Following the resignation of manager Dave Bassett in February 1997, Steve Coppell returned to Selhurst Park for a third spell in the hot seat. And one of the most famous goals in Crystal Palace’s history confirmed a second promotion for the gaffer. David Hopkin’s 90th minute curler against Sheffield United in the play-off final at Wembley secured the Eagles’ top flight return after a three-year absence, and sparked a summer of change in SE25.
One of the most celebrated players to ever don the red and blue stripes, Attilio Lombardo, joined the south London club after being released by Italian giants Juventus, while the likes of Tomas Brolin, Herman Hreidarsson, Marcus Bent, Paul Warhurst and Andy Linighan were also added to the squad during a busy pre-season.
And the new boys hit the ground running, as Palace tasted victory on the opening day of a Premier League season for the first time in the club’s history. Italian talisman Lombardo bagged the opening goal in an impressive 2-1 win at Everton, with Bruce Dyer sealing the three points.
Defeat at home to fellow Premier League new boys Barnsley followed, before the Eagles recorded another away day upset, with Lombardo again on target in a 2-0 win at Leeds United.
A run of three straight defeats followed, as Southampton, Blackburn and Chelsea all claimed three points, before Palace picked up another ‘away’ win against Wimbledon at Selhurst Park, thanks to Lombardo’s 80th minute winner. That was to prove one of only three league victories in SE25 all season for Coppell’s men, although they did claim a share of the spoils against Bolton, Arsenal and Aston Villa during October and November.
Palace picked up their fourth away win of the season at Hillsborough at the back end of October, as Herman Hreidarsson scored his first for the club in a 3-1 win. And Neil Shipperley’s third goal of the season was enough to edge a tight affair against London rivals Tottenham a month later. That result left Palace sitting comfortably in mid-table heading into December, but their fortunes were set to change over the festive period.
The Eagles went 15 league games without a win between 29th November and mid-March, with FA Cup victories over Scunthorpe and Leicester at Selhurst providing some relief from their Premier League struggles during January. But six straight league defeats during the opening three months of 1998 plunged Palace into a relegation scrap.
One of those losses, a 6-2 reverse at Chelsea on 11th March, proved to be Coppell’s last game in charge, as he moved upstairs into a Director of Football role. He was replaced at the helm temporarily by Atillio Lombardo and Tomas Brolin, who took over in player-manager capacities.
Despite the added responsibility, Lombardo ended his goal-scoring drought a week later at Newcastle, with Matt Jansen adding a second as the Eagles secured a much-needed three points at St James Park.
But another home defeat against Tottenham followed, with Chris Armstrong among the goals against his former club, as Spurs ran out 3-1 winners. And Leicester repeated that feat two weeks later, as a brace from a young Emile Heskey consigned Palace to a 3-0 defeat.
Despite a gallant effort at Anfield, Liverpool scored late on to nick a 2-1 win, meaning that the Eagles next match at Selhurst Park against Derby was a must-win if they were to stand any chance of pulling off a great escape. And just when they needed it most, Palace secured their first home win of the season, as three goals in the final 20 minutes from Matt Jansen, Sasa Curcic and Marcus Bent wrapped up a 3-1 win against the mid-table Rams.
But it was to prove only a short stay of execution, as title-chasing Manchester United won 3-0 at Selhurst Park to close the gap on league leaders Arsenal – and confine Palace to Premier League relegation.
Despite first-half goals from Dean Gordon and Marcus Bent, a 5-2 defeat followed at fellow relegation candidates Bolton, as the Trotters kept their survival hopes alive. They were destined to join Palace in the First Division though, as Everton stayed up at their expense on goal difference.
Playing with no pressure, Palace finished the season in decent style in front of their own fans, earning a share of the points in a six-goal thriller against West Ham, before rounding off their season with a 1-0 win over Sheffield Wednesday, thanks to Clinton Morrison’s first goal for the club.
Player-manager Brolin departed following Palace’s relegation, although Lomabrdo decided to stay on at the club in a bid to help them bounce back to the Premier League.
Computer tycoon Mark Goldberg completed his takeover at SE25 and reinstalled Terry Venables as manager, 18 years after he last took charge at Selhurst Park, taking on the challenge of retuning the club to the Premier League.