Claridge's climax shatters Palace

Crystal Palace 1 Leicester City 2 (after extra time; 1-1 at 90 min)

A goal in the last minute of extra time from Steve Claridge took Leicester City straight back to the Premiership here yesterday afternoon. It also sent half of Wembley mad with disbelieving joy.

The 30-year-old forward, who has endeared himself to the Filbert Street faithful since joining from Birmingham City in March for pounds 1m, justified that fee in a single moment as his mishit shot from the edge of the box flew past a wrong-footed Nigel Martyn to win the fourth Endsleigh League First Division play-off final Leicester have contested in five years.

Claridge admitted that he had "shinned" the ball; confessing this shin, however, cost him nothing. "It's just the perfect end," he said as the Leicester fans filled the stadium with noise. "I can't think of a better feeling in the world."

Seconds before Claridge's decisive intervention, Leicester had brought on their 6ft 7in reserve goalkeeper, Zeljko Kalac, in anticipation of a penalty shoot-out for which a weary Crystal Palace side - effectively down to 10 men after their last substitute, Simon Rodger, had been injured - were desperately hanging on.

As it turned out, Kalac's only contribution was to carry Claridge half- way up the stairs to the Royal Box for the presentation. But if Claridge was the player of the moment, the man who received the biggest cheer as he hoisted the trophy was the Leicester manager, Martin O'Neill.

He had suffered widespread criticism after taking the job in December as his side lost their first nine games in his charge. His two predecessors, Brian Little and Mark McGhee, had dismayed the club by joining other clubs in mid-season. O'Neill has said he would not do the same even if Milan were to come in for him, and his loyalty was rewarded as his players earned a play-off position with seven wins in their last 10 games.

O'Neill, who had guided Wycombe Wanderers to victory in the Third Division play-off final here two years earlier, believed that his side had been the better team. Certainly, after equalising Palace's early goal with a 77nd-minute penalty from Garry Parker, they seemed the team with the greater desire to win.

Palace, who like Leicester had been relegated from the Premiership at the end of last season, had also finished the campaign strongly. After the arrival of Dave Bassett as manager in February they had risen from 16th place, winning 14 and drawing four of their last 22 League games. But yesterday proved a challenge too far as they tired in the face of Leicester's enterprise.

Crystal Palace had an ideal start when Andy Roberts put them ahead with a cross-shot in the 14th minute after a characteristically canny pass from the 34-year-old Ray Houghton.

As Leicester's resolve wavered, Palace almost made it 2-0 when a sudden shot from the unpredictable George Ndah was tipped away by Kevin Poole. As the game wore on, however, Leicester, with Mustapha Izzet, Neil Lennon and Scott Taylor unquenchable in midfield, began to run Palace into confusion.

After 49 minutes, a header from the Leicester captain, Steve Walsh, was headed off the line by Ndah. And when Marc Edworthy's desperate challenge on Izzet conceded a penalty, Parker converted without fuss.

Palace had to play the last 18 minutes with their last substitute, Rodger, a passenger after Izzet's introductory challenge. But as the prospect of a shoot-out loomed, Claridge reacted first to a ball headed down by Ndah and crushed their hopes.

Crystal Palace (3-5-2): Martyn; Tuttle (Rodger, 101), Quinn, Roberts; Edworthy, Pitcher, Houghton, Hopkin (Veart, 69), Brown; Ndah, Freedman (Dyer, 99).

Leicester City (4-4-2): Poole (Kalac, 120); Grayson, Walsh (Hill, 117), Watts, Whitlow; Izzet, Parker, Taylor (Robins, 100), Lennon; Heskey, Claridge.

Referee: D Allison (Lancaster).

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Office / Sales Manager

£22000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Established and expanding South...

Recruitment Genius: Administrative Assistant / Order Fulfilment

£14000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting opportunity to join a thrivi...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped OTE: SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consulta...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped OTE: SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consulta...

Day In a Page

Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

Britain's 24-hour culture

With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

The addictive nature of Diplomacy

Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
8 best children's clocks

Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones