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Palace 1-0 Watford (AET): Eagles back in the big time after Phillips penalty

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CRYSTAL Palace will be playing Premier League football next season after they beat Watford 1-0 thanks to Kevin Phillips' extra-time penalty this afternoon.

On a wonderful day for the boys in red and blue, the big moment came in the 104th-minute when Wilfried Zaha was brought down inside the box by Marco Cassetti, leaving veteran forward Phillips to smash the into the top left corner.

And it ended Phillips' play-off hoodoo of not winning his three previous play-off finals with former clubs.

Aaron Wilbraham had Palace's first glimpse of goal after eight minutes when Jonny Williams fed the ball into him on the edge of the box, but the striker's shot was blocked.

Wilfried Zaha picked up the loose ball and beat a couple of Watford players on the right but the ball just went out at the byline as he looked to cut the ball back.

The Hornets' Joel Ekstrand was the first player into referee Martin Atkinson's notebook soon after for a lunge on Wilbraham, while Mile Jedinak did well to cut out a low cross at the other end from Almen Abdi.

However, Palace suffered an early blow after just 16 minutes when Kagisho Dikgacoi was forced to go off with an injury. The South African fell to the floor with no one around him, before hobbling off to be replaced by Stuart O'Keefe.

Zaha did well to run rings around the Watford defence again down the right before cutting the ball back to Owen Garvan, but the midfielder's shot was blocked inside the box.

Jedinak received a booking just before the half-hour mark for blocking off Almen Abdi, but the Hornets went close to opening the scoring moments later when Matej Vydra received the ball on the edge of the box in a bit of space, and just as he was about to pull the trigger, Damien Delaney put in a superb tackle.

Ikechi Anya was causing a few problems for Palace down the right with his pace, and the winger carved out Watford's first shot of the game after 43 minutes but it went way over Julian Speroni's crossbar.

The Hornets, who brought on Alex Geijo for the injured Vydra at the break, conjured up the first effort of the second period when Nathaniel Chalobah had a go from long range but the ball flew well wide.

Wilbraham also had a great chance to draw first blood when his shot on the turn was blocked from close range from Delaney's knock-down.

And then the former MK Dons and Norwich City man found himself bearing down on goal on the right, but as he got to the danger area he decided to hold the ball up before shooting tamely at Manuel Almunia.

Ian Holloway brought on Kevin Phillips for Williams in a bid to support Wilbraham up front, and they should have taken the lead when the latter was denied by Almunia again, this time from three yards out following a corner.

Danny Gabbidon also found himself completely unmarked at the back post from the resulting set-play but his first touch was far too heavy and Watford cleared their lines.

Zaha continued to pose big problems down the right and did well to deliver a couple of crosses into the box just after the midway point of the second half, but no one was on hand to finish.

With ten minutes remaining, the Eagles had three more chances in quick succession to score first. The best came when Wilbraham found himself in space in front of goal but again Almunia saved Watford by sticking out a leg to deny the forward.

It was agonising for the Palace fans to watch as they had witnessed their team dominate the majority of the second period.

Zaha was also thwarted on the left side of the box by a Watford defender in the second of three added-on minutes, and from the corner, Jedinak rose abover his marker to power a header towards goal, but Almunia held on with a flying save.

So, to extra-time, and moments in, it was a big moment for Speroni when Deeney got round the back of Ward inside the box but the custodian stuck out a hand to superbly palm the ball away from further danger.

However, in the final minute of the first half of extra-time, Palace took the lead from the penalty spot after Zaha's was tripped in the box by Marco Cassetti, leavinng the experienced Phillips to emphatically send the ball into the top left corner to give them one foot in the Premier League.

Holloway's men stood firm at the back, and they could have added a second with a number of counter-attacks but unfortunately to no avail.

However, despite a late wave of Watford attacks and corners, they were greeted by the final whistle to wild celebrations.

Premier League football is back at Selhurst.

Palace: Speroni, Ward, Gabbidon, Delaney, Moxey, Jedinak, Dikgacoi (O'Keefe 17), Garvan (Moritz 84), Williams (Phillips 65), Zaha, Wilbraham.

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

Attendance: 82,025

Referee: Martin Atkinson

By Croydon Advertiser Sports Reporter Mark Ritson

Palace 1-0 Watford (AET): Eagles back in the big time after Phillips penalty


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