After employing Iain Dowie as manager in December 2003, Crystal Palace went on a remarkable run in the First Division, winning 17 games out of 23 to surge from 19th place into a top six berth.
Entering the play-offs as the form team, the Eagles disposed of Sunderland on penalties in the semi-final, before Neil Shipperley’s memorable winner at the Millennium Stadium sent Palace into the Premier League at the expense of Alan Pardew’s West Ham.
The likes of Julian Speroni, Emmerson Boyce, Fitz Hall and Joonas Kolkka made the move to SE25, as the club looked to survive in the Premier League for the first time in their history.
They started with a hard fought draw at Carrow Road, as Andrew Johnson set the tone for his season by bagging the equaliser in a 1-1 draw with Norwich. But that was to prove Palace’s only point from their opening six games, as home defeats to Everton, Chelsea and Man City were accompanied by losses at Middlesbrough and Portsmouth.
Johnson continued his prolific start to the season at Aston Villa, as his fourth goal in seven league games earned Palace a point at Villa Park. And he was on target again at the start of October, scoring the opener in the Eagles’ first victory of the season, at home to Fulham.
A narrow defeat at Bolton followed, before Dowie’s men recorded back-to-back Premier League victories at the end of the month, beating West Brom and Birmingham, before battling to a 1-1 draw as Arsenal visited Selhurst Park at the start of November.
That result was to prove the first of ten winless games for the Eagles, as they failed to register a victory during November and December. Despite the club’s poor run of results, Andrew Johnson continued to find the net on a regular basis and he bagged a brace on 3rd January 2005, as Palace picked up a much-needed three points against Aston Villa.
An FA Cup Third Round defeat at Sunderland followed, before a 3-1 reverse at Manchester City. But the Eagles put in one of their most impressive performances of the season the following week, as goals from Mikele Leigertwood, Danny Granville and the ever-reliable Johnson comfortably saw off a talented Tottenham Hotspur side by a 3-0 scoreline.
Palace opened their February account with a thrilling 2-2 draw at fellow relegation battlers West Brom, where Fitz Hall’s second goal of the season in the 90th minute looked to have given the visitors all three points.
But they were left stunned when Robert Earnshaw struck a late leveller in stoppage time to earn the Baggies a share of the spoils. It was a goal that turned out to be a pivotal one in the fortunes of both clubs.
Defeats against Bolton at Selhurst Park and a 5-1 loss at Arsenal came in the middle of the month, before Dowie’s men got back to winning ways at home to Birmingham. Former Blues man Andrew Johnson came back to haunt his former employers, converting two penalties in a 2-0 victory to leave Palace just above the relegation zone in 17th.
Despite a 0-0 draw with high-flying Manchester United at the start of March, the Eagles failed to record a win during the month, with April also proving difficult. Four defeats were accompanied by a battling 3-3 draw at home to another relegation-threatened side, Norwich, as Palace came from 3-1 down to claim a point in front of a passionate Selhurst crowd.
The manner of that result seemed to instil a new confidence in the side at a key point of the season and their narrow defeat at Blackburn four days later proved to be their final loss of the campaign.
The red-hot Andrew Johnson netted his 20th goal of the season as the Eagles picked up a huge three points against Liverpool at Selhurst Park, before a 0-0 stalemate at Newcastle gave Dowie’s side a fighting chance of avoiding relegation as they headed into May with two games remaining.
Southampton, who were also embroiled in the closest relegation scrap in Premier League history, were the visitors to SE25 on the penultimate day of the season for a massive six-pointer. Peter Crouch, who had cancelled out Fitz Hall’s opener for the Saints, was later sent off, before Gonzola Sorondo was also given his marching orders in a hotly contested fixture.
On-loan front man Nicola Ventola scored his first goal of the season to put Palace into a 2-1 lead and seemingly hand them a crucial three points. But Danny Higginbotham dashed the hopes of the Eagles faithful with a 90th minute equaliser for Harry Redknapp’s side.
The result meant that no one had been relegated from the Premier League going into an infamous final day, which was dubbed ‘Survival Sunday.’
Norwich, Southampton, Palace and West Brom all went into the last game knowing that only one of them would retain their Premier League status. It was the Canaries who were in the driving seat, knowing that a win at Fulham would secure their place in English football’s top flight for another season. But they were hammered 6-0 at Craven Cottage, opening the door for the other three teams to capitalise.
Southampton were beaten 2-1 at home by Manchester United, while West Brom, who started the day bottom of the Premier League, defeated Portsmouth 2-0 at The Hawthorns to give themselves a fighting chance.
Palace went to Charlton in search of a priceless win which would have kept them in the Premier League with Norwich and Southampton losing. And they were just ten minutes away from achieving just that, after goals from Dougie Freedman and Andrew Johnson put the Eagles 2-1 up at The Valley.
But Jonathan Fortune’s 82nd minute header gave the Addicks a point – and consigned Palace to a fourth Premier League relegation in 12 years.