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Serie A season preview: AS Roma

AS Roma 9 hours ago
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May 27, 2013

Glad All Over

Never have the lyrics of Crystal Palace's long-standing terrace anthem felt so apt. Sixties classic "Glad All Over" blared out of the Wembley address system as Martin Atkinson blew for the final whistle; Crystal Palace had become a Premier League club again.

Sixteen years after leaving Watford and with three previous play-off final heartbreaks behind him, there could have been no-one in the Palace playing ranks more glad than their match-winner. At the tender age of 39, Kevin Phillips vanquished his former club to surely earn himself one more crack at the big time. Just as Arjen Robben erased his personal jinx in the Champions League final at Wembley on Saturday night, so Phillips finally put the pain of defeats with Sunderland, West Brom and Blackpool to bed with an extra-time spot-kick of unerring cool.

"What a wonderful story," Palace boss Ian Holloway, a loser alongside Phillips with Blackpool in last season's play-off final, commented after the game. "Kevin Phillips hasn't won one…When I first came here, maybe I was the opposite of what they needed to take over. I don't think I got everything right. We had a terrible spell but it ain't over 'til it is over. Two or three weeks ago, we were going to get walloped when we went to Brighton [in the semi-final]. We end up in the Premier League which is unbelievable." And with Phillips' contract at Blackpool up this summer, Holloway made it quite clear where he wants his loan super-sub to be playing next year, adding: "I will keep signing him until he is nearly 50 or 60 if he keeps putting the ball in the net."

The result was an underlining of Palace's penchant for the play-offs. Four-time winners, they claimed a third 1-0 victory in as many finals, Phillips taking his place alongside Neil Shipperley (2004) and David Hopkin (1997) in the Selhurst Park pantheon and taking the club back to the big time for the first time since 2005.

Wembley had hosted the battle for club football's most prestigious prize two days earlier, but on this sunny afternoon in North-West London it was the sport's most profitable prize up for grabs. Appropriately coming on England's Bank Holiday Monday, Palace's promotion to the Premier League secured a boost to their coffers that is expected to total £120 million.

How sweet it must feel for all those involved with Palace. For fans and employees who watched them plunge into the nadir of bankruptcy in 2010, the ownership of quartet Jeremy Hosking, Martin Long, Steve Parish and Stephen Browett has seen the club rise like an Eagle from the flames. Sitting on a neighbouring desk in the press box, the Palace communications' team embraced and cheered as passionately as the supporters who surrounded them. The prospect of organising trips to Old Trafford and Emirates Stadium is unquestionably more appealing than that of Bournemouth's Dean Court and Yeovil's Huish Park.

Palace's promotion has been achieved against a penurious backdrop. Reliant on their much-admired academy, Wilfried Zaha and Jonathan Williams may have been the only alumni to start at Wembley, but the likes of Sean Scannell, Nathaniel Clyne and Victor Moses also deserve a mention for playing a role in rebuilding the club on the pitch following the narrow avoidance of the financial abyss three years ago. Zaha joins those former Eagles in flying the nest this summer but his final contributions in a Palace shirt provided a platform that may give the club more hope of holding onto its talented youngsters in the future.

The two-goal hero of the play-off semi-final win against rivals Brighton, Zaha took centre stage again at Wembley. More Nani than Cristiano Ronaldo at present, the Englishman's rawness - manifested in a lack of end product at times - may frustrate some at Old Trafford next season but his direct running and nimble feet should allow for some leniency from the Manchester United faithful. Brought down for the penalty, he was rewarded for his persistence, providing what Hollway described as "a little moment of genius" deep into extra-time.

"I think he [Zaha] has been the difference," Watford manager Gianfranco Zola reflected. "In games like this when it has been very balanced and very tense, what makes the difference is the individuality of the player. He creates the penalty from nothing. I never questioned the abilities of Zaha, never, he has got a lot of ability. Now he has a big task because he is going to play for the champions. I am sure he will learn. He can go very far because the boy has got a lot of talent."

Zaha and Palace will have no long goodbye as a reunion awaits next season. But if the £15 million they received for him in January looked good business, it will never compare to the decision to keep him until the end of the season. Promotion to the Premier League: £120 million. Feeling Glad All Over in the Wembley sunshine: Priceless.

MAN OF THE MATCH: Wilfried Zaha. Had he not been on the losing team, Manuel Almunia would have been a deserving recipient after proving Aaron Wilbraham's personal nemesis. But it is United new boy Zaha who really caught the eye. Yes, he often looked raw, with moments of skill not complemented by quality end product. But his was a spark that was still evident when winning the penalty in extra-time, with Watford right-back Marco Cassetti likely to be having nightmares until his plane touches down back in Udine this summer.

CRYSTAL PALACE VERDICT: The better team on the day, building on the momentum that the shock 2-0 semi-final win at Brighton gave them. There were times that desperate defending was needed, Damien Delaney proving the master of the last-ditch tackle on several occasions. But with Zaha giving their attack some zest, Palace carved out the best openings after a forgettable first half. Still, this current squad will not survive the rigours of the Premier League. Holloway must be given money to spend and strengthen or an immediate return to the second tier awaits.

WATFORD VERDICT: The last few weeks have been an exhilarating ride for Watford fans, robbed of automatic promotion on the final day of the season before the late drama of the victory over Leicester in the play-off semi-finals. Ultimately it is disappointment them, after Zola's side failed to turn up at Wembley. Their glamorous, continental contingent are the antithesis to Palace's homegrown core but were not a match for the South-East Londoners. Uncertainty surrounds the return of the raft of loanees to their parent clubs, but there are many positives to be drawn from the Hornets' season, not least that Zola - one of the most aesthetically pleasing footballers to have graced the Premier League - has proven adept at building a team in his image, capable of producing among the best football in the division.

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