If Crystal Palace are promoted to the Premier League it will owe much to tonight and much to Kevin Phillips.
The second most remarkable 39-year-old in British football made his first start for Ian Holloway's side last night and scored his third, fourth and fifth goals for them, a remarkable eight-minute hat-trick which blew away Hull City, setting up a 4-2 win.
Now Palace, still fourth, are just one point behind Hull in third and another point behind Watford in second. "I didn't want Hull going seven points ahead of us," Holloway said, "that would have been a disaster. This is a much better feeling."
Holloway is entitled to feel pleased. He chose to bring Phillips in on loan in January, and last night picked him to pin back Hull City's back three. "I knew Kevin knew how to play that way," Holloway explained, "that's what he does."
Phillips has a nose for goal which has only got sharper over time and his intervention, immediately before half-time and immediately after, settled the game. In first-half added time Palace were awarded a generous penalty, their second of the evening, for a supposed handball by Jack Hobbs. Glenn Murray had already had one spot-kick saved so Phillips took this one, beating David Stockdale with power, although the keeper guessed right.
After the break Hull tried to fight back into the game but were twice caught too far upfield, allowing Phillips to score again seven and eight minutes after the restart. Both goals were made by Wilfried Zaha, producing one of the best performances of his career.
For Phillips' second, Zaha burst down the right, beating tackles from Hobbs and David Meyler and rolling the ball back to Phillips who scuffed the ball off the ground and into the net. One minute later Zaha broke forward again and passed to Phillips, outside the box, who turned and scored with help of a deflection.
"The bloke is so professional," said Holloway of Phillips, "still as fit as a flint, just unbelievable that he is 39. I swear if you could test him, he would have the lungs of a 26 year old, he is completely and utterly awesome."
Palace's youngsters were excellent too, Jonny Williams winning the first penalty while Zaha made two and scored the fourth, darting in from the right, fooling Stockdale with a feint and stabbing the ball in. "He showed why he's the best player I've seen in the league," Steve Bruce said, "by a million miles".
Bruce had no complaints about the result. He admitted that "the better team won" but said the performance by referee Mark Haywood "practically made it impossible" for Hull. For consolation, Bruce could take two late headers from Jay Simpson and Meyler, and some tidy first-half passing, too.
"There are still going to be a lot of twists and turns," predicted Bruce, "there are still 10 games to go."
Crystal Palace: Speroni; Dikgacoi, Ramage, Delaney, Moxey; Butterfield (Dobbie, 78), Jedinak, Williams (Parr, 65); Zaha, Murray, Phillips (Bolasie, 74). Substitutes not used Price, Marrow, Wilbraham, Moritz.
Hull City Stockdale; Chester (McShane, 59), Hobbs, Bruce; Elmohamady, Quinn (Fathi, 69), Meyler, Brady; Koren (Simpson, 69); Gedo, Boyd. Substitutes not used Jakupovic, Evans, Faye, Proschwitz.
Referee M Haywood (W Yorkshire).