Championship play-offs: Tomasz Kuszczak poised to save best for last as Brighton take on Crystal Palace

 

In nearly five years at Old Trafford, Tomasz Kuszczak never played in a Manchester derby. Yet, after his performance in the 0-0 play-off semi-final first leg ensured Brighton go into tonight’s second leg at home to Crystal Palace as slight favourites to book a match with Watford on 27 May, the keeper is relishing another of English football’s fierce rivalries.

Having experienced the passion of a Black Country derby as a West Bromwich Albion player, Kuszczak signed for Manchester United in 2007 after a successful loan spell, but made less than 50 appearances in total. He moved to the South Coast on a two-year deal last summer and now has the chance to return to the Premier League at the first time of asking – if Gus Poyet’s side can find a way past their bitter enemies this evening.

“I don’t know that much about the rivalry but we know it’s a big derby for the supporters,” Kuszczak said. “You can feel the tension but I’m a professional and I try to go into games like that with a cool head.

“When I walked on the pitch at the beginning of the first game I thought, ‘This is fantastic to be involved in a game like this.’ The manager has told us to enjoy the excitement that comes with these big matches because it’s beautiful – you always want to play in these kinds of atmospheres. Hopefully, we can take our chances and make it to the final.”

Palace’s leading scorer Glenn Murray will have a scan today to determine the extent of the knee injury he sustained in the first leg, with early reports suggesting he could be out for at least six months. But midfielder Kagisho Dikgacoi still believes Ian Holloway’s side can achieve promotion without him.

“It’s a real shame for Glenn but it’s just one of those things,” he said. “I hope he can be back playing very soon but he will still have a good chance to make it to Wembley.”

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