By Simon Mills
We did it! We made it to Wembley! I remember writing a piece back at the start of the season for one of the papers talking about hopes for the season and identifying a good run in the FA Cup as something I felt was really important for Palace fans this year - now I just need to predict some lottery numbers.
It wasn’t easy getting to the Quarter Final at Reading – both in the route the team took and as a supporter trying to get tickets! Fortunately, on both counts, we/I was successful. The latter may have cost me a fortune and meant I had to sit up in the gods away from our passionate support, but it did mean I got a good view and overall impression of the atmosphere around the stadium.
First of all, bravo! Both sets of supporters… Admittedly a lot of the noise from the home end came from those damned clackers (We’re Crystal Palace, we clap with our hands!) but generally it was a nice throwback to the kind of back and forth we would get back in the Championship. That is in no way intended as a slight or dig at Reading but a wholehearted back slap for the kind of banter/atmosphere that is so badly lacking in a lot of Premier League games - the one thing I do miss being in the top flight.
Our own support on the day, not just at the ground I should add, was brilliant and despite the fancy seats, elegant menu and posh bar I enjoyed for my troubles of getting a ticket, I longed to be down the end with the rest of the Eagles support, singing my heart out along with the rest. I just hope that we can recreate that kind of atmosphere at the new Wembley, just like we have done so well in the past – I’m sure we will!
The game itself was, for me, a nervy affair. As the minutes ticked by, that early sense of optimism and confidence gave way to the fear that just a single goal could have easily ended our dreams. For the good periods of play and possession, we enjoyed, Reading remained dangerous and we still hadn’t found the target – not without Al-Habsi getting in the way.
There was almost an inevitability about the penalty for me, though, as nervous as I grew as we moved closer to the final whistle – I also had a growing feeling that something was about to give. So strong was that feeling, when Yannick Bolasie burst into the area and was sent to the ground, I appealed not with hope – but expectance. Perhaps it was some kind of balancing effect in the universe from the previous week and at that moment I was in tune with it, but it just seemed like every fibre of my being felt like that was the minute we would win the game – and ultimately it proved so.
The rest was like some kind of dream state. Sure the nervousness returned, but for the first time I can remember as a Palace supporter in such a situation I was sure that was it, so much so that Frazier Campbell’s goal passed by in a bit of a blur.
All that luck we have lacked in the league seems to be reserving itself for the cup and even in the draw on Monday night, just like with Reading, you can forgive Palace fans for letting out a shout of delight when we got Watford. Again, it won’t be easy, but when the likes of United (both Manchester and West Ham) could have been in our path, it certainly felt like the best option remaining.
Before we go to Wembley, however, we must return our focus to the league. Few Eagles fans will need reminding we are not yet safe and with this year’s title favourites heading to Selhurst on Saturday, our full attention must switch away from the cup. I had a bad feeling going into the Liverpool game and while I so badly wish I had been wrong, that proved justified.
This time, though, I have this funny feeling that we are going to put a dent in the Foxes' title dreams. While I’d love to see them win the league, three points could prove invaluable to us and while we will have to put in a real performance (especially defending the likes of Riyad Mahrez and Jamie Vardy) I’m going to tip us to edge this one.
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