Crystal Palace joined Watford in the Championship play-off final last night after a brace from Manchester United-bound Wilfried Zaha helped them see off the challenge of bitter rivals Brighton and Hove Albion.
With the tie goalless after the first leg in south-east London, Zaha opened the scoring on 69 minutes as he swooped to head home a cross from substitute Yannick Bolasie.
And with the Seagulls pressing forward for a late equaliser, the England international fired home the decisive second goal to give the Eagles a famous victory at the Amex Stadium.
But despite the best efforts of Zaha – who proved to be Sir Alex Ferguson’s final signing and will join United in the summer in a £15 million deal – Palace are rated as outsiders with bwin to clinch promotion to the Premier League.
Ian Holloway’s men have been installed as even-money shouts to lift the play-off trophy by any means required, while they are 7/4 to prevail inside 90 minutes at Wembley.
Watford, for their part, are currently the 3/4 favourites to return to the top flight after a six–year absence and a 29/20 chance to complete the job inside the distance (the draw is priced at 11/5).
The Hornets’ season looked to be over as semi-final opponents Leicester City were awarded a debatable penalty deep into stoppage-time in their second leg with the aggregate scores tied at 2-2.
But Manuel Almunia saved Anthony Knockaert’s effort from 12 yards and just seconds later, Watford had booked their place in the ‘world’s richest game of football’ after grabbing the most dramatic of winners.
Gianfranco Zola’s men mounted a swift counter-attack which ended with Troy Deeney firing past Kasper Schmeichel, sparking frenzied scenes of celebration at Vicarage Road.
Watford had the edge in the two regular-season meetings with Palace, winning 3-2 at Selhurst Park in August and claiming a 2-2 draw on home soil, albeit after surrendering a two-goal lead.
But whoever makes their Premier League dream a reality, those clashes – and the latest odds – suggest that a nail-biting encounter is in store at Wembley on Monday, May 27th.