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Crystal Palace u23 vs Sunderland u23 Play off final

Updated: Aug 4, 2023

Hello again everyone!

I hope you are all well.

As you can probably assume I got tickets to the Crystal Palace under 23 playoff final match which took place on the 24th of May 2021. It was a very late decision we made as I didn’t think I had anyone to take me till the previous Saturday. My mum managed to get me and my step dad tickets on the morning of the match while I was at school just before they went off sale, but thankfully the disabled tickets were not a high demand.

This was my first academy game I had seen in real life, but during lockdown I was keeping up with both the u18 and u23 games, so I knew most of the players. Like I previously mentioned my step-dad Steve took me to the game, this was his first match with me possibly since we went to Manchester United in 2017, so was a new experience for both of us. When we first left my house, it was pouring with rain, so we anticipated getting soaked, but the rain held off both times we were walking to and from the car, allowing us to get home completely dry! Although throughout the match there were some heavy downpours. We sat in a different seat once again, this time in the Holmesdale stand for the first time (seems as though were having a tour of the whole stadium, only one stand left!), this seat was in the far-left corner above the first set of fans (high enough so if they stood, we could still see), we was under the upper section so had full protection from the weather. The view was perfect for my eye line, it was slightly difficult for me to take videos because there was a metal hand rail in the way, but this wasn’t a huge issue. I’m not used to sitting behind the goal at games, but we had a good view of the whole length of the pitch, the one disadvantage was that the PA seats were further back then the wheelchair seats, meaning my step dad had to either stand or sit on the small ledge to be near me. This seat has not swayed me, and I will be returning to my original seat in the Main Stand next season, although this along with the Arthur Wait seat could be an option for when there is torrential rain. All the staff were very helpful in guiding us to our seat and being available for any required assistance.

This game was very significant as it would provide Palace u23’s with promotion to the first division of the ‘Premier League 2’ if successful in winning; they previously won 3-2 against wolves u23 in the semi-finals to take us into the final, in front of 2,000 fans. Tonight, they were up against Sunderland u23, who previously beat stoke 2-0 to get to the final.

The game kicked off at 7pm and the players were welcomed to the pitch by the 3,000 loyal Palace supports, who were loud and proud the whole game. “Shaun Derry’s red, blue army” echoing the stadium, the ultras even bought their drums! I do not have access to a full timeline of the match but will go through the highlights I remember. The only change in the Palace line up was Reece Hannam coming in to replace an injured Jude Russel, he had an amazing game making some brilliant tackles and upping the tempo when needed. Jesurun Rak-Sakyi kept his place in the attack, despite travelling with the first team to Liverpool the previous day. Our opening attempt came from striker Rob Street in the first 10 minutes, but this was stopped by the opposing keeper. The opposition had a few opportunities to make it 1-0 but all their attempts went safely over the bar. Just before half-time Street cut the ball back across the box to Rak-Sakyi, though he couldn’t get control and fired it just over the bar.

Just after half time the momentum rose for us through Reece Hannah, who made 2 attempts at goal, both were stopped by some great goalkeeping from the Sunderland goalkeeper. We started the second half the better of the two teams, enjoying being able to keep possession and create chances, the defence - Lewis Hobbs, Rich-Baghuelou and skipper Jake O’Brien did brilliantly in controlling the back to continue the dominance. As the second half went on our energy levels dropped inviting Sunderland to improve, there seemed to be no real urgency on the ball. Rak-Sakyi went off in the second half, for the time he was on the pitch he looked really good and could see Zaha qualities of confidently running at players in him, hopefully we hear more about him in the future; he was replaced by David Omilabu. David who is only 18 years old, is already a fan favourite because of his importance in the u18 team, scoring the winner for the u23’s to put us in the final, and becoming joint top goal scorer in the u18 league with 21 goals. He even has his own chant! Our goalkeeper Ollie Webber made some terrific saves in the match ensuring the score stayed at 0-0 all the way to 90 minutes.

The second half of normal time didn’t have any goals meaning the teams had to go to extra time. The first substitution made in this section for Palace was Sion Spence being replaced by John-Kymani Gordon, he bought a lot of energy to the game, something we had been lacking. In the closing stages of the first half Street had an opportunity to make it 1-0 with a diving header, but sadly the keeper was able to deal with it. Tension started to build with the Sunderland players leading to them being booked for some tackles. The second half gave Street another opportunity to win it for palace as the ball fell invitingly to his feet, but over the bar it flew. The final piece of action in the extra time was a penalty shout from John-Kymani Gordon, which was waved away by the ref angering the Palace fans. Onto penalties! This was my first penalty shootout I had witnessed in real life, so my nerves were through the roof, sadly the coin toss decided that the shootout would be towards the Whitehorse Lane Stand (opposite end to us), so it was slightly difficult to see, but the fans at the other end did their best to put Sunderland off.

It started with Street who scored making it 1-0 burying the ball bottom left, then the Sunderland player (Hackett) scored down the middle making it 1-1, next for Palace was Hannam who scored in the bottom right to make it 2-1, the Sunderland player (Harris) made it 2-2 placing the ball down the right, next was Malachi Boateng making it 3-2 with a brilliant pen into the right hand side, before the Sunderland player (Neil) made it 3-3, next was Gordon to make it 4-3 in the same bottom right corner, up next was the Sunderland player (Ellis Taylor) who stepped up and rocketed the ball over the bar keeping it 4-3 to palace! Because we went first, we only had one penalty left to take, if we scored we won. Omilabu confidently stepped up and buried the ball in the top left corner! Palace had won and they were being promoted!! The stadium erupted and absolute scenes began at Selhurst park as the boys rans over to the rest of the academy and their families to celebrate, showing their togetherness (something the first team seems to be missing at the moment). They then all ran down to the Holmesdale stand where the bulk of the fans were to celebrate with us. The presentation then began in the centre of the pitch, first congratulating the officials (who were booed by the 3,000 fans for some dodgy decisions), before moving onto the main people as the champions got individual applause when collecting their medals, and finally being able to lift the shield together! For our first season as a category 1 academy this was fantastic, and we were officially promoted to division 1 along with Leeds!

We then had a short walk back to the car, which was parked in the car park, and had a fast drive home. Hopefully, next time I write a post there are more fans in the stadium to support the boys, I am hoping to attend more games for all 3 teams next season so be sure to look out for more posts 😊.

Thank you for reading, I hope you have a great summer and hopefully we see lots of business happening at Selhurst.

Ellie X


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