Palace in the Premiership!

Last updated : 31 May 2004 By Nik Taylor

Neil Shipperley fired Palace back into the top flight on Saturday as the Eagles capped an incredible season with promotion.

The striker hammered home from just a couple of yards on the hour mark after Stephen Bywater could only parry Andy Johnson’s well-placed shot.

Palace, who sunk as low as third bottom of Division One after a home defeat to Crewe in December, will now look forward to trips to Old Trafford, Highbury and Stamford Bridge next season.

Saturday’s result was no more than they deserved, with manager Iain Dowie once more coaxing a fantastic performance from his team.

The Eagles looked up for it from the off, with Wayne Routledge running the opposition ragged during the early stages.

His pinpoint cross created the first clear-cut chance after 14 minutes, but the unmarked Johnson could not hit the target with his header.

A couple of minutes later a trademark corner from Shaun Derry caused panic in the West Ham box. The ball fell to Danny Granville at the far post, but the defender was unable to get his shot on target.

And Palace had to be alert as West Ham constantly threatened to hit them on the counter attack. Bobby Zamora will look back ruefully on a glorious chance to open the scoring that came his way after 19 minutes. Michael Carrick’s perfect through ball carved open the Palace defence and Zamora found himself one-on-one with Nico Vaesen. However, the former Brighton striker could only hit the ball straight at the keeper.

But it seemed only a matter of time before the first goal came, as the match developed into a real end-to-end affair.

And shortly before the half-time whistle, the Eagles appeared certain to take the lead. Michal Hughes lifted the ball over Bywater, but saw his goal-bound shot cleared off the line by Tomas Repka.

So the teams went in at the break with the score goalless, but with both sides looking capable of getting on the scoresheet.

Shortly after the restart, it took the save of the match to prevent West Ham from doing just that. Steve Lomas smacked a dipping half-volley from the edge of the area which seemed destined to hit the back of the net. But Vaesen made a spectacular flying one-handed save to preserve parity.

Within minutes, Palace were ahead. Johnson was allowed to run into the heart of the West Ham area before firing off a low shot. Bywater’s dive looked to have it covered, but the keeper could only palm the ball into the path of Neil Shipperley who had made a great run into the six-yard box. A split second of silence seemed to envelope the ground before the ball hit the back of the net and half of the Millennium Stadium exploded in delight. Bywater’s pre-match prediction of an easy 5-0 win for West Ham suddenly looked more than a little hasty.

West Ham responded with renewed vigour and got the ball in the net twice in the next few minutes. However both efforts, by Connolly and Zamora, were correctly ruled offside.

As the match drew on, Michael Carrick and Matthew Etherington were finding more and more space to attack Palace. With eight minutes left, it looked that Carrick had earned his side a penalty when Mikele Leigertwood felled him on the edge of the area. However, TV replays proved that referee Graham Poll had made the correct decision in not giving it, as Leigertwood clearly got a touch on the ball.

West Ham seemed shattered by this point, and four minutes of injury time served only to prolong their agony as Palace played keep-ball in the corners.

As the red and blue faithful chanted ‘We are going up’, Poll blew for full time and ended six seasons in Division One for the Eagles. The Premiership now beckons for Dowie and his team of heroes.