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2000-10: PLAY-OFF PALACE

PUBLISHED

11:45 1st June 2013


Among several summer signings bankrolled by new owner Simon Jordan was that of Mikael Forssell on loan from Chelsea, who would go on to strike up a 34-goal partnership with Clinton Morrison. But important as that signing was, the major news of the close season was the resignation of Steve Coppell, which came just 11 days before the start of the 2000/01 campaign. Just as was the case back in 2003, he was replaced at the helm by Alan Smith. 

Although the Eagles enjoyed another promising run in the League Cup before being knocked out in the semi-finals by Liverpool, their season tapered off dramatically. A 2-0 defeat to Wolves in their final home game of the season brought about the dismissal of Smith, leaving Steve Kember in charge for two crucial games at Portsmouth and Stockport as Palace scrapped to stay in Division One. 

They beat Portsmouth 4-2 at Fratton Park, before a late Dougie Freedman winner against County ensured the Eagles Division One status for another season. 

Many fans expected Kember to be kept on as manager after guiding the club to safety, but it was former Huddersfield and Sheffield United boss, Steve Bruce, who landed the role in the summer of 2001. He guided the club into the top three following seven consecutive wins during his short spell at the club, before an acrimonious departure to league rivals Birmingham City in November. He was replaced by Trevor Francis. 

The second half of the season was a disappointing one for Palace though, ultimately finishing in 10th place. Bruce’s Birmingham side finished in the play-off places and went on to win promotion to the Premier League. 

During the summer, Clinton Morrison was re-united with Bruce at Birmingham, with Andrew Johnson coming to SE25 as part of the deal. It was to prove an astute piece of business by the club. Johnson netted 10 goals in five games – Palace’s best post-war effort. It wasn’t until March 2003 that the Eagles won their first home game of the season though and Jordan sacked Francis just before Easter, leaving Kember to once again take temporary charge as the club finished 14th. He was given the job permanently in May 2003, but after a poor start to the 2003/04 season, Kember was replaced by former Palace striker Iain Dowie just before Christmas.

Dowie’s first game in charge was a Boxing Day defeat at home to Millwall, leaving the club embroiled in a relegation dogfight. But Dowie brought about a miraculous transformation at Selhurst Park, which saw the Eagles soar into the play-off places on the last day of the season after a scintillating run of results. Palace edged past Sunderland on penalties in the semi-final, before Neil Shipperley’s solitary goal was enough to beat West Ham in the play-off final at the Millennium Stadium and take the club into the Premier League.

Despite the 21 league goals of Andrew Johnson though, Palace were once again unable to survive in the Premier League and they were relegated on the final day of the season, following a 2-2 draw at Charlton Athletic. 

Plotting an immediate return to the big time, Dowie used the cash from Wayne Routledge’s switch to Tottenham to bring in the likes of Jobi McAnuff, Darren Ward and Jon Macken. Consistency proved a problem for Palace, but they did enough to finish sixth in the Championship and set up a play-off semi-final meeting with Watford – which ended in a disappointing 3-0 aggregate defeat. 

Dowie departed by mutual consent in the summer of 2006, claiming that he wanted to live closer to his family in the north west. But just eight days later, he pitched up as boss of local rivals Charlton. Peter Taylor replaced him as manager and, despite losing the likes of Johnson, Fitz Hall and player of the year Emmerson Boyce, Palace started the 2006/07 season well. 

The Eagles eventually finished down in 12th though and, after a poor start to the 2007/08 campaign, Taylor was relieved of his duties at Selhurst Park, with Neil Warnock named as his replacement. The club slipped to second-from-bottom of the Championship, before climbing the table in a similar fashion to the 2003/04 season, to finish in 5th. But again there was to be play-off heartache, as Bristol City knocked Palace out at the semi-final stage again.

The 2008/09 campaign saw Palace settle for a far less eventful mid-table finish, but 2009/10 brought about a new set of challenges. In December 2009, HMRC issued the club with a winding-up order and the following month, Crystal Palace fell into administration again, bringing with it a ten-point deduction. The penalty left Palace fighting another relegation battle.

Neil Warnock departed for Queens Park Rangers at the end of February, with a team of Paul Hart, Dougie Freedman and John Pemberton handed the task of keeping the Eagles in the Championship. And that brief was achieved on a memorable final day of the season, as Palace travelled to Hillsborough for a survival shoot-out with Sheffield Wednesday. 

The hosts needed a win to stay up at Palace’s expense, while a draw for the Eagles would be enough to keep them in the Championship and send Wednesday down. On an unforgettable afternoon of football, Paul Hart wrote his small but important chapter into Crystal Palace folklore, as his side secured a 2-2 draw. 

While they survived on the pitch, the club’s future as a whole looked bleak. At the end of May, 29 non-playing members of the staff were made redundant and the administrators threatened to begin the process of liquidating the club if the purchase of Selhurst Park was not agreed by 1st June.