Phillips leaves it late to land Crystal Palace ultimate prize

CRYSTAL PALACE 1 vs WATFORD 0
(Crystal Palace won after extra time)

CRYSTAL Palace manager Ian Holloway has vowed to hang on to as many of his talented young players as possible this summer but had the eldest, 39-year-old striker Kevin Phillips, to thank for securing his side’s place in the Premier League with the only goal of the “£120m” match at Wembley Stadium yesterday.

Phillips, who turns 40 in July and would become the oldest outfield player in the Premier League next season if he signs a new contract at Selhurst Park, came off the bench to net a penalty in extra time of the Championship play-off final to defeat his former club Watford.

The Eagles’ star forward Wilfried Zaha, 20, has already signed a deal to move to champions Manchester United in the summer, but Holloway hopes he can hold on to as many of his other key players as possible, as Palace prepare to play in the Premier League for the first time since 2005.

“The big wigs get the good players,” said Holloway, who won the play-off final with Blackpool in 2010.

“We’ll try to keep as many as we can, but I’m delighted for Wilfried Zaha. He has got us in the Premier League with a wonderful bit of skill and Kevin Phillips stuck it in the net.

“This group has been fantastic and I’m so proud of them. We fought and battled it out. We’re in the Premier League, so god help us. From the minute we kick off next season we will be on a hiding to nothing.”

With the prize of promotion worth so much in increased revenue, the first 60 minutes proved to be a tense affair.

Palace carved out the first sight at goal when striker Aaron Wilbraham found space inside the penalty area, but former Arsenal goalkeeper Manuel Almunia smothered the ball away and then denied Wilbraham twice more before the end of normal time.

Watford had the first opportunity of extra time, but striker Troy Deeney was denied from close range by goalkeeper Julian Speroni.

The decisive moment came in the 105th minute when Watford defender Marco Cassetti tripped Zaha inside the box and Phillips kept his cool from 12 yards to end a play-off final triumphant after three previous disappointments with Sunderland, West Brom and Blackpool.

“It’s fourth time lucky,” said Phillips, who won eight caps for England.

“I’m just delighted to get that feeling. To come on and get the winning goal against the club where it all started 20 years ago, it’s a fairytale ending.

“I felt confident, I wanted to take it. I made up my mind early and you can’t change. I just thought ‘smash it’ and was delighted to see it fly into the top corner. If this was my last game, what a way to sign off.”