Report: Albion 0 Crystal Palace 2
Albion’s Premier League dream came to an end as a brace by Wilfried Zaha booked Palace’s place at Wembley..
Such tight games are often settled by small margins and it was the livewire Zaha – bound for Manchester United in the summer – who proved to be the difference with two second-half goals.
The Seagulls can look back at Dean Hammond’s header in the first leg, while Ashley Barnes hit the crossbar here at the Amex, but it’s the Eagles who will be facing Watford in the play-off final on May 27.
The game started to a crescendo of noise but it was the visitors who created the game’s first chance on four minutes when Owen Garvan’s drive fell into the path of Aaron Wilbraham but his effort drifted wide.
Albion responded six minutes later when a David Lopez snapshot from distance was deflected wide for a corner, and as the hosts cranked up the pressure Will Buckley had a close-range effort saved by Julian Speroni.
David also tried his luck from distance in the 17th minute but this time his curling left-foot effort was deflected out for another corner by the head of Danny Gabbidon.
Albion were dominating the game in terms of possession and chances, with Dean Hammond flashing an effort narrowly wide from 25 yards, while in a rare foray forward, Garvan saw a weak effort comfortably saved by Tomasz Kuszczak.
Leo Ulloa narrowly failed to connect with an Andrea Orlandi cross, following fine build-up play involving Wayne Bridge, while Palace were restricted to the odd foray forward on the break.
Yet in Zaha they always had a threat on the left flank and Albion hearts were in mouths when the winger’s low cross was almost deflected home by Hammond – only for Matthew Upson to hack the ball to safety.
Palace should have taken the lead two minutes after the restart when Zaha played in Jonathan Williams but the young Welshman drilled his effort wide with only Kuszczak to beat.
The visitors replaced Garvan with Andre Moritz and Williams for Yannick Bolasie in the 62 minute while Albion responded a minute later with Barnes replacing Orlandi.
It almost paid immediate dividends as the striker’s first touch was tipped onto the bar by Speroni and from the corner, his second touch – a header – was cleared off the line.
Palace responded with Mile Jedinak going close before they broke the deadlock on 69 minutes – Zaha connecting with a diving header from Bolasie’s left-wing cross.
Calderon was replaced by Kazenga LuaLua shortly afterwards but it was Palace who booked their place at Wembley with two minutes remaining when Zaha turned Gordon Greer before rifling the ball home...
Albion still left the field to rapturous applause from the near 30,000 crowd and so they should after a fourth place finish in the Championship – and a season of plenty more highs than there were lows.