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Brighton 0-2 Palace: Zaha gives Eagles Wembley date with superb double

CRYSTAL Palace will face Watford in the Championship play-off final after Wilfried Zaha's stunning double helped defeat arch-rivals Brighton & Hove Albion this evening.

In a frenetic match with a top atmopshere throughout, the on-loan Manchester United winger made sure it wasn't his last game in the famous red and blue just yet.

And now he will be looking for further glory at the national stadium. What a feeling for Palace.

The Eagles made a fairly bright start with Jonny Williams making a surging run into the box, while Owen Garvan's long range effort was flicked on by Aaron Wilbraham and wide of the post.

Julian Speroni then had to be extremely brave when Leonardo Ulloa found himself through on goal but the custodian raced out to smother at his feet.

And moments later the goalkeeper made a flying stop to deny Will Buckley on the right side of the box after Wilfried Zaha lost control of the ball.

Brighton then began to pin Palace back and were making waves particularly down the right side with Inigo Calderon and David Lopez, and the latter went close with a deflected effort that sailed just over.

Then following a Palace corner, a ball was lumped upfield towards Buckley, and after holding up play, he fed Dean Hammond who eventually drove a fierce effort inches wide with Speroni at full stretch.

Garvan then tested Kuszczak from range, before Speroni was called upon again to deny Andrea Orlandi's effort on the left side of the box.

Wilbraham thought he had a claim for a penalty when his flicked-on header from a corner struck a Brighton player but referee Mark Clattenburg wasn't interested.

And they were close to taking the lead five minutes before the break when Zaha's low cross was deflected towards the bottom corner but Matthew Upson managed to clear the danger.

However, just minutes into the second half, Palace should have been one-up. Zaha broke from his own half and found himself backed up with Wilbraham and Williams, and he decided to play in the latter who was through on goal but missed the target inches the wrong side of the post.

It was the biggest chance of the match so far and the Welsh youngster really should have given Ian Holloway's side the lead.

The boss made changes on the hour mark with Andre Moritz and Yannick Bolasie coming on for Garvan and Williams, but then Brighton went extremely close with two back-to-back chances through substitute Ashley Barnes.

The first saw Speroni deny him with a superb save from close range and onto the crossbar, and then from the following corner, his goal-bound header was brilliantly cleared off the line at the back post from Dean Moxey.

However, in the 69th-minute, the Eagles went ahead in emphatic fashion to send the away support crazy.

Bolasie dinked his way down the left and cut the ball back onto his right foot before curling in a fantastic ball at pace for Zaha to race in and power home an unstoppable header past Kuszczak.

Brighton huffed and puffed in search of a response, with substitute Kazenga Lua Lua lively down the left, but Palace looked a threat on the counter-attack.

Wilbraham had two chances to put the game to bed in the 85th-minute, one from a free header following a corner and then driving a shot inches past the post.

But then came another spot of absolute brilliance from Zaha, who made sure of a play-off final date with Watford on May 27, when he scored his second of the match after turning Gordon Greer inside the box and powering home via the underside of the crossbar.

What a moment, and what a trip to look forward to at Wembley Stadium, with more than 30,000 Palace fans set for a big day out on the next Bank Holiday Monday.

Meanwhile, co-chairman Steve Parish confirmed to Advertiser Sport after the game that striker Glenn Murray, who was on crutches at the AMEX Stadium watching, faces a long spell on the sidelines after an MRI scan revealed he has torn his cruciate in his right knee.

Palace: Speroni, Ward, Moxey, Gabbidon, Delaney, Dikgacoi, Jedinak (c), Garvan (Moritz 61), Williams (Bolasie 62), Zaha (O'Keefe 90), Wilbraham.

Subs Not Used: Price, Richards, Ramage, Phillips.

Attendance: 29,518 (1,962 Palace fans).

By Croydon Advertiser Sports Reporter Mark Ritson

Brighton 0-2 Palace: Zaha gives Eagles Wembley date with superb double

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