For years it has been called the richest match in world football, and the pound signs are bigger than ever when Crystal Palace and Watford meet at Wembley in the Championship play-off final.
A place in the Premier League is at stake, but while the fans of both clubs dream of games at Old Trafford, the Emirates and Anfield, the money men in the boardroom will be dreaming of the reported £120million windfall that will be bestowed on the winner, with the bumper TV deal in the top flight coming into effect next season.
From that respect, there has never been a better time to win promotion, but let’s forget (if we can) about the financial implications and concentrate on the glory – glory which nobody could have predicted for either team at the start of the campaign.
Both teams were long-odds for promotion having finished in mid-table in 2011/12, but after a season of highs and lows for each club, this final pits third versus fifth and one will finish their campaign on the ultimate Cloud 9.
Palace boss Ian Holloway, who replaced Bolton-bound Dougie Freedman in October, is competing in his third Championship play-off final in four years and has the chance to emulate his feat in 2010, when he took unfancied Blackpool into the Premier League.
His opposite number Gianfranco Zola, who has made Watford into something of an Udinese B side with a number of loans from the club, is hoping to gain some sort of personal redemption after his unsuccessful spell at West Ham, and make up for missing out on automatic promotion on a disastrous final day.
Holloway’s previous criticism the Hornet’s loan policy adds a bit of bit of needle to an already high-octane match, and despite the odds this is a hard one to call.
Watford are the 5/4 favourites, with Palace quoted at 39/20 and the draw a 12/5 shot, but the 3way market is always notoriously difficult to predict in this fixture, and both sides come into the match in inconsistent form.
Palace might have lost just two of the last nine, but they have won only twice in that sequence, while Watford also stuttered over the line in the regular campaign, winning just four of the last 12 games.
So I am not looking to go in on the 3way market – Watford’s price looks too short, while the injured Glenn Murray is a huge miss for Palace – and instead I will play on the goals market.
The Championship play-off finals tend to fall into two categories, the tight, low-scoring affairs or the crazy, free-scoring ones and I reckon this one will be the latter and I’ll take the 2/1 that there are over 3.5 goals.
The last three finals have been 2-1, 4-2 and 3-2, and this one has plenty of potential for goals – Palace and Watford are the two highest scoring teams in the Championship. Nobody scored more goals than the Hornets’ 85, while Palace were second in the goalscoring charts with 73, and the goals have followed both teams all season.
No side saw more goals in their games than Watford (143), while Palace were just behind on 135, and I can’t see this one being a tight match. A bet on over 2.5 goals at 83/100 looks like the safest bet – 31 one of Watford’s 46 fixtures saw at least three goals scored (a record), while Palace were just one behind at 30 – but at 2/1 we might as well go for the value that there are at least four goals.
Only Birmingham City were involved in more games that had over 3.5 goals than Watford, who had 17 games in the regular season were at least four goals were struck, just one more than Palace.
And with so much firepower in both teams, I can see an exciting open game on the big pitch and I think goals are inevitable. The 83/100 on over 2.5 goals is the safe one, but let’s play the 2/1 on over 3.5 goals and hope for a final to remember.