For once, the reality lived up to the hype... 'Survival Sunday' was as thrilling as promised....unless you were a Palace fan, in which case it was akin to being delivered a series of swift kicks to the bollocks from a livid Chuck Norris (in his prime). Still, followers of the Super Eagles can perhaps console themselves that it could have been worse, as getting walloped 6-0 at Craven Cottage is pretty much as bad as it gets.
Ever since satellite viewers were treated to scenes of joy, despair and then joy again from Anfield and Upton Park in 1995, Sky have been the masters of televising final day drama. And they didn't disappoint on this occasion. Those of the Palace faithful who were absent from Selhurst Park would have been initially heartened by what was unfolding in the two televised live games, with a Papa Bouba Diop-inspired Fulham routing an unlucky Norwich City and Southampton losing to a Ruud Van Horse header. So far so good, but as the climax of a whole season approached, the armchair fans draped in red and blue would have found themselves drawn to the clutches of the phenomenon that is Gillette Soccer Saturday and the master himself, one Jeff Stelling .
And this is where the rollercoaster really kicked in : 71 minutes gone and the four most important letters in the world flash up at the very bottom of the 'vidiprinter'. GOAL. Andy Johnson with his eleventh penalty of the season. 2-1 to Palace, and they are staying up. It's all looking good, West Brom go 2-0 up against Pompey, but it doesn't matter, becuase it's all about events at the Valley now. Then the hammer blow, Stelling is telling us that Charlton have scored from a John Fortune header in the 82nd minute and Sky choose to rub things in by crossing to Chris Kamara at The Hawthorns, his eyes are ablaze, the moustache is quivering and he's holding up a piece of A4 with '2-2' scrawled on it. Behind him the Baggies supporters are going mental, but Kamara has no problems making himself heard, shouting so hard that we are convinced his head is about to explode, 'Scanners' style. It is all over for Crytsal Palace....they're down now.
Typical of football that they should be relegated at the Valley. Charlton fans were unable to disguise their glee at sending their former landlords on their way back to Division 1, but they should be careful about indulging themselves with the schadenfreude. Their club is an outstanding model for prudent club management (one that Palace chairman Simon Jordan could do with taking note of), but their team has clearly stalled, and if they are not careful, they might find themselves going backwards.
Ian Dowie has impressed us all this season with his honesty, vitality and engaging habit of inventing new words, now it is time to see if his team can be true to his vision of 'bouncebackability' and return to the Premiership. The going might well be tough, Palace will do well to hang on to Andy Johnson, Wayne Routledge and maybe Dowie himself and as David Conn points out, the club may not be as well equipped as others at dealing with the ramnifactions of losing its place in the 'greed is good' league. Here's to a swift return.