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Super Kev flies Eagles to glory

28 May 2013

By Tony Leighton

The Wembley stage was supposedly set for Crystal Palace's Manchester United-bound super kid Wilfried Zaha, but instead veteran Kevin Phillips grabbed the npower Championship Play-Off Final headlines with an extra time penalty winner to land the Eagles in the Premier League through a 1-0 victory over Watford.

Both players were making their final on-loan appearances for Palace - 20-year-old winger Zaha from United following his £15million January transfer to Old Trafford and substitute 'Super Kev', just two months short of his 40th birthday, from manager Ian Holloway's previous club Blackpool.

It may also prove to be the final game of former England international Phillips' goal-filled career. But, as he said in the immediate aftermath of a tense Wembley final, "If that is my last game, what a way to sign off.

"I don't know if I'll carry on," added Phillips, a three-times Play-Off Final loser - with Sunderland, West Bromwich Albion and Blackpool - before this triumph. "It's fourth time lucky for me, and I'm delighted to get that winning feeling.

"It was magnificent to score the winning goal. When we got the penalty I felt confident and fresh, and one thing I never do is change my mind. I just thought, 'smash it,' and I was delighted to see it go in the top corner.

"Promotion, with the money in the Premier League, means everything and the club can build to the future with some good young talent. I'm delighted for the players but I also have to give a special mention to the manager, who threw on a 40-year-old with 30 minutes to go. Who else would have done that?"

Who else indeed, but - like super-sub Phillips himself - the Palace manager is something of a one-off. And, in his own inimitable style, 'Ollie' paid tribute to Phillips, Zaha and everyone else involved in the Eagles' achievement of clinching a promotion that is worth an estimated £120million.

The penalty winner by Phillips followed a foul on Man of the Match Zaha and Holloway said: "It's a wonderful story for Kevin; his first Play-Off Final win at 39. Wilf's little run [that led to the penalty] was almost unplayable - games like that are won on little moments of genius like that.

"Promotion is absolutely massive for the club and it's wonderful for everyone connected. I'm absolutely delighted for them all. I know the hard work that's gone into it and I feel very privileged to be the manager of this club.

"When I first came here [Holloway took over in November], maybe I was the opposite of what they actually needed. I don't think I got everything right and we had a terrible spell - everyone was blaming everyone, me included - but it ain't over till it's over and we end up in the Premier League, which is unbelievable.

"We're in the Premier League so God help us - the minute we kick-off next season we're on a hiding to nothing. We've just got to make sure we can compete. We will have to do an awful lot of work, but I'm looking forward to it."

Palace's triumph was the second Play-Off Final win in four seasons for Holloway, who led Blackpool to the Premier League in 2010 but then lost last year's Final with the same club. By contrast, his opposite number Gianfranco Zola, on his first managerial trip to Wembley, was a Play-Off Final novice.

But despite his disappointment in defeat, the former Chelsea and Italy star refused to be downbeat. "It is certainly not the best moment for me or for my players," he said, "but this game doesn't take anything away from our season.

"It has been a very good season. We didn't play our best today, they played better and deserved to win the game. It's very disappointing for our supporters, but this is not the end of the road for us. This is just the beginning. It's been a big bonus to play this game and we are going to be stronger next year."

Zola magnanimously hailed both match-winner Phillips and Palace's creative spark Zaha, the former possibly set to send his career and the latter on the brink of a potentially sparkling future with the Premier League champions.

For Zaha it was an emotional goodbye to Palace, where he has played his football since his school days. "I've been at the club for 10 years," he noted, "and I have nothing but love for the club. Today is all I wanted.

"Going to Manchester United is good for me, but I had to stay at Palace and get the job done. I wanted to leave Palace knowing they are in the Premier League, and I'm so glad we made it - it's a dream come true."

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