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After being on the brink of bankruptcy only three years ago, the Eagles completed their slow rise from the abyss to return to the top-flight for the first time in eight long years

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By Husmukh Kerai at Wembley

Wembley may have hosted the most prestigious match in club football on Saturday but the struggle for the biggest pay day in the game was also played out on a glorious summer's bank holiday in north London.

PARTING GIFT
ZAHA RATING v WATFORD
His passion for the cause was always evident, as was his exceptional strength and skill one-on-one, though his final ball or shot was often frustratingly poor. He kept going though, and drew the penalty which won the game.
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GOAL! Phillips converts from the penalty spot to give Palace the lead! Zaha runs once more at Cassetti on the Watford right and is, yet again, fouled by the full-back - this time in the box. Phillips steps up and makes no mistake from 12 yards, firing an unstoppable penalty into the top corner.
Crystal Palace avoided the lottery of a shoot-out, when it seemed almost inevitable, to hit the jackpot in extra time and return to the Premier League for the first time in eight years.

Ask any Eagles fan or player and they'll tell you the romance of playing in the so-called best league in the world is something they've dreamt about for some time. The sensation of finally clinching that opportunity and making that ambition a reality when it was almost thrown away was clear to see in euphoric scenes in the red and blue half of Wembley.

Yet, any mention of the Championship play-off final is always accompanied by how much it is worth to the winners. The £120 million windfall coming to Selhurt Park, even if they drop straight back down, makes it the most lucrative prize in world football, thanks largely to the bumper new Premier League broadcasting deal. There was more than just promotion at stake.

It is only three years ago that the south London outfit were on the brink of bankruptcy. It was a Monday afternoon of differing emotions in May 2010 as around 1,000 Palace fans protested outside Selhurst Park.

The quartet of Jeremy Hosking, Martin Long, Steve Parish and Stephen Browett answered the fans' pleas and three years later the Eagles are flying once again.

The magnitude of the occasion somewhat overshadowed the game itself as the two top-scoring teams in the Championship failed to muster a goal between them in normal time. We didn't even see a shot on target until the second half.

While fans of both clubs would have been gripped by the action, there wasn't much in it for the neutral, not that it's Gianfranco Zola or Ian Holloway's job to care.

In the end it was two players from either end of the footballing spectrum who combined to find the elusive goal.

With 19 years between them, Monday hosted the arrival of Wilfried Zaha and perhaps the departure of Kevin Phillips.

After 104 minutes of threatening to take the game by the scruff of the neck it was the Eagles' star man, Zaha, who eventually made the difference. The Manchester United winger, back on loan at Palace after agreeing a January switch, was head and shoulders above any other player on the pitch.

His Premier League future was already assured as part of the new David Moyes era at Old Trafford, but he worked his socks off to get his team-mates there alongside him and he produced a man-of-the-match display.

He tantalised Marco Cassetti for the entire match, turning him one way and then the other time and time again before the experienced former Italy international finally succumbed to temptation and brought the winger down in the box.

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As Sir Alex Ferguson's final signing for United gave Ian Holloway and the Eagles fans a parting gift in winning the crucial spot-kick.

That set up the Phillips' 'Stuart Pearce' moment. The 39-year-old veteran striker vanquished his play-off demons, putting the pain of defeats with Sunderland, West Brom and Blackpool to bed, with a coolly taken extra-time penalty to possibly earn himself one final crack at the big time.

The former Hornets striker arrived at Palace on a free and ended up scoring the goal which could hardly hold any more value.

But Holloway, for all his charm and likeability, has a solitary season's experience in the top flight, suffering relegation with Blackpool in 2011.

Crystal Palace themselves have never survived more than a single campaign in the Premier League and are already the bookmakers' favourites to go down.

Just how the club spends all this money that is coming their way will ultimately decide if they can stick around in the Premier League and cement their rise from the flames of near-liquidation. Whatever happens, the future is bright at Selhurst Park.

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