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Zaha double fires Palace into play-off final

Ian Holloway’s team will now face Watford at Wembley on May 27.

Crystal Palace's Wilfried Zaha (left) celebrates with his team-mate Joel Ward after the final whistle.
Crystal Palace's Wilfried Zaha (left) celebrates with his team-mate Joel Ward after the final whistle.

WILFRIED ZAHA FIRED Crystal Palace into the Championship play-off final as the England winger’s double sealed a 2-0 win over arch rivals Brighton in Monday’s semi-final second leg.

Ian Holloway’s team will face Watford at Wembley on May 27 with a lucrative place in the Premier League at stake thanks to the perfect leaving present from Zaha.

Ivory Coast-born Zaha will join Manchester United at the end of the season after Palace agreed to sell him to the Premier League champions in a £15 million deal in January.

But the 20-year-old will have a chance to take Palace into the English top-flight before saying farewell after scoring twice in the second half to sink Brighton at the Amex Stadium.

After the first leg ended goalless at Selhurst Park on Friday, Brighton must have felt they had the advantage but they paid the price for wasting several opportunities to go in front before Zaha took charge.

This derby clash couldn’t match the drama of Watford’s incredible second leg win against Leicester on Sunday, but there was still plenty of tension and intrigue as two old rivals slugged it out with so much at stake.

Gus Poyet’s side dominated the early stages and Palace goalkeeper Julian Speroni had to keep out Will Buckley’s drive before David Lopez’s shot was deflected narrowly over.

Palace threatened when Jonny Williams shot just wide after being sent clean through by Aaron Wilbraham early in the second half.

But Brighton substitute Ashley Barnes twice came even closer to breaking the deadlock just a minute after climbing off the bench.

He latched onto Leonardo Ulloa’s flick, only for Speroni to tip his shot onto the crossbar and from the resulting corner saw his header cleared off the line by Dean Moxey.

That proved the turning point as Holloway sent on Yannick Bolasie and the winger whipped over a brilliant cross that Zaha, escaping marker Wayne Bridge, met with a diving header past Tomasz Kuszczak in the 69th minute.

And Zaha sealed the win two minutes from full-time when he turned Brighton defender Gordon Greer before thrashing his shot into the roof of the net.

YouTube credit: Petr Cech

YouTube credit: Petr Cech

© AFP, 2013

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