Coventry 2 Crystal Palace 1
By Andy Clarke
Last Updated: 01/01/70 1:00am
Crystal Palace completed their stunning rise into the play-offs despite suffering a 2-1 defeat to Coventry at Highfield Road.
The Eagles looked more likely to be heading for the Second Division than the top six when Iain Dowie took charge half way through the season, but a run of 14 wins from 21 games proved enough to extend their season.
In the end they were grateful to a last minute goal from Brian Deane for West Ham at Wigan, after they were overwhelmed by Coventry's whirlwind start which brought two goals before the half-hour mark.
New City boss Peter Reid inspired his team to produce a performance of attacking verve and they capitalised on Palace's early nerves. Within three minutes, Tony Popovic had lashed the ball against his own post before Nico Vaesen scrambled the ball wide on the other side of the goal.
From the resulting corner, Mo Konjic was left completely unmarked and he powered a header into the bottom corner to give the Sky Blues a fourth minute lead.
Moments later Vaesen was forced to tip over Graham Barrett's goalbound cross as Palace's play-off dream looked likely to collapse in an error-strewn display.
Popovic headed over as the visitors briefly rallied, but it was Coventry who added a well-deserved second goal, with Barrett playing a delightful pass through to Michael Doyle who beat Vaesen with a low left-foot shot.
Bjarni Gudjonsson then forced Vaesen into a smart save with a powerful 25-yard drive, while at the other end Michael Hughes shot wide on the turn when he should have done better.
Palace were much better in the second half as they surged forward looking for a way back into the game and they pulled a goal back when Andy Johnson's fine low cross was drilled in by Freedman.
Julian Gray should have equalised when he was picked out in the area by Hughes, but his drilled low shot was superbly turned off the line by Calum Davenport.
In the end it all proved to be academic as Deane scored a last-gasp header to deny Wigan the victory they needed to leapfrog the Eagles, and Dowie will lead his side into a play-off against Sunderland next week.