Crystal Palace are heading to Wembley Stadium to face Watford in the Championship promotion playoff final thanks to a spectacular performance by Wilfried Zaha and their defense on Monday night. They failed to score at home in the first leg at Selhurst Park, but were much better away to Brighton and Hove Albion, as Zaha scored both goals in a 2-0 win.
The first half was less than enthralling, with both teams a bit scared to commit bodies forward. One might have thought that Brighton would be on top with most of the ball while Palace looked to strike quickly on the counter, but the half ended up playing out in the complete opposite fashion. Zaha was Palace's most dangerous player despite regularly being double and triple marked, while Aaron Wilbraham struggled to replace the quality of the injured Glenn Murray up top.
Jon Williams had the first big chance of the game for either team in the 47th minute and failed to take advantage. Zaha set him up with a perfect through ball that split Brighton's defenders, but Williams pushed his shot wide while one-on-one with Tomasz Kuszczak.
Around the hour mark, both teams started to push harder for a goal and the match opened up considerably. Williams had a penalty shout in the 61st minute after collecting a pass from the box from Zaha and going down under a challenge by Dean Hammond, but referee Mark Clattenburg ruled it to be a fair one.
Gus Poyet brought on Ashley Barnes up top in the 65th minute, a change that paid immediate dividends. He had a great toe-poke effort tipped onto the crossbar by Julian Speroni just seconds after coming on, and his headed attempt on the ensuing corner was cleared off the line.
Brighton would end up rueing those missed opportunities less than five minutes later. Zaha's opener came in the 69th minute, and was aided by a bit of poor marking on the part of Wayne Bridge. He lost Zaha at the back post when the Palace winger made a curling run to meet a cross by Yannick Bolassie. Unmarked, Zaha nodded the ball into the back of the net.
Kazenga LuaLua came on for defender Inigo Calderon in a desperate attacking change for Brighton, but they would never find the back of the net. Zaha finished off the hosts with his second goal, which came on the end of a brilliant 88th minute attack. With his back to goal, he picked up a pass into his feet by Kagisho Dikgacoi, turned away from Gordon Greer and fired a stunning blast into the roof of the net to book his team's trip to Wembley.