Crystal Palace will play in the Premier League next season after winning the most lucrative match in world football, beating Watford 1-0 at Wembley Stadium after Kevin Phillips scored an extra-time penalty.
Less than two months before his 40th birthday, Phillips came off the bench to smash his spot kick beyond Manuel Almunia in the 105th minute after Wilfried Zaha was fouled by Marco Cassetti.
It was the first victory in the one-off match for Phillips in four attempts, while Palace manager Ian Holloway lost last year with Blackpool against West Ham.
Almunia kept his Watford in the match with several saves in regulation time. He dived the correct way for the penalty, but his right hand failed to even get a touch on Phillips’ fiercely struck shot.
“I had in my mind where I wanted to take it, I was happy to take it. I picked my spot and stuck to it. I don’t know if that’s going to be my last match but if it is – what a way to sign off,” Phillips said, before paying tribute to Zaha in his final game for Palace. “This man goes to Manchester United now with our very best wishes. He’s been great for us this season, and he really wanted to leave having sent Crystal Palace up to the Premier League.”
Zaha earned the penalty with a piece of trickery to entice Cassetti into lunging in as the Palace forward dribbled into the box.
“I’m very tired and I’m very happy,” said Zaha, Alex Ferguson’s last signing for United. “Walking into the stadium full of so many people is just amazing. I’m going to have to get used to it.”
The match to decide the third promoted team from the League Championship is worth at least 120 million pounds for the winner. The figure is based on prize money and payments based on the worst-case scenario that the team finishes last in its first season and is relegated. It doesn’t include sponsorship, ticket and merchandise sales.
Watford, the top scorers in the League Championship this season, was subdued and caused Palace little trouble until extra time. Goalkeeper Julian Speroni did well to get to the ball first ahead of Troy Deeney following Almen Abdi’s cross in the extra 30 minutes. Palace defender Joel Ward cleared Fernando Forestieri’s improvised shot off the line in stoppage time, ensuring Palace returned to the top flight after an eight-year absence.