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      Ambrose: Whoever I meet talks about THAT goal!


      A 20-goal campaign in 2009/10, including the critical second on ‘Survival Sunday’. Three consecutive club Goal of the Season awards. A run to the League Cup semi-finals. Darren Ambrose certainly wasn’t shy of a few achievements in a Crystal Palace shirt.

      Yet Ambrose’s name has become synonymous, among Palace and opposition fans alike, with one particular feat of audacity: the goal that knocked Manchester United out of the 2010/11 League Cup quarter-finals.

      You know the one.

      “It’s so strange – I get asked to speak about it every time this game comes up!” Ambrose laughs, when we tentatively broach the subject.

      As the Eagles faced Manchester United in the quarter-finals of the then-Carling Cup, Ambrose took to the turf as a half-time substitute looking to liven up an uneventful evening.

      Twenty minutes after coming on, the midfielder displayed his most striking attribute on live TV when, collecting the ball from Wilfried Zaha not far from the centre circle, he roamed forward and drove home one of the finest efforts ever seen from a Palace player.

      The ball sailed through the air for an eternity as it travelled over 30 yards to tear past Ben Amos and into the United net.

      “It was an iconic goal for me in my career,” Ambrose admits. “I say this quite often: I didn’t win team accolades when I was playing. I never won a league or a trophy, only individual accolades.

      “But to come away, seven years after retiring, and 12 years since that goal, and still be spoken about for it…  wherever I go and with whoever, whether that’s Palace supporters or United supporters... whoever I meet always talks about that goal. I'm proud to have something like that.

      "Other players who have won trophies can talk about those memories, but I have something which I’m remembered by as a player: that goal at Old Trafford. And to top it off, we won the game, which was fantastic.”

      Federico Macheda equalised not long after for Sir Alex Ferguson’s United team, who were reigning Premier League champions and recent Champions League finalists. But then-second tier Palace struck again in extra-time through Glenn Murray to seal an almighty upset.

      Despite Murray’s heroics, it was Ambrose’s goal – described by Gary Neville as the best strike ever scored against the home team at Old Trafford – which has proven simply too good to be left behind by time.

      “It was a moment missed out on for us to lose to Cardiff [on penalties] in the semi-finals, otherwise it would have gone down even more memorably, to be honest,” Ambrose admits.

      “For a club that haven’t won a trophy for a long time, a good cup run gives such a feelgood factor around the club. Not only does it build confidence when you win games, but the players who are the so-called fringe players know they’ve got a few more games to impress.

      “Winning breeds confidence and if you can go on a Cup run… you look at the 2016 FA Cup Final for Crystal Palace, and in 2020/21 the semi-final against Chelsea… you take that feelgood factor into your league campaign as well.”

      Memories of Manchester United at Old Trafford are evoked once again this week by a rare ‘double bill’ against the Red Devils in the North-West.

      Palace first face Manchester United at Old Trafford in the Carabao Cup third round tonight (26th September) – a repeat billing of the quarter-final Ambrose helped to settle so spectacularly 12 years ago – and again in the Premier League on Saturday (30th September).

      And while Ambrose is anticipating that both teams will rotate their squads for tonight’s game, he also knows – having not started the quarter-final in which he so memorably scored – that the importance that every player takes their opportunity should it arrive.

      “It’s very similar throughout the history of football, and it was the case when we played at Old Trafford that night,” Ambrose recalls. “Dougie picked a team that he wanted to go up and nullify Manchester United, and it worked – the players who came in that day were absolutely fantastic.

      “It’s always disappointing for the players who don’t play. No matter what, players want to play every single match – league matches, FA Cup matches, League Cup matches and friendlies – because that’s what you grow up doing.

      “People will be disappointed tonight as well, but games come thick and fast and it’s vital that the players who do come in show Roy that, when called upon, they can be trusted, whether that’s in the League Cup against maybe a second-string Manchester United, or on Saturday against a full-strength opponent. That’s what the manager will be looking for.

      “It’s common knowledge that United have not been fantastic this season, but they have players who, even when they’re playing poorly, can win games. We’ve seen that.

      “I just feel they’re there for the taking. I don’t know what team Roy’s going to put out – I’m sure there’ll be some players on the fringe looking to get some game time – but it’ll be the same for Erik ten Hag. It’ll be an open game. I’m hoping it’s going to be a game full of goals – and we come out on top.”

      As for those supporters venturing to Old Trafford twice in the space of five days, Ambrose hopes that a positive result on Tuesday will make the journey that much shorter when it comes to Saturday’s Premier League encounter. "If Palace walk away with a victory tonight, I’m sure on Saturday there’s going to be a lot of banter in and around the crowd!

      “For the players, and particularly the manager, I think tonight’s game will have little bearing on Saturday – that will be a totally different game – so they’ll take this as what it is: a Cup game and an opportunity to go even further in this tournament.

      “But for the supporters, there’ll be definite bragging rights going into Saturday.”

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      Palace are a club that I will always look out for

      Darren Ambrose

      However both games pan out, Ambrose will be watching on closely: tonight reminiscing and analysing the game with Palace supporters at BOXPARK Croydon – “I’ve done it before and I know to hide when the goals go in, or I get covered in beer!” – and on Saturday as part of his burgeoning media career.

      Either way – boasting achievements which even far surpass that long-range screamer at Manchester United – Ambrose’s place in Palace folklore is well and truly secured.

      “Things are really good! I’m getting involved in the media. It’s a second career as such, but it’s a tough industry to crack, especially when you’re freelance. I’m just enjoying being on the other side of it all really, instead of being on the pitch.

      “I’m heading down to BOXPARK later to host an event for the match – I’ll have a little chat about the game and mingle with the supporters, who were so good to me – and then I’m heading up to Manchester on Saturday to do a little bit for Malaysian TV for the second game.

      “It’s one of those ones where I grew up a Tottenham fan, but I have such an affiliation with Palace, having played and then worked for the club for such a long time.

      “People say you can’t have two football teams you support – but I feel like in my situation, you can. When you do have such a close affiliation and the club were so good to me, and the supporters were so good to me... Palace are a club that I will always look out for. “