Championship – Zaha double sends Palace into play-off final with win at Brighton
Championship play-off semi-final second leg, Amex Stadium – Brighton 0 Crystal Palace (Zaha 69, 88) Palace win 2-0 on aggregate.
Crystal Palace players celebrate scoring their second goal in front of the away fans.
Wilfred Zaha scored two goals as Crystal Palace booked their place in the Championship play-off final with a polished 2-0 win against Brighton at the Amex Stadium.
The young forward – who will join Manchester United in a £15 million deal next season having been loaned back to Palace – broke the hearts of Brighton as Ian Holloway’s side were rewarded for a professional performance in the second leg of the semi-final with two Zaha goals in the second half.
Palace’s reward is a meeting with Watford in the final at Wembley Stadium on May 27.
After a 0-0 draw in the first leg at Selhurst Park on Thursday in which they were the better side, Gus Poyet’s Brighton started as strong favourites.
But a Zaha header on 70 minutes and magnificent turn and finish on 87 minutes were enough to see the visiting side into a final described as the £120 million match, such are the riches on offer for reaching the Premier League.
Watford manager Gianfranco Zola watched the match less than 24 hours after his side’s astonishing 3-1 win over Leicester in the other play-off semi-final gave them a 3-2 aggregate win.
He will note the danger of Zaha, who was left unmarked as he nodded Yannick Bolasie’s cross into the net from close range for the opening goal before accepting a pass from Yannick Bolasie for the second goal.
He then turned Gordon Greer with a superb first touch before leaving the home goalkeeper Tomasz Kuszczak with no chance as he walloped a vicious shot into the net from 12 yards.
Zaha’s goals made the difference, but they also required the reflexes of Julian Speroni in goal as he somehow managed to nudge an effort from Brighton substitute Ashley Barnes onto his bar and over on 63 minutes.
Dean Moxey was then on hand a minute later to head off his line after Barnes had headed David Lopez’s corner at goal with Speroni rooted to the spot.
Those were crucial moments in determining the outcome of the match, but it is hard to suggest Palace were not worth their win.
After a tepid first half in which neither side could gain control, Williams raced onto a lovely pass from Zaha on 47 minutes, but thumped an effort a couple of yards wide when he seemed to destined to score.
Brighton had plenty of possession, but lacked any real meaning to their surges forward.
Zaha needlessly lost possession as Will Buckley drilled a shot at goal on 13 minutes, but Speroni made a notable diving stop.
The night would get better for Zaha from that point onwards.
This is the fifth play-off campaign for specialist Holloway.
He led Blackpool to the Premier League in May 2010, but failed to inspire Bristol Rovers beyond the semi-finals in 1998. He lost the final with QPR at the Millennium Stadium in 2003 while West Ham United denied his Blackpool side last year.
MAN OF THE MATCH
Wilfred Zaha (Crystal Palace): Two fine goals, particularly the touch and finish for the second goal. The new Manchester United manager David Moyes must have been impressed.