Brighton vs Palace in the Play-Offs? Oh, go on then!

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Football has rivalries that span from town to town, city to city, even country to country if you look far enough. All of which mean so much to the fans of the teams involved. And Brighton and Hove Albion’s rivalry with Crystal Palace is no different. In 94 meetings between the teams, Palace have come out on top 37 times, Albion 34 times, with 23 draws. So not much to separate them at all.

As rivalries go, this is a comparatively new one in the Football League structure. The Seagulls and the Eagles only developed a grudge towards each other after an FA Cup tie in 1974, that Palace duly won 1-0 in the second replay of the tie (played at Stamford Bridge) after Palace player Phil Holder got the winner. However, this came after a disputed penalty retake from Brighton, the first kick was scored by Brighton’s Brian Horton, but the referee ordered a retake for apparent encroachment, that Horton missed.

It’s often in the biggest stakes between two enemy teams that rivalries can come to a peak. But as is the case now, the Seagulls meet the Eagles in the semi-finals of the Championship Play-Offs over two legs to secure a place to play in what is described as “The richest game in football” (as monetary benefits of the Premier League are estimated at £100m for the teams that get promoted): The Championship Play-Off Final, at Wembley; on Monday May 27th. So the stakes don’t really come much higher than this.  

The first leg is scheduled for Friday May 10th at Selhurst Park, whereas the return leg comes three days later at the AMEX, both with 7.45pm kick off times.

Both teams will fancy their chances, with Brighton topping the Championship form table since January; and both teams taking convincing wins 3-0 each at home in their meetings earlier in the season. Palace manager Ian Holloway has already tasted Play-Off success with Blackpool in 2010, and he would be hoping to pass as much of that experience on as he can to his current crop of players to give his team the best chance possible of advancing.

So, what of Glenn Murray? Former Albion hero, then moves on to Palace and carries on in the same prolific form as he had when he left the South Coast; finishing the season with the Championship Golden Boot, after netting 30 of Palace’s 72 league goals this term, one ahead of Blackburn’s Jordan Rhodes. His reception when he comes to the AMEX for the second leg will undoubtedly have an edge to it, whether that has an effect on his performance or not remains to be seen. In terms of Brighton’s efforts in front of goal, the Seagulls have scored 69 times this season, with Craig Mackail-Smith scoring 11 and January signing Leonardo Ulloa pitching in with 10 in his brief stint with the Albion. Other players have been brought in on loan with Premier League experience in the form of former England defenders Matthew Upson and Wayne Bridge, and they have had a positive bolstering effect on the ambitious Albion squad in their hunt for promotion.

Asked for their thoughts in going into the two-legged encounter, both managers tried to keep a perspective on the upcoming fixtures but the tension of the affair is already showing. Brighton manager Gus Poyet said after beating Wolves 2-0 on the last day (to seal relegation for them) “It is not a normal game [against Palace]. How can you make this into a normal game of football? I will be trying my best to think only about football. What it comes down to is two games. We`ll have a great go. We are certainly one of the teams in the best form having gone nine games unbeaten.” Incidentally, Palace also sealed relegation for their opponents on the final day, Peterborough United, after winning 3-2 (their first win since March, after a run of nine games without a win), Ian Holloway after the game: “What I’m finding out really quickly about this group is the confidence they have. We’ve come through it all now and I think we’ll be stronger for that against Brighton.”

So, the stage is set for the 180-minute battle for a shot at the £100m game. Both teams will be ready, both sets of fans likewise. Rivalries always intensify in the biggest games. The football will decide who gets the bragging rights over the 40 miles separating both teams, and the occasion of a Wembley final. My tickets are in the post…

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