Crystal Palace v Watford: Who Will Win Promotion?


Will it be Crystal Palace or Watford to earn promotion to the Premier League? As both clubs ready themselves for the Championship playoff final at Wembley and the prospect of one of the biggest paydays in world sport, today on the blog Cassini delivers his analysis of this Monday's matchup.


It is a little known fact that the losing club in the Championship Play-Off Final has the small consolation of taking home not only their share of the game’s gate receipts, but also that of the winning club’s.

It’s a small consolation because the estimated value of the win is somewhere in the £120m range. The winners benefit from a share of the Premier League television rights, plus increased prize money, gate receipts and commercial income. In the worst case scenario that the winners are immediately relegated, they are still guaranteed four years of parachute payments which make this financially the most important single game in sport.

The 2013 Final – Crystal Palace vs Watford

The 2013 Final will be played at Wembley Stadium on Bank Holiday Monday, May 27th, between Crystal Palace and Watford.

Crystal Palace and Watford Previous Play-Offs

Combined, both clubs have competed in twelve previous play-offs, and both have previously won prom

Crystal Palace has qualified for seven Play-Offs (three wins to date) while Watford has qualified for five (two wins).

1989 – Crystal Palace (Winners) and Watford (Semi-Finals)

In the early days of play-offs when they were still contested over two legs, 1989 saw Crystal Palace defeat Blackburn Rovers who coincidentally had previously eliminated Watford.

1996 – Crystal Palace (Runners-Up)

In 1996, Crystal Palace played their first Wembley play-off final, losing 1-2 to Leicester City after extra-time, coincidentally again on May 27th. The winning goal was scored in the 120th minute with 30 seconds of the game remaining before penalties would have decided it.

1997 – Crystal Palace (Winners)

The following year saw Crystal Palace return to Wembley, and this time they ran out winners defeating Sheffield United 1-0 with another final minute goal, this time the 90th.

1999 – Watford (Winners)

Two years later it was Watford’s turn as they beat Bolton Wanderers 2-0.

2004 – Crystal Palace (Winners)

At the Millennium Stadium in 2004, Crystal Palace defeated West Ham United 1-0 with a 62nd minute goal from Neil Shipperley, and following an immediate relegation, were back along with Watford in the 2006 Play-Offs.

2006 – Watford (Winners) and Crystal Palace.

Watford had finished 3rd and Palace 6th, so the two met at the semi-final stage. Crystal Palace lost 0-3 in the home leg, and the second leg at Watford finished 0-0 as Watford advanced comfortably. In the final, Watford faced Leeds United and won 3-0.

2008 – Crystal Palace (Semi-Finals) and Watford (Semi-Finals)

Watford’s immediate relegation meant that both team again qualified for the play-offs in 2008, but this was not a good year for either club as both were eliminated at the semi-final stage.

Final Standings

Five years on, and both teams advance to the final. In the 23 seasons since the inception of a one game play-off final, the top seeded team have won eight. This is usually the third placed team, but a couple of seasons have seen the teams qualifying from 4th to 7th and 2nd to 5th due to league restructuring.

It’s Not Fair

Much is often made of the supposed unfairness of the play-offs, specifically that the higher placed teams do not have much of an advantage. In the semi-final stage, the advantage is that they play at home in the second leg. The away goals rule no longer counts, and penalties are used to decide the team to advance if necessary. With the final a one-off game being held on a neutral ground, the higher placed team has no advantage after the semi-finals whatsoever. It may not be fair, but it certainly makes for a dramatic end to the season.

Serie B’s Play-Off Formula

A look at Italy’s Serie B provides some idea of how some of these concerns could be addressed. Serie B rules state that if the third placed team finishes 10 or more points ahead of the fourth placed team, no play-offs are held. The third placed team is promoted automatically.

Were this rule in place in England, the only season when a play-off would not have been held would have been last year, with eventual play-off winners West Ham United ending the season ten points clear of Birmingham City.

Serie B also has the higher finishing team advance in the event that aggregate scores are even after two legs. No penalties, and in the semi-final round, no extra-time. The argument against these rules is of course that the higher placed team knows beforehand that they don’t need to play to win.


Historically, the second seeded spot has not been kind , with only four teams winning from this position, and none since 1998. Third ranked teams have won promotion six times, and the supposed weakest team has achieved five final wins.

The 2013 final sees the top and third seeded teams play-off, something that has happened seven times previously, including the past two seasons. The top ranked team (this year Watford) has prevailed four times, again including the past two seasons.

Top Seed Improvement

Between 1992 and 2005, only two of the fourteen top placed teams won the final, but in the seven years since then, their record is much improved winning five times.

3rd Placed TeamYearWinnersRunner UpScore
Watford 2006 Watford Leeds Utd 3-0
Derby 2007 Derby West Brom 1-0
Hull 2008 Hull Bristol City 1-0
Sheffield Utd 2009 Burnley Sheffield Utd 1-0
Nottingham Forest 2010 Blackpool Cardiff City 3-2
Swansea 2011 Swansea Reading 4-2
West Ham 2012 West Ham Blackpool 2-1

Advantage Watford based on recent history, but Crystal Palace can take heart from Burnley’s recent (2009) win as a third seeded team over top seed Sheffield United. They might also take comfort from the fact that their two single game play-off final wins were both after finishing sixth, and their single loss was after finishing third.


The two clubs have a long history dating back to 1921. A total of 109 matches have been played at the second, third and fourth levels of English football, as well as in both domestic Cup competitions.

Crystal Palace edge the league results by 42 wins to Watford’s 35 with 21 draws, while Watford have the better cup record by 4 wins to 2 with 3 draws, and then there is the previously mentioned 2006 play-off meeting which saw Watford advance.

While the results from Division Three (South) are of academic interest rather than relevant to the upcoming final, the results of the two league games between the two teams this season are worth looking at.

Selhurst Park 18th August - Crystal Palace 2 Watford 3

The first fixture was on opening day at Selhurst Park, 18th August, when two late goals saw Gianfranco Zola’s reign as Watford manager get off to a winning start.

Owen Garvan opened the scoring with a 13th minute penalty, before Watford’s Martin Taylor (now at Sheffield Wednesday) equalised in the 22nd minute. Owen Garvan scored again in the 29th minute to give Palace a 2-1 lead which they held until the 88th minute when Almen Abdi (on loan from Udinese) tied things up. In the fourth of five added minutes, Matej Vydra (also on loan from Udinese) scored the winner for visitors Watford.

Palace went on to lose their next two games but then went on an unbeaten run that took them from 24th to top spot in just a few weeks, despite the loss of popular Manager Dougie Freedman who took an offer he couldn’t refuse, and that Palace couldn’t match, to take over at Bolton Wanderers.

Vicarage Road 8th February - Watford 2 Crystal Palace 2

The return fixture at Vicarage Road was played on a Friday night, 8th February. This time, it was Crystal Palace who rallied, coming from two goals down to snatch a valuable point in a 2-2 draw. Watford led 2-0 at half-time with early goals from (again) Almen Abdi in the 6th minute and Nathaniel Chalobah in the 14th, but the second half belonged to Palace.

Peter Ramage scored in the 66th minute to reduce the deficit, and substitute Kevin Phillips, on loan from Blackpool and playing against his first club, scored his first Palace goal four minutes later to complete the comeback.

Goals Galore

Nine goals in the two games reflect the fact that these teams were the two highest scoring teams in the division. Watford scored 85 with Palace knocking in 73. Compare this to promoted Cardiff City who scored 72 and Hull City who scored just 61, which was only 14th most in the division.

Watford conceded 58 goals and Palace 62, with Cardiff City and Hull City conceding 45 and 52 respectively, perhaps reinforcing the conventional wisdom that titles are won from the back.

Players of the Year / Month

Watford’s Matej Vydra won the Championship Player of the Season award in his first season in English football with Crystal Palace’s Glenn Murray runner-up. Both also won a Player of the Month award during the season, but had very different play-off semi-final experiences.

Murray tore his cruciate ligament in the play-off semi-final first leg versus his former club Brighton and Hove Albion and is likely to be out for six months after undergoing surgery last week. Having scored 31 goals this season, it’s an understatement to say that he will be missed.

By way of contrast, after failing to score in 13 games, Czech international Vydra returned to form scoring twice in the semi-final 3–2 aggregate win against Leicester City and has scored 22 goals this season.

Hat-Tricks And Support

Palace scored three hat-tricks during the season, Murray twice (versus Cardiff City and Ipswich Town) and Kevin Phillips versus Hull City. After Murray, Palace’s next leading scorers this season are strikers Wilfried Zaha with 8 and veteran Kevin Phillips (likely a substitute) with 6. Kagisho Dikgacoi and Andre Moritz both scored 5 each from midfield.

For Watford, Vydra has been well supported by Troy Deeney with 20 goals, Almen Abdi with 12 and Fernando Forestieri with 8.

The Odds

The charts below display the implied probability based on average bookmaker odds for each of the key betting markets for the Championship Playoff Final. Click on the charts to visit the Championship Playoff bettingexpert Clash page for more betting data.



All indications are for an open game at Wembley, with Watford having the edge, and not surprisingly the bookmakers all have Watford as favourites. The last three play-off finals have all gone over 2.5 goals, and I expect this one to go the same way. The market is still soft on the exchanges, but 2.05 is available with Bet Victor.

To win the final in 90 minutes, the best offer for Watford is currently 2.40 with Stan James, while Palace are available at 3.40 on Betfred. The best draw price is also 3.40 and also on Betfred.

To lift the trophy, the best prices are on Betfair with Watford at 1.73 (57.5%) and Palace are 2.34 (42.5%). It is hard for me to be impartial here, as Crystal Palace is my local team, the club I have supported since I first saw them play Birmingham City in 1967, and I will be among the 33,000 Crystal Palace fans at Wembley.

The Value

My head says that Watford is the likelier team to win - it is easy to see where Watford’s goals will come from, not so easy to see where Palace’s will come from. Palace does have the edge in terms of managerial experience in this game, with Ian Holloway having managed in two of the previous three finals, and experience counts for a lot.

The price is very close to what you would expect based on historical statistics - the higher finishing team has won 13 of the 23 previous finals, 56.5%, and when a 3rd placed team plays a 5th place team, the higher team has won 4 of 7 - 57%. I don’t see any value here.

For me the value is in the Overs markets. Again, 13 previous finals have gone over 2.5 goals, and the 2.05 or thereabouts looks value based only on the historical statistics. Factor in the number of goals the teams have scored this season, and their head-to-head matches producing nine goals, and I think the Overs price should be much shorter.

Emotional High

My heart tells me that Wilfried Zaha will leave Palace on a high note and face the club he has been with since the age of 9 next season in the Premier League, albeit wearing his Manchester United colours. The emotional high of beating rivals Brighton in the semi-final at the Amex will take some beating, but stranger things have happened than a win for Palace courtesy of a late Zaha goal or assist.

Perhaps Watford used up their luck with their incredible finish in the second leg of the Leicester City semi-final?



You can follow Cassini on Twitter @calciocassini

And visit Cassini's blog : GreenAllOver.blogspot

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