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October 23 2020 12.24pm

The story of Palace’s Premier League return

July 24 2020

Ian Holloway

Ian Holloway

Crystal Palace’s last foray outside the top level of English football was, incredibly, seven years ago, writes Ben Toomey.

And though it now feels like a distant memory, the exploits of the 2012/13 season deserve to be remembered as a major contribution to the Palace’s recent success.

And while a lot of hard work has gone into maintaining the club's Premier League status during the last seven years, it’s important to recognise the contribution of that squad, led for the majority of the season by Ian Holloway.

In this article, we will re-live the campaign that saw the Eagles promoted back to the top flight through a nerve-racking play-off series.

Opening weeks

The new season – Palace’s eighth consecutive campaign in the Championship – couldn’t have started any worse. Defeats to Watford, Bristol, and Middlesbrough in the first three league fixtures saw many fans fearing a tough campaign ahead.

Dreams of a promotion push seemed already shattered, while there were fears that a battle at the other end of the table could instead be on the cards. But those fears would prove unfounded as Palace bucked their poor start to go 14 games unbeaten between September and November, including 11 wins and just three draws.

The incredible turnaround saw the Eagles take maximum points against Bolton, Wolves, Burnley, Leicester, and Derby and propelled Dougie Freedman’s side up the table and in an early box seat for promotion.

Change of manager

The departure of Dougie Freedman, to manage Bolton, on 23 October threatened to derail the progress made, but the team’s form remained consistent under the caretaker guidance of Lennie Lawrence and Curtis Fleming.

Palace would eventually appoint Holloway on 3 November, and the former Blackpool manager would inherit a side high on confidence and with a promotion challenge firmly within their grasp.

Holloway has developed a reputation as a promotion specialist over the course of his career, and whether you’re betting on football at Space Casino or just checking out the league tables, you’re likely to find his former clubs at the top of the Championship or lower end of the Premier League.

His first defeat would come away at Leeds United on 24 November, but the Eagles would lose just once more over the course of a busy Christmas period as the league campaign headed into the new year.

Inconsistency reigns

Palace were unable to rediscover top form in the months heading into the end of the regular season, with defeats against Burnley and Huddersfield in January threatening to halt the promotion campaign.

But 10 points from 15 available in February helped keep Holloway’s side in touch as crunch time approached, with March also beginning with wins away at Derby and home to Hull. But three consecutive defeats, against Brighton, Birmingham, and Holloway’s old club Blackpool, saw hopes of automatic promotion all but disappear.

Palace would win just one game in March, April, and May, on the final day at home to Peterborough, and would head into the play-offs in pretty poor form, albeit having avoided defeat five of the last six.

Play-off glory

The play-off semi-finals would see Palace face Brighton, after the two sides had traded 3-0 home victories during the regular season. And when the Eagles were unable to find a winner in the first leg at Selhurst Park, the Seagulls looked likeliest to book their place at Wembley.

But a brace from Wilfried Zaha in the return fixture at Falmer Stadium sealed our passage into the Final, where we’d face Watford. The Bees had taken four of six points from meetings during the regular season and were favourites to go up.

There was nothing between the sides over 90 minutes at Wembley, and it took a Kevin Phillips penalty just before half-time of extra-time to seal a tense victory that saw Palace take their place back in the Premier League.

It was a roller-coaster of a season that should live long in the memory for supporters.

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