The 2012-13 season is almost over, but not before it goes out with an almighty bang.
Crystal Palace v Watford, the £120 million match for the golden ticket into the Premier League, will end a magical year of football. One team will having the greatest day of their lives, the others will be heartbroken.
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Crystal Palace are the team nobody predicted would get to Wembley.
The Eagles executed the classic Championship trapeze act midway through the campaign when they went on a 19-game run with only one defeat which lifted the South Londoners into the promotion picture. But then they tailed off at the back end of the season, and a final day 3-2 win over Peterborough saw the Eagles fingernail a spot in the playoffs.
Palace’s victory over Brighton in the semis saw everything that’s special about Ian Holloway’s men. Wilfried Zaha, the best player in the Championship, blew Albion apart in the second leg at the Amex, reasserting the belief that the Man United forward will be the best player on the Wembley pitch on Monday.
Palace’s defence also impressed in the semis. Dean Moxey didn’t put a foot wrong at left back. Julian Speroni was solid between the sticks. And Danny Gabbidon and Mile Jedinak, whilst both prone to errors, also showed nous at crucial moments with vital blocks, tackles and headers.
Glen Murray, Palace’s top scorer will be out of the final with injury, which could see 39-year-old Kevin Phillips play some role in the final for the Eagles. Surely he couldn’t get the winner, could he?!
As for Watford, their passage to Wembley was as epic as it gets.
The Hornets unforgettable match against Leicester – Almunia’s 96th minute penalty save, Troy Deeney’s 97th minute winner – left many believing that this is the year for Gianfranco Zola’s charges after narrowly missing out on an automatic promotion place to Hull.
Watford have been terrific all campaign. Metaj Vydra, Troy Deeney Nathaniel Chalobah, Almen Abdi, Fernando Forestieri are now all household names, and they’ll be favourites with the bookies before kick off.
Watford draw 2-2 with Palace at Vicarage Road, while they won 3-2 at Selhurst Park earlier in the season.
But this is the Championship final. The most unpredictable match in the football calendar. This could be another classic.