugent out-jumping Lloyd Doyley at the far post to nod in Matty James' corner.

The Foxes could have had another moments later but Knockaert skied his effort. Watford piled forward after the interval with Cristian Battocchio tip-toeing through a couple of challenges on the edge of the box before shooting just wide.

The goal they desperately needed came in the 65th minute when Vydra played a neat one-two with Deeney just inside the area and sidefooted his second past Schmeichel.

Deeney had the ball in the net with 12 minutes remaining after running on to Vydra's through-ball but an offside flag curtailed his celebrations. But with extra-time looming Cassetti nudged Knockaert to the ground in the area and referee Michael Oliver pointed to the spot.

Knockaert was already celebrating in front of Leicester's fans but that proved premature when Almunia saved his penalty with his legs and got up in time to parry the rebound. And as if that was not dramatic enough, Watford charged back upfield and moments later Jonathan Hogg's header back across goal was touched on by Vydra and Deeney gleefully slammed in the winner.

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First legs

CRYSTAL PALACE 0-0 BRIGHTON AND HOVE ALBION

Crystal Palace's promotion bid took another turn for the worse despite a goalless draw against Brighton and Hove Albion.

The Eagles, who only clung on to a place in the top six with a first win in 10 matches last weekend, managed to cancel out their arch-rivals in the first leg of their Play-Off semi-final at Selhurst Park.

But they are likely to face an uphill task when they head down the M23 for Monday's second leg after 30-goal top scorer Glenn Murray was stretchered off. The former Seagulls striker collapsed in agony after appearing to get his studs caught in the turf in the second half, and his Play-Off campaign looks over.

Meanwhile, the eagerly-anticipated meeting between two clubs who have been exchanging unpleasantries since the days of Terry Venables and Alan Mullery in the 1970s finished all-square. There may be 44 miles between these sides but there is no love lost, and nothing could separate them in south London.

In contrast to Palace, Brighton came into the game on the back of a nine-match unbeaten run. And it was clear in the first half which team was in form with the Seagulls opening up a nervous-looking Palace side with their trademark slick passing.

Wayne Bridge skipped past Joel Ward and crossed for Leonardo Ulloa six yards out, but the Argentinian striker headed wastefully wide. Will Buckley's cross was then met by Dean Hammond in the area and the midfielder crashed a powerful header towards goal, but Julian Speroni made a fine point-blank save.

For Palace, the lively Jonny Williams drove narrowly wide while Murray appealed for a penalty when Matt Upson held him in the area, but referee Michael Oliver was unmoved.

Wilfried Zaha was making his final home appearance for Palace ahead of his summer switch to Manchester United. The winger was rarely allowed to show the talent which persuaded Sir Alex Ferguson to invest £15million in him, although one shimmy, run and cross deserved better than Williams' tame header.

Zaha found more space after the interval and turned Inigo Calderon inside out, and back again, before fizzing a low ball across goal which Murray just failed to get a touch on. Then Owen Garvan's cross was met by Danny Gabbidon but his header was kept out by Tomasz Kuszczak, with Andrea Orlandi completing the clearance.

Palace's evening went sour when Murray tried to turn sharply in the box, crumpled to the ground and needed lengthy treatment before leaving the action on a stretcher. Yet they almost grabbed a late winner from another Garvan cross which Kagisho Dikgacoi tried to bundle home, but Calderon was on hand to hack the ball clear.

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LEICESTER CITY 1-0 WATFORD

David Nugent broke his goal duck to give Leicester City a 1-0 first-leg lead in their npower Championship Play-Off semi-final with Watford.

Nugent netted for the first time in 17 matches with eight minutes remaining to give the Foxes a 1-0 advantage to protect in Sunday's second leg at Vicarage Road.

It looked like Nigel Pearson's side might be left to rue their failure to take the chances they created, particularly during the first half. But Watford will also be disappointed not to have scored, with Ikechi Anya and Matej Vydra spurning one-on-one chances in each half.

Leicester started brightly, getting at their opponents from the off. Nugent flicked a third-minute cross from Lloyd Dyer goalwards but it lacked the power to beat Manuel Almunia and the Spaniard, fit again after a hamstring injury, smothered the ball.

The Hornets' stopper was then in the right place when Ritchie De Laet's near-post header from Matty James' corner stuck in his midriff.

The relentless Leicester pressure was broken when a mistake by makeshift left-back Jeff Schlupp presented Watford with the best opening of the match. Schlupp's clearance only went as far as Almen Adbi but Kasper Schmeichel got down quickly to make a save before De Laet cleared the loose ball to the safety of the stand.

The episode gave Gianfranco Zola's team a foothold in the game and Marco Cassetti's 30-yard effort worried Schmeichel enough for the Dane to fling himself to his left as the shot just missed the top corner.

Dyer and Nugent combined again, this time Leicester's leading scorer made a solid connection but he steered his side-foot effort a yard wide. The visitors then had Almunia to thank as they went into half-time all square. The Hornets' captain blocked Anthony Knockaert's near-post shot after the winger had beaten Cassetti in a foot race and then cut inside Daniel Pudil.

Watford spurned another great opportunity on the hour mark. Cassetti's crafted pass found Vydra on the edge of the box but the Championship's player of the year failed to add to his 20 league goals, scuffing his shot tamely at Schmeichel. The Czech Republic international then hit a shot with some force from the left side of the area that Schmeichel pushed away.

Nugent then headed home Knockaert's free-kick in the 82nd minute for his 15th goal of the season, having been stuck on 14 since scoring the winner in a 2-1 home win over Wolverhampton Wanderers on January 31st. Having sneaked into the Play-Offs, Leicester will now feel they have the momentum to carry them to Wembley, and possibly beyond.

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