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Preview: Championship Playoff Final Between Watford and Crystal Palace

The revamped Wembley Stadium is once again flourishing as the hub of major football occasions. On Monday, the home of football will turn its attention to the most lucrative football match on the planet. It’s not the just-played Champions League Final. It’s the Championship playoff to decide which club will be promoted to the Premier League.

Watford and Crystal Palace will fight it out for a £90 million payout, and more importantly a coveted position among the Premier League elite. The Championship play-off final is a game that radiates drama and passion in volumes.

One way or another, there will be ecstasy and misery.

Watford could have secured automatic promotion on the final day of the season at home to Leeds United, but lost and Hull City took full advantage.

Finishing in third-place, the Hornets faced Leicester City in the two-legged tie, a team they defeated twice in the league this season. The manner in which they reached a spot at Wembley was attained in the most surreal circumstances.

Leicester midfielder Anthony Knockaert won a dubious penalty much to the dismay of the hostile Vicarage Road faithful. At 2-2 on aggregate the Foxes’ destiny seemed assured, only for ex-Arsenal goalkeeper Manuel Almunia to make an incredible double save. Astonishingly, within twenty seconds the home side booked their place in the play-off final when Troy Deeney thumped in a shot to send the crowd into hysterics.

That extraordinary finish made their upcoming opponent’s passage to Wembley seem subdued. Nonetheless it was achieved after Palace reversed a torrid run of form, after limping into the play-offs in fifth spot to face a red-hot Brighton and Hove Albion.

A first-leg goaless draw at Selhurst Park did little to alleviate the fears of a swift exit. Palace had just a solitary win from their past 11 games, their end-of-season capitulation almost saw them miss out on a play-offs spot completely.

Ian Holloway’s team travelled south to face a team that had gone 10 games unbeaten and hadn’t suffered defeat at home since January. Without the league’s top scorer Glenn Murray for the return leg, the omens looked heavily against the Eagles, only for Sir Alex Ferguson’s final signature Wilfried Zaha to score a fine brace.

It was the first time the prodigious winger had scored away from home since October, and just the second time since he confirmed a move to Manchester United in January.

Before Watford and Crystal Palace clash on Monday, who has a greater chance of establishing themselves in the top-flight, and avoiding the dreaded drop?

Watford will be severely tested by an imposed transfer embargo due to the financial misconduct of former owner Laurence Bassini, which will ban them from making any purchases over the summer. One could suggest the side will be under extreme duress to gain results in the first half of the campaign.

However, manager Gianfranco Zola managed West Ham United between 2008-2010, and after a rough start he is beginning to become a fine managerial prospect. His achievements with Watford have been remarkable for a club not expected to challenge for promotion.

The attacking flair of his playing days with Chelsea has been integrated into his squad, evident by the side’s league-high 85 goals this season. It could hold them in good stead for their first top-flight campaign since 2007, but tightening up a fragile defence will have to wait until the winter transfer market.

Whether the club are within reach of safety by January is anyone’s guess, and Zola could have his work cut out for him.

On the other hand, Palace have spent thirteen previous seasons in the top-flight – last time in 2004-05 – and have a parochial support desperate for stability. They will be buoyed by Holloway’s Premier League experience with Blackpool just two years ago. The 50-year-old is an astute boss, and having worked with limited resources before he will be the catalyst for setting the tone early on.

Losing Zaha will be a crushing blow, but the £15m from the deal, plus the play-off injection will allow them to strengthen the squad.

It’s glaringly obvious that Palace would have a much better opportunity of consolidating their standing in the top-flight, but don’t count out the tenacious Hertfordshire side.

When the likes of Swansea City can take the league by storm, there’s no reason why two Premier League hopefuls can’t make a lasting impact.

Editor’s note: For viewers in the United States, the game will be shown live on beIN SPORT at 9.55am ET on Monday, May 27 (Memorial Day).

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  1. David

    May 27, 2013 at 8:45 am

    Would love to watch this game but like a lot of people I don’t get beIN.

  2. Philswin08

    May 27, 2013 at 8:26 am

    Ollie’s Prem experience will be a big help for sure, but for today he is in his third Wembley final in four years. He should have taken Blackpool back up last year as I thought they were the better side against West Ham. But as I don’t have BeIn on my crappy cable ill be missing this one. 🙁

  3. IanCransonsKnees

    May 27, 2013 at 4:32 am

    A play off final is the most excruciating match I’ve ever been to as a fan. It’s a knife edge game and you understand why the teams that lose have a tendency to bomb out the following season.

    I haven’t experienced a final day relegation battle yet but I imagine the two are similar experiences.

    • The Gaffer

      May 27, 2013 at 6:55 am

      Watching it on television is a nervous experience, so I can’t even imagine what it must be like to watch it in person at Wembley. I was a bag of nerves for Reading-Swansea two years ago, but the victory was a massive sense of relief for me.

      The Gaffer

  4. Steven

    May 26, 2013 at 5:19 pm

    Too bad this game is on beIN Sport. Very few people have access to beIN and it would be nice if they offered a streaming service for free as they did once before during the season. I don’t remember the game. May have been a Capitol One game.

    Watford will probably prevail but there isn’t a real favorite in this one.

  5. jtm371

    May 26, 2013 at 1:07 pm

    any streaming tips for the match would be greatly appreciated.GO HORNETS BEAT PALACE!

    • Patrick

      May 26, 2013 at 1:58 pm

      As far as I know BeIN Sport Play is the only legal source at least in the U.S. Unfortunately (for most people), as of right now this is only available for either Time Warner Cable and Bright House Network customers. Although, BeIN did say that in the coming months BeIN Play will becoming to other providers.

  6. Matt

    May 26, 2013 at 12:50 pm

    game used to be on Fox Soccer but I guess because of their Championship rights BeIN has it

  7. Patrick

    May 26, 2013 at 12:01 pm

    Anyword on if Elton John will be on hand to cheer on his beloved Hornets.

    • IanCransonsKnees

      May 27, 2013 at 3:32 am

      Yes, he’s taking his son for his first match.

  8. David Fisher

    May 26, 2013 at 11:29 am

    No transfer embargo has been imposed on Watford. To suggest otherwise is misinformation. All the Football League have demanded is that they be notified of any transfer involving Watford before it takes place. In the next transfer window Watford will be able to buy and sell players like any other club, there will just be a little bit of extra paperwork.

    Some Daily Mail reporter incorrectly stated that there was a transfer embargo on Watford, and many lazy journalists have copied him.

    • Guy

      May 26, 2013 at 1:02 pm

      From BBC Sport:

      “Under the terms of the embargo, Watford can still sign players with prior permission from league officials.”

      As you say, not even close to what the article stated as a ban on making any purchases.

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