Championship play-offs: Crystal Palace peaking again at just the right time says Ian Holloway

The Eagles play Brighton tomorrow night

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The Independent Football

Ian Holloway believes Crystal Palace have woken from their nightmare just in time for the play-offs.

The Eagles were in the hunt for automatic promotion until a miserable run of nine matches without a win left them sweating on their place in the top six.

Holloway admitted that run had been a "living, breathing nightmare" but it came to an end with Saturday's 3-2 win over Peterborough.

And with top scorer Glenn Murray ending an eight-game goal drought against Posh, Holloway feels his side are back on form in time for their two-legged semi-final against arch-rivals Brighton, starting at Selhurst Park tomorrow night.

"In life you have to grab things out of the fire and be brave and strong enough," said the Eagles boss.

"I think we have got stronger over the last couple of weeks because things had been rosy, then it went wrong and nearly everyone in the ground, bar me, thought we were going to throw it away.

"Glenn Murray got his goal, he was stuck on 29 for God knows how long but now he's got 30 and he's in an elite club [of players].

"The players have achieved something by getting in there. It would have been disastrous if we'd fallen out, particularly with Bolton and their old manager Dougie Freedman chasing us. But we are in there.

"To some of our fans that wasn't good enough and they've told me that, but I have to be a realist.

"When I first came here came no one said we had to go up, but we had a chance because of the way we were playing. Now we are in there fighting.

"This is about us having a chance to get the last promotion place to the Premier League. We almost lost it because the players wanted it so badly they got nervous. I don't sense that from them now."

The Eagles have a fierce rivalry with Brighton stretching back to the late 1970s and the days of Terry Venables and Alan Mullery.

If Holloway was not aware of that before he arrived in south London, it was made crystal clear following a 3-0 defeat at the Amex in March.

"What it means to the supporters is immense, they really don't like each other. I understand that now," he added.

"But what I can't do is get caught up in that. I have to focus on their strengths.

"There are four teams in it and no one can tell who is going to win. The best thing about all of this is we are still in with a chance."