After Steve Coppell’s resignation at the end of the 1992/93 campaign, Alan Smith was promoted to the manager’s role, with the remit of sealing an automatic return to the Premier League.
And the former assistant boss did just that, leading Palace to the Endsleigh League Division One title, notching up 90 points in the process.
But the honeymoon period quickly ended for the Eagles, as braces from Ian Rush and Steve McManaman set a classy Liverpool side on their way to a 6-1 win on the opening day of the 1994/95 campaign at Selhurst Park.
Similarly to their previous season in the Premier League, that result triggered a stuttering start for Palace, as they opened their account with seven winless games. Although that run included solid draws at Aston Villa, Norwich and Manchester City, they lost by the odd goal at home to Leeds and Chelsea to leave them hovering above the relegation zone at the end of September.
The Eagles’ first win of the season was an unlikely but memorable one – a 2-1 reverse against Ian Wright’s Arsenal at Highbury – thanks to two goals from John Salako.
After 1-0 defeats at West Ham and at home to Newcastle, Palace celebrated their first home win of the season on 22nd October 1994, with a 1-0 triumph over fellow strugglers Everton. Those three points started a run of four consecutive Premier League victories for Alan Smith’s men, as Leicester, Coventry and Ipswich all fell by the wayside.
That hot streak came to an end at Old Trafford, as an Eric Cantona-inspired Manchester United eased to a 3-0 win. But the Frenchman’s season would be infamously remembered for his trip to Selhurst Park later in the season.
A goalless draw with Southampton at Selhurst Park at the end of November highlighted Palace’s lack of cutting edge up front – and they failed to find the net in nine consecutive games between then and the turn of the year. That run did however include battling 0-0 draws at Anfield and White Hart Lane, as well as narrow 1-0 defeats to European contenders Nottingham Forest and eventual champions, Blackburn.
Ricky Newman and George Ndah ended the Eagles’ barren spell in front of goal, as they found the net in a 2-0 win over Leicester at Selhurst Park. January also saw Palace’s FA Cup run begin with victories over Lincoln City and Nottingham Forest, while a 4-0 thumping of Manchester City secured a League Cup semi-final meeting with Liverpool, to rekindle memories of that famous 1990 FA Cup semi-final win.
The cup run was proving a welcome respite from the Premier League, but Alan Smith’s side showed their battling qualities with a 1-1 draw at home to Manchester United. But Gareth Southgate’s late equaliser was overshadowed by Cantona’s kung-fu kick on a Crystal Palace supporter earlier in the half.
Buoyed by a confidence-boosting draw against the title contenders, Palace picked up a 2-0 win away from home at fellow relegation candidates Ipswich Town, thanks to goals from Iain Dowie and Dean Gordon. But back-to-back home defeats by Coventry and Arsenal saw the Eagles enter March on the back of just two wins in 15 games.
Another goalless draw at Stamford Bridge was backed up by a 2-1 win at home to Sheffield Wednesday, with Iain Dowie on target again to seal a vital three points. While March saw Crystal Palace’s memorable League Cup run come to an end, a 4-1 win at Moleneux saw the Eagles advance to the FA Cup semi-finals, at the expense of Division One side Wolves.
The feat seemed to prove the catalyst for a change in the Eagles’ Premier League fortunes during April, with wins over Manchester City and QPR supplemented by valuable draws against Tottenham and Aston Villa.
High-flying Manchester United needed a replay to knock Palace out of the FA Cup – a result that sparked a run of three straight Premier League defeats as Alan Smith’s side entered May in desperate need of results.
His team responded with a 1-0 at home to West Ham on 6th May 1995, thanks to Chris Armstrong’s solitary strike. But a 3-1 defeat at Leeds three days later left Palace needing a final day miracle to escape relegation back to Division One.
They travelled north to St James’ Park knowing that victory against Newcastle was a must if they were to stand any chance of staying up at the expense of Aston Villa. But Palace found themselves 3-0 down inside 28 minutes to seemingly kill off their survival hopes.
The Eagles rallied in the second half though, as goals from Armstrong and Ray Houghton threatened an unlikely comeback. But a 3-2 defeat, coupled with a final day draw for Villa at already-relegated Norwich, meant that Palace finished fourth from bottom and were sent down for the second time in three seasons.
It was the only time in Premier League history that four teams have been relegated, as the division was streamlined from 22 teams to 20, ahead of the 1995/96 season.
But that fact wasn’t enough to save Alan Smith, who was sacked just days after the campaign ended, paving the way for Steve Coppell’s emotional return to SE25.