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PREVIEW: Crystal Palace vs Brighton


HERE we go, two tense matches against arch-rivals Brighton & Hove Albion in the space of 72 hours to reach the Championship play-off final at Wembley.

To some supporters, it may not have come as a surprise the clubs would meet having been inside the top six in recent months, and there was also the possibility of facing Dougie Freedman's Bolton Wanderers.

Palace will certainly be going into tonight's game in buoyant form on the back of last Saturday's win over Peterborough United and the successful end-of-season awards night on Tuesday.

Now it's time to hit fifth gear, and with Watford or Leicester City waiting in the wings for the final, this will not be an easy route to the Premier League.

Having said that, out of all four play-off sides, Brighton are the form team and will come to Selhurst believing they can win.

However, it's important Palace do not lose tonight. And even though the Eagles can win down at the Amex Stadium on Monday in the second leg, the recent 3-0 defeat on the south coast will still be fresh in the memory.

We could see an unchanged starting XI from Ian Holloway, while Stephen Dobbie will not be allowed to face his parent club.

Jonny Williams, probably Palace's best player on the pitch at the Amex before coming off at half-time in March, should start in place of Kagisho Dikgacoi, who has not been the same player in recent weeks compared to the first third of the season.

In defence, it looks like Danny Gabbidon is set to continue alongside Damien Delaney, and the Welshman has experience in these big games, whereas Peter Ramage made a mistake for Brighton's third goal back in March.

Wilfried Zaha, Yannick Bolasie and Glenn Murray are set to lead the line going forward, while newly-crowned player of the year Mile Jedinak will be firing the players up ahead of the two games.

Expect Kevin Phillips to feature from the bench as well, and the veteran forward would love to reach his fourth career play-off final.

Palace co-chairman Steve Parish believes Brighton go into the two games as favourites but thinks the Eagles can get a result at the Amex on Monday.

"We don't want to get too cavalier about it getting carried away, so let's treat both games as one game and see what we can do," he said.

"We know it's going to be tough and Brighton will start as favourites, and so they should be with all the money they've spent.

"I think you could say it's important we don't lose the first leg at home, but it doesn't mean we can't get a result down at their place.

"You've just got to look at it as a 180-minute game, and whatever the result is at half-time, realistically you're in with a chance as long as you're not far adrift."

And Phillips, who has not won any of his three previous play-off finals, says it will be about the side who can keep their cool and come up with the goods on the night.

He said: "It will be tough. Brighton will come here Friday expecting to get a result.

"We were down at their place several weeks ago and were convincingly beaten by them.

"We'll go into the game and play the game, not the occasion. It's a cliche, but that simply is the way we have to approach it.

"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."

PREVIEW: Crystal Palace vs Brighton

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