So it's come down to this! On Bank Holiday Monday Gianfranco Zola's Watford FC make the short trip to the home of English football, Wembley, to take on Ian Holloway's Crystal Palace FC in the NPower Championship Final that sees the winner promoted to the Premier League and the loser resigned to another season in the second tier. Either way both teams will be up for it and it should be a cracking game and day out.
When the teams met in the League, Watford came out as the better team with them winning four points out of six available including a rare 3-2 win at Selhurst Park on the opening day of the season. That game saw Owen Garvan grab two goals for Palace (including a penalty after John Eustace brought down Wilfred Zaha with a rash challenge) either side of a Martin Taylor goal. But the game really came alive in the final ten minutes when Almen Abdi struck a sweet 25 yard drive past the ailing Speroni before Matej Vydra scored a beautiful curling shot into the top left hand corner of the goal in the dying moments of the game. You could sense it was the start of something special.
The home game wasn't exactly the best of games from a Watford stand point with them going two nil up in the first half hour with plenty of wasted chances before they capitulated allowing Palace back into the game. The final score was a 2-2 draw. The goals came from Almen Abdi and Nathaniel Chalobah for Watford and Craig Rammage and Kevin 'Bloody' Phillips for Palace. Watford's poor second half was attributed to the fact that the game was two days after an international break as well as the introduction of Johnnie Williams.
Let's have a look at our opponent's first;
There will be a bit of tension and hostility from the Watford fans towards Ian 'Why can't I have more loans' Holloway after his pre match debacle at Vicarage Road the last time the two teams faced each other, which involved a marker pen, a programme and endless streams of gibberish. Oddly so far he has been quiet but it is only a day after Palace's victory over bitter rivals Brighton in the Play Off semi finals.
Holloway took over Crystal Palace on November 3rd after club legend Dougie Freedman departed for the vacant Bolton job. When Freedman left Palace, they were top of the league by a point and looking in fine form for automatic promotion but it appeared that they peaked at the wrong time before they started to slowly fall out of the running. Holloway eventually guided Palace to a fifth place finish (five points below Watford for those wondering.)
Whilst in charge of Palace Holloway's win percentage is 33.3% (12 wins out of 36 games, with 14 draws and ten defeats). Holloway has a decent record in the Play Off's after getting Blackpool promoted in 2010 and getting to the final with Blackpool last season before being beaten by West Ham. Hopefully for our sake it will be a repeat of last season!
Crystal Palace Team News:
Palace will almost certainly be without top scorer Glenn Murray who suffered a nasty knee injury in the semi final first leg at Selhurst Park. It is likely that Aaron Wilbraham will deputise for the stricken star. One of the first name's on Palace's team sheet is Wilfred Zaha who is set to play his last game for the club that nurtured him and gave him a chance in football. The £15 million on loan (boo nasty nasty loans) Manchester United winger, has been an important lynchpin in Palace's season and has caused defenders problems all season. With eight goals in 49 appearances this season he is Palace's second top scorer and will definately want to go out with a bang. Youngster Johnnie Williams and Yannick Bolasie will both be vying for a starting place as the final to compliment Zaha on the other wing. Both players are direct and have bags of skill and will cause any defence problems, ours will be no exception.
The midfield will more than likely be Miles Jedinak, Kagisho Dikgacoi and possibly Stephen Dobbie who will be spraying balls about left, right and centre. In order for us to succeed we will need to win the midfield battle, which will be tougher than normal. These three will be running around snapping at our heels giving us no time on the ball. Stalwart 'keeper Julian Speroni will almost certainly be in goal providing confidence from the back. One of Speroni's faults are that he isn't the best with shots outside the area, something which we are fairly good at (with 44 goals scored from outside the area this season).
The players to look out for will be Zaha, Bolasie, Dobbie and Williams, these four players have the ability to turn games around in seconds. In order for us to go through we will need to ensure that we stop these players getting on the ball.
Opposition Fans Forum: http://www.cpfc.org/forums/
How can you not love the bloke! With an infectious smile and a buoyant attitude it seems very difficult to dislike Zola. He hasn't made the best choices at times this season but when he gets it right, by God he gets it right. The Sardinian may only be five foot three but in most fans eyes he is a giant. After taking over in the summer when the Pozzo's came in, Zola had a tough task in both replacing fans favourite Sean Dyche and moulding a team out of all the new inexperienced players coming in. After a stumbling start of only 13 points out of the first 13 games Watford eventually clicked with a very important 2-1 win over promotion challenging Leicester City at Vicarage Road. That victory changed the course of Watford's season with the players eventually finding their feet and pushing on. Since then we have been laughing, yes we did miss out on automatic promotion in a tense last day fiasco (thanks to a mixture of bad luck, bad refereeing and dirty underhanded play from that lovely and soft team that is Leeds United). But without those blips we wouldn';t have witnessed the amazing second leg that was the 3-1 victory over Leicester at Vicarage Road.
What a game that was, reported by the media as one of the most exciting games in recent history of English football thanks to THAT
missed penalty after THAT
dive. For those who have forgotten what it looks like, here you go:
And we can't forget about that Vydra goal. Shame the goal of the season had already been voted as we had a definite contender here.
More to follow. What a dilemma for Zola to have in regards to partnering Troy Deeney at Wembley! Who do you choose, the resurgent Matej Vydra or the tricksy Fernando Forestieri. When we went 4-3-3 with all three playing we looked quite simply breathlessly good, some of the play was unbelievable. We may need Forestieri's creativity as well as Vydra's pace. It is a gamble playing all three as we have little else on the bench (no offence Geijo). We will need a strong backline to soak up the pressure, Ekstrand is a must as is Doyley to counter the pace of Zaha and Bolasie. It may be a good idea to put Fitz Hall in as centre half whilst pushing Cassetti out to his familiar role of RWB with Anya on the other flank. Anya's pace will help counter Zaha and Bolasie and hopefully neutralise their threat. Jonathon Hogg is likely to come in for Cristian Battochio to help break up Palace attacks as well as link up play as best as he can.
By the looks of it Zola has no new injury concerns.
Predicted Line Ups:
Subs: Bond, Briggs, Battochio, Forestieri, Geijo, Eustace, Hall
Subs: Price, Ramage, Richards, Williams, O'Keefe, Moritz, Phillips.
Score Prediction: If we get the first goal we will win, if not Palace will make us work for the game. I'm plumping for a 3-2 Watford clinching us promotion. We CAN
To all those travelling to Wembley have a safe journey.
Come On You 'Orns!