It has been a nervous few months for Crystal Palace fans as the club have hovered above the relegation zone but they added to their superb home form with a crucial three points against Leeds United yesterday to practically guarantee them Championship football next season.
Neil Danns, who was sent off in the 90th minute, settled any nerves with a goal in only the second minute. The ball broke to the midfielder on the edge of the box and though his low drive looked like it was going to be comfortably saved by Kasper Schmeichel, the ball took a huge deflection off Leeds defender Andy O'Brien and completely wrong-footed the goalkeeper.
Though Leeds created very little in the first half, almost the entirety of the second was played in Crystal Palace's half and Dougie Freedman, the Palace manager, credited his players for containing the Championship's second-highest scoring side and virtually completing the job of keeping themselves in the division.
"In my manual it says you defend for your life and then you attack and that's what our play is based on," he said. "In this case, it really has been a case of the players' lives changing depending on what division they're in and that's how the lads have defended.
"It certainly hasn't been easy. I just felt the lads in the dressing room were good enough to stay up and I just reassured them of that. It's not an achievement coming fourth or fifth from bottom at this club but it's a situation we've found ourselves in since Christmas and it's nearly over."
Julian Speroni certainly had to be alert to protect their one-goal lead. In the 66th minute, Max Gradel made a strong run towards goal and drilled a shot from 12 yards out but the goalkeeper saved well. Three minutes later, a long throw dropped to Gradel again but Anthony Gardner flung himself in front of his shot like a defender playing for his Championship status.
Leeds United are still in the hunt at the other end of the table for a playoff place but on this form they look unlikely to make it – they have now gone five matches without a win and have suffered four straight losses away from home.
Simon Grayson, the Leeds manager, admitted that his side had lacked experience at times this season but was still hoping to nick a playoff place. "When you look back we've been naive at times," he said. "We've conceded a lot of goals which is probably due to a lack of experience but we're one of the leading scorers in the league and we've had a good season. I want to turn a good season into a great season, although that's out of our hands now."
The win moved Crystal Palace six points clear of the relegation zone and with a far better goal difference than Sheffield United and Scunthorpe, who can still mathematically catch them with two games to play. Their fans celebrated at the final whistle as if they were sure to be watching Championship football next season.
Crystal Palace (4-4-2): Speroni; Clyne, Moxey, Gardner, McCarthy; Dikgacoi (Agustien, 77), Zaha, Danns, Wright; Easter (Vaughan, 73), Iversen (Davis, 81). Substitutes not used Price (gk), Garvan, Cadogan, Counago.
Leeds United (4-2-3-1): Schmeichel; Naylor, O'Brien, Lichaj, Connolly (Kilkenny, 46); Johnson, Livermore (Watt, 46); Gradel, Howson, Snodgrass; Paynter (Somma, 73) Substitutes not used Higgs (gk), Bannan, Bromby, McCormack.
Referee N Swarbrick (Lancashire).