Crystal Palace is within 90 minutes from a return to the Premier League after two second-half goals from Wilfried Zaha booked the club's place in the League Championship playoff final with a 2-0 aggregate triumph over Brighton & Hove Albion.
The highly rated England U-21 winger, who is headed for Manchester United next season, proved to be the difference over two fiercly contested games to send the Eagles to Wembley Stadium for the first time at the expense of their fierce rivals.
With no fresh injury concerns to contend with, Gus Poyet opted to field the same side that secured a goalless draw in the first leg but his Palace counterpart Ian Holloway wasn’t so lucky. The visitors were without the services of top-scorer Glenn Murray after he suffered a nasty knee injury during Friday’s stalemate and was replaced by Aaron Wilbraham.A tight first half gave way to some more open play, spurned on by Zaha. He saw more of the ball as the half went on, and it was his low cross which caused a moment of uncertainty in the Brighton rear-guard before Matthew Upson cleared the danger from under his crossbar.
Zaha then provided Jon Williams with a glorious opportunity to draw first blood, but with only Tomasz Kuszczak to beat, the Welsh international fired narrowly wide.
It was the wakeup call that the hosts needed as the tie came to live for the first time. Gus Poyet responded by introducing Ashley Barnes, and the substitution almost paid immediate dividends.
Julian Speroni pulled off a superb save to tip Barnes’ first-time effort onto the crossbar, and from the resulting corner, Dean Moxey hacked the substitute’s header off the line.
Having soaked up the pressure, Palace went down the other end and landed the killer blow. Yannick Bolasie’s in-swinging cross from the left was met perfectly by Zaha, who escaped the attention of Wayne Bridge to send the away fans into raptures.
Despite the introduction of Kazenga Lua-Lua and the best efforts of a packed Amex Stadium, the Seagulls couldn't find the cutting edge to muster a late rally.
Instead, it was Zaha who had the final say as he turned away from Gordon Greer before smashing in a left-footed shot via the under side of the crossbar to ensure Palace's place in the final against Watford.