Premier League pretenders
Chris Burton reflects on how Crystal Palace and Watford made the Championship play-off final and profiles one of the dangermen for either side hoping to influence the Wembley showpiece
By Chris Burton
Last Updated: 23/05/13 2:07pm
It has been very much a season of two halves for Crystal Palace - the first being very positive, and the second being hugely disappointing.
After opening with three straight defeats, the Eagles got their act together and went 14 games unbeaten - winning 11 - to surge to the top of the Championship standings. Dougie Freedman left the club midway through that run to take the reins at second tier rivals Bolton Wanderers. Palace turned to the enigmatic Ian Holloway as his replacement, with a larger than life character asked to carry on the good work.
Things started well enough for Holloway, as he consolidated the Eagles' standing among the pacesetters. The tide started to turn in the build-up to Christmas, though, and Palace endured a run of one win in nine which dropped them out of the top two. They offered a brief recovery through February and early March, and it is that run which ultimately secured them a play-off spot.
Another nine-game winless run left them sweating slightly on a top-six finish heading into the final day, but they edged out Peterborough United 3-2 to keep their promotion push on track and relegate the Posh.
An intriguing tussle with rivals Brighton & Hove Albion was lined up in the play-off semi-finals, and there was seemingly little to choose between the two sides heading into a two-legged encounter. That theory proved to be correct, with a close contest ultimately settled by the brilliance of one man.
Danger man - Wilfried Zaha
It has already been some season for Zaha, with international recognition and admiring glances from the very top of the Premier League table coming his way.
He was drafted in to Roy Hodgson's England plans for a friendly date with Sweden in November, and was awarded a seven-minute run-out off the bench as he earned his first senior cap. Zaha is still eligible to represent the Ivory Coast, but the Three Lions will be looking to get him involved in a competitive fixture as soon as possible if his development continues at its current pace.
The 20-year-old is a player that has been known about for some time, with Palace having handed him his debut at the age of 17. His potential was clear for all to see even then, and he has gone on to become a tricky winger with an eye for the odd spectacular strike.
The January transfer window was expected to see interest in his services intensify, and it came as no surprise to find Manchester United move quickly to pip their top flight rivals to Zaha's signature. The Red Devils allowed him to see out the season at Palace before linking up with them in the summer. He will be hoping to sign off in style and leave the Eagles as a Premier League club.
All eyes were on him as the play-off spotlight fell on Palace, but he appears to have embraced that pressure after bagging a match-winning brace in a keenly-fought semi-final encounter with Brighton. Glenn Murray may have got the goals this season which have secured a top-six standing, but it is Zaha who remains the main attraction at Selhurst Park and the man who must prove that he is deserving of the hype and a place among the ranks at a Premier League title winner.
|Shot Conversion Rate||14.3%|
|Chances Created (inc. assists)||18|
Manager view - Ian Holloway
"I think we're feeling much better about ourselves. It's difficult when you come into a club and everything's rosy, I'm not used to it.
"Every one of them burst their heart. They were brave. A couple of weeks ago they didn't feel like that because things weren't going for us. We'd lost our 30-goal talisman [Glenn Murray], everyone wrote us off but you can't do that.
Fancy a flutter?
Despite seeing off much-fancied Brighton to make it to Wembley, Crystal Palace are considered to be outsiders to step up into the Premier League at 1/1.
They are 19/10 to get the job done inside normal time at the home of English football. If you see the game going past the 90-minute mark, you can get the Eagles at 12/1 to win in extra-time and 11/1 to prevail on penalties.
Click here to see all available markets.