A Play-Offs muse from Neil the Eagle
The week leading up to the Burnley game was spend in a state of high nervous disorder that will be familiar to most fellow fans: Gazing at the League table for hours on end; working out the same results permutations over and over again; wondering why I can’t remember Wolves’ goal difference less than 5 minutes after one of those marathon Table-gazing sessions. Familiar symptoms, I’m sure.
And so the day of the game finally dawns, one last quick squizz at the table before heading to The Cherries and a meeting of my similarly nervy pals. Even before the first pint is served, the permutation discussions have started again and, sure enough, not one of us can remember Wolves’ goal difference without recourse to a paper. In truth, it all comes down to one thing – as it has all week - win and we are there; no ifs or buts. Finally we head off to the ground and you can taste the tension in the air.
Ten minutes after kick off, that tension has all but evaporated, replaced with a kind of confused joy. We are two up; they are down to ten-men. With a third before half-time, even Mr Pessimism himself (a.k.a. Wags) has a broad, confident smile. But then he has more to smile at than most. Down the years, his doom-laded predictions have more often than not been uncannily accurate. And sometime in early April, Wags had a dream. A very specific dream and one that has haunted us all since the git decided to share it with us.
It went like this: It’s a bright, sunny last day of the season and Palace need to win to get in the play-offs. However, the score stands at 1-1 going into the last couple of minutes. Palace are kicking towards the Whitehorse Lane end and get a penalty. Ben Watson steps up to take it… and hits the House on the Hill. Now, leave aside that the last bit is a physical impossibility, the fact is he missed and the play-offs were gone.
As the month wore on, results conspired to make the dream became a frighteningly real possibility. It got to the point where anxiously scouring the long range weather forecasts became second only to ‘Table-gazing’ as our new national sport of choice. For most of the week, the weathermen seem to be on our side predicting showers, but no, come match day its fine. As kick off approaches, the first break in the spell occurs; Palace will kick towards the Whitehorse. If you spotted a group of fans in the Upper Tier hugging each other like a goal had been scored shortly after the toss, well, you now know why. But it wasn’t quite finished there, seven minutes later, Palace get that penalty at the Whitehorse, the score is still level. We momentarily celebrate the decision, then turn, as one, to give Wags the evils.
Now I’m not one who cannot watch penalties (unlike the bloke who sits in front of us who assumes a crouching position, back to goal, with his head rather too close to Wags crotch, whenever a penalty is awarded), however this time I can barely look. Myself and the others who’ve had to live with his dream are getting ready to punch ‘seven shades’ out of Wags should the penalty go high, wide and right. Thankfully, Ben Watson remains unaffected by the waves of naked terror emanating from the other end of the ground and strokes the ball confidently low, left and in. We beat Wags anyway, it seemed like the most fitting celebration…
The second half sees us seal the win in some style with two more lovely goals and has me reflecting on how un-Palace like the whole match was. When Palace need a result on the last day of the season, they always have to work for it and don’t always get it. Remember Stockport? 87 minutes of feeling sick, 30 seconds of joy, 10 minutes of utter terror waiting on the final score from Huddersfield. Or Charlton? Where we let Premiership safety slip in the last 8 minutes. And what about 2004 at Coventry? We lost 2-1 but somehow Brian Deane dug us out of the mire with an injury time equaliser for West Ham against Wigan. Even the team of ’79, who were proudly paraded on the pitch at half time, kept us waiting 77 nail-biting minutes before finally doing the business against Burnley. Let’s face it, to win 5-0 in crucial must-win situation really isn’t Palace’s style… not that I’m complaining, mind.
And so we head to the play-off as the bookies favourites for promotion, again an unfamiliar position for us, but to be honest, I’ve given up worrying. Sure, I’m looking forward to the games against Bristol City, but the very unpredictable and atypical nature of this Palace side, has finally disarmed and, somehow against the odds, relaxed me. In the words of the song: whatever will be, will be.
Posted by neil