There was one stand-out candidate to replace Steve Coppell following his resignation and, sure enough, the Palace board handed his former assistant Alan Smith the job. Smith had been Coppell’s right-hand man throughout the club’s top flight seasons and he targeted an instant return to the Premier League.
The influential Geoff Thomas departed SE25 for Wolves, while Eddie McGoldrick joined Arsenal – but that wasn’t enough to derail Palace’s promotion bid. Despite a stuttering start that saw the Eagles draw 0-0 with Tranmere on the opening day, before losing 2-0 at Bristol City, Smith’s men won the next five to surge to the top of Division One by mid-September. It was there they stayed until after Christmas and, although they were knocked off of top spot, Palace remained in the top four for the remainder of an impressive season.
By Easter, it was apparent that the club were promotion-bound and they targeted the added prize of the title. On Sunday 1st May 1994, Palace travelled to Middlesbrough knowing that a win would secure the championship. An efficient, organised display led to a 3-2 victory as the Eagles rubber stamped top spot with a game to spare.
But a second season in the Premier League was to bring more heartache for Palace fans, with Smith unable to save them from the drop, despite finishing fourth from bottom. A 3-2 defeat at Newcastle on the final day of the season was enough to seal the Eagles’ fate, with four teams being relegated from the Premier League for the only time in its history, as the division was restructured to contain 20 teams instead of 22.
Ray Lewington was appointed as manager for the 1995/96 campaign, with Steve Coppell returning to the club as technical director, as Palace looked to bounce straight back into the big time. Their form proved patchy though, and on 8th February 1996, chairman Ron Noades moved to install Dave Bassett as boss.
His impact was almost immediate, as Palace went unbeaten during March, winning six games and drawing twice, to surge into the leading pack. Back to back defeats at the end of the season ultimately cost the club automatic promotion though and they were forced to settle for the play-offs. The Eagles dispatched London rivals Charlton to reach the Wembley showpiece against Leicester, who infamously sealed promotion with a last gasp Steve Claridge winner.
By the time Palace reached a second successive play-off final in May 1997, Steve Coppell had returned as manager, following Dave Bassett’s move to Premier League outfit Nottingham Forest. He led the Eagles out at Wembley against Sheffield United – and this time it was their turn to secure a last-minute victory. David Hopkin’s 90th minute curler has gone down as one of the most famous goals in Crystal Palace history, but it was to prove his last for the club.
Hopkin was sold to Leeds United for £3.5m, while another player of legendary status at Selhurst Park, Attilio Lombardo, made the shock move to SE25 from Juventus. After a run of eight straight league defeats between January and March 1998, Steve Coppell stepped down from his role as manager, with Lombardo taking charge until the end of the season. His spell at the helm alongside Thomas Brolin proved unsuccessful, as Palace were again relegated from the Premier League.
The summer of 1998 proved an eventful one, as director Mark Goldberg completed his takeover of the club, immediately appointing Terry Venables as manager. The club then competed in their first ever European tie, losing over two legs in the Intertoto Cup against Turkish side Samsunspor. League results were also disappointing in the main, with the financial situation off the pitch also deteriorating.
By November 1998, Goldberg was forced to tighten the staff budget, leaving Venables and his costly backroom staff out of work. Coppell returned for another spell as manager in January 1999, guiding his young side to mid-table safety under the cloud of administration, which the club formally entered in March.
The administration lasted throughout the entire 1999/2000 season, with Goldberg resigning at the start of the campaign. He was replaced by the much-liked Peter Morley, who came in with the club sitting bottom of Division One by mid-September. But Coppell turned their fortunes around, thanks to his shrewd use of the loan market. Experienced defender Terry Phelan spent the winter months in SE25, while youngsters Ashley Cole and Mikael Forssell also had spells at the club, as Palace secured their Division One survival.
There was good news off the pitch too, as, after an agonising 16 months in administration, a buyer for the club was finally found. A group of Palace fans, who called themselves ‘The Crystal Palace Supporters’ Trust’, had raised funds to help their beloved club, but it was Simon Jordan who headed a new company, ‘Crystal Palace 2000’, and brought the club out of administration, sparking a new era in SE25.