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MATCH REPORT

PUBLISHED
05:10 5th May 2013


Playing his penultimate game for the club Wilfried Zaha saved possibly his best Palace performance for when it mattered most, as he scored a superb brace to send the Eagles into the Championship Play-Off Final at the expense of arch-rivals Brighton.

Having battled their way to a goalless first half at the Amex Stadium, Zaha's double in the second, including the clincher three minutes from time, ensured his side would be taking their place in the showpiece final against Watford in two weeks' time and forever ink his name into Palace folklore.

Once again a tremendous pre-match atmosphere was produced by both sets of fans, and only four minutes had passed when the Eagles had their opening chance of the game. Owen Garvan drove the ball low into the box where Aaron Wilbraham flicked it towards goal but was unlucky to see his attempt trickle the wrong side of the post.

The home side began to string the ball around but their opening chances came through opportunism rather than neat skill. In one of his only errors in the game, Zaha lost the ball on the edge of the box to Will Buckley who took aim and forced Julian Speroni into a diving save, and later David Lopez saw a shot loop off Danny Gabbidon and drop just over the crossbar.

Their creativity though did create a great chance after 20 minutes when Dean Hammond was inches away from completing a swift counter-attacking move that saw a long punt by Lopez find Buckley, and after holding the ball up he squared it for the midfielder who blasted narrowly wide.

The final stages of the half saw Garvan drill a shot straight at Tomasz Kuszczak and at the other end Andrea Orlandi did the same after latching onto a cross towards the far post, but Palace were unfortunate to see a low cross from  a revitalised Zaha flash across the goalmouth just out of Wilbraham's reach.

Zaha was showing on the big stage why Sir Alex Ferguson shelled out £15 million for him in January as time and time again he caused Inigo Calderon and his fellow defenders problems, and a minute into the second half he broke free and played a perfect through-ball for Jonny Williams who saw his first-time shot beat Kuszczak but was a whisker away from finding the far corner.

Just past the hour mark Palace endured two huge scares but survived. Having only seconds earlier been brought on as a sub, Ashley Barnes latched onto a long ball and smashed a goalbound effort towards the target but Speroni made a marvellous reaction save to deflect it onto the bar, and from the resulting corner Barnes again headed towards goal but Dean Moxey was well positioned to nod the ball off the line.

Having survived the storm, 160 minutes into the tie Palace finally grabbed the first goal. Yannick Bolasie produced a dangerous cross from the left seemingly for Wilbraham, but unmarked at the back post was Zaha who flung himself at the ball to plant a brilliant diving header past Kuszczak in front of the ecstatic 2,000 Eagles fans.

With the vital goal claimed, Ian Holloway's men absorbed everything the Seagulls threw at them comfortably, and far from protecting their one goal lead the visitors continued to press forward and with four minutes left Wilbraham dragged a shot just wide.

However Wembley dreams were made a reality two minutes later thanks to that man Zaha again. Kagisho Dikgacoi played the ball to the winger who was positioned just inside the box, and he turned the defender to allow himself the yard of space he required to lash the ball into the net and send Palace to within 90 minutes of Premier League football next season.

Brighton: Kuszczak, Calderon (LuaLua 71), Greer, Upson, Bridge; Bridcutt, David, Hammond, Buckley, Ulloa, Orlandi (Barnes 64). Subs not used: Brezovan, El-Abd, Crofts, Dicker, Painter. 

Crystal Palace: Speroni, Ward, Delaney, Gabbidon, Moxey, Dikgacoi, Garvan (Moritz 62), Jedinak, Williams (Bolasie 62), Zaha (O'Keefe 90), Wilbraham. Subs not used: Price, Richards, Phillips, Ramage.