Crystal Palace bought their lottery ticket last December; yesterday their numbers came up and they walked off with a prize worth anything from £20million to £30m. Triple roll-over? Everyone to do with Palace was turning somersaults.
The team have certainly turned one since Palace took a punt on Iain Dowie as manager late last year in an attempt to save the club from relegation to the Second Division. If the signing was a gamble, the risk looked all Dowie's, but it paid off for him and the Eagles when his rejuvenated side regained the right to a "Super" tag by battling past West Ham United in the final of the Nationwide First Division play-offs at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff.
"It's quite incredible," Dowie, once a West Ham player, said amid the breathless celebrations of bright red and blue clad fans from south London. "The players have shown great commitment and desire. West Ham are a good side but we did what we could and stuck to our game plan. We showed today that we are a good football side and now we have to take on the superpowers in the Premier League."
It may have been a simple tap-in for Neil Shipperley in the 62nd minute, after Andy Johnson's shot had been parried by Stephen Bywater, that provided the final step in Palace's remarkable transformation from relegation candidates to members of the Premiership, but fate played a hand. Ironically, it was West Ham who secured Palace's place in the play-offs on the last day of League play when Brian Deane headed a late equaliser at Wigan that had the effect of extending the Eagles' season at Wigan's expense.
Then there was the unlikely ending to Palace's semi-final against Sunderland when a goal deep into injury time from an unexpected source, the substitute Darren Powell, took the tie into extra-time and eventually a shoot-out that Palace won.
Fate or luck? It seemed Palace in the Premiership was meant to be, but the Eagles have proved the truth of the old adages "You make your own luck" and "The more you practise, the luckier you get". Dowie and the fitness coach he brought in, John Harbin, changed the approach and the attitude at Selhurst Park to good effect. The goalkeeper Nico Vaesen said: "This is why we show dedication and do the hard work. The gaffer has worked us really hard but nobody has complained."
Mikele Leigertwood was not complaining yesterday. "I'm delighted to be here, delighted to be in the Premiership next season," he said. The defender might have added that he was delighted that the referee, Graham Poll, turned a sympathetic eye when his tackle sent West Ham's Michael Carrick sprawling in the penalty area.
Fate? Or a lottery? Either way, the big prize was Palace's.Reuse content