Most Palace fans still can’t really believe we’re going to Cardiff tomorrow.
After the abject surrender at home to Crewe in December, all but the most sunny optimists saw only a season of struggle ahead for the Eagles. But the magical leadership of Iain Dowie, John Harbin and Kit Symons has turned our campaign around, and we now find ourselves seriously contemplating Premiership football next season.
So, can we do it? Well, Dowie has only one selection headache ahead of tomorrow’s massive game and that’s the absence of Julian Gray. Unfortunately, the referee from the Sunderland away game has decided not to rescind the farcical first yellow card he showed Jules at the Stadium of Light – so the winger’s suspension stands.
The likely result is that Tommy Black will come into the starting line-up. Tommy has been awesome in his appearances from the bench in recent games, so he’ll hopefully carry that form into a full 90-minute performance. He’ll be pushed out onto the right-hand side, with Wayne Routledge moving over to the left to take Jules’ place.
Danny Granville was a slight concern for the game, but he has recovered well from a shin injury picked up during the match at Sunderland.
West Ham have no problems with injuries or suspensions, so we’ll be facing a very strong team. Matthew Etherington didn’t play for West Ham in our league win over them in April – but he will be in the side tomorrow. Danny Butterfield will have to be right on top of his game to keep tabs on the pacy midfielder.
Up front they will be expected to start with 26-goal Marlon Harewood and former Brighton striker Bobby Zamora.
And the East London club also have former Palace favourite Hayden Mullins among their ranks. He’s part of what’s become a pretty stingy defence which has let in only three goals in the team’s last eight matches.
However, Palace will take heart from West Ham’s dodgy form away from Upton Park. The Hammers have won just once in their last ten games away from home – and have lost five of those matches. Palace, meanwhile, finished the season with the second-best away record in the Nationwide League – bettered only by Premiership-bound West Brom.
And here’s a heartening fact for any Palace fans looking for a lucky sign for tomorrow. This season has seen us reach the First Division play-offs for the fourth time. Five other teams have got to the play-offs for the Premiership four times. And every single one of them won themselves promotion on that fourth attempt. So who are we to break with tradition!
Lucky omens aside, we all know it’s going to be a tight game tomorrow. But if Palace can show the same kind of spirit and flair that we saw in the play-off games against Sunderland, and if we all get behind the team in the way we have all season, then by tomorrow evening we’ll have earned a place in the Premiership!
COME ON THE PALACE!!!
Probable starting XI:
Butterfield Leigertwood Popovic Granville
Black Riihilahti Hughes Routledge