I had five games to save my job. I felt this was most unjust, given the season so far, but so be it. To begin Crystal Palace would travel to Rotherham, who were hovering above the relegation zone. The press was sniffing around at the prospect of an ultimatum, something I naturally poured scorn over. Palace rallied to beat Rotherham 4-1, and then it was on to a grudge match.
Sheffield United had ruined me 7-0 at Bramall Lane earlier in the season. It was a seriously poor mark upon what was otherwise a great season. I wanted a bit of revenge.
Recall the weird glitchy thing that granted other teams goals for no reason at the end of matches? This time, with my Palace side trailing 2-1 going into injury time, it granted my club two late goals to give me an undeserved 3-2 win, but I didn’t care! Though privately I would acknowledge that we didn’t deserve to win, publicly I was making it clear we had earned the three points, to the annoyance of Sheffield United manager Chris Wilder. He called me bitter but I had the points, so ner.
Next we travelled to Brentford, who we’d beaten 5-1 at Selhurst Park earlier in the season, but they were doing reasonably well in 9th place, and we were the visitors. Anything might happen. In the end a 1-0 thanks to Brewster (who scored his 50th goal for Palace) gave us the vital points, though at one stage we were somewhat desperately holding on.
I now needed only one point from my next two games to guarantee the board wouldn’t sack me. The first opportunity came against Swansea, who Palace had beaten 6-2 away from home in our previous meeting. Brewster scored twice in a 2-0 victory that could have and should have seen us score a lot more goals, given the quantity of chances created, but a win is a win, and it saw my achieve my target of 10 points from 5 games, with a game to spare.
Next Palace took the trip to Preston, and for this fixture I decided to make use of the attacking 3-5-1-2 formation, given Preston’s status as the bottom club. Despite creating a host of chances we only won 2-1, and that was only due to a late winner from Sibley, who had returned from injury as a sub in the previous game.
The win meant that we’d secured a playoff place with eleven games to spare. That had to be some kind of record…
Palace were also 18 points clear of 2nd-placed Notts Forrest and 21 points clear of Sheffield United in the playoffs. With the five-game ‘evaluation’ period over, chairman Zoran Tosic noted that I’d exceeded the target quite comfortably. I felt quite… smug.
Following a sixth straight win, a 2-0 home win over Stoke, I won Manager of the Month for February. With ten games of the season remaining, Palace enjoyed an 18-point lead over Notts Forrest in second place and a 23-point edge on Sheffield United in the playoffs. With 30 points at a maximum available for any side, we’d nearly crossed the line and achieved a fantastic promotion to the top of the tree… but nothing was over until it was over. Three wins would secure automatic promotion. It was time to focus.
Things did not get off to the start I’d wanted. A poor performance saw us lose 2-1 away to Millwall. The team responded in the right way with a good 3-0 home win over Oxford, and in the process achieved a new record for the number of league wins in a season, and a new points record as well.
Forest Green made our trip to see them a pleasant experience, capitulating via having two players sent off as we won 3-0. This result was enough to push us over the line – Crystal Palace were on their way to the Premier League! Needless to say, this was absolutely fantastic! To have achieved this with seven games to spare was quite something. Unfortunately we ‘celebrated’ by losing 2-1 at home to Cardiff, despite taking the lead.
Still, this would raise the reputation of both club and manager considerably – though winning the Championship as well as gaining automatic promotion to the Premier League… that would be even better. In preparing for this, I wanted to get my next coaching licence, but astonishingly, Palace said no – they feared I would be lured away by a bigger club if I bettered myself. I wasn’t too sure what to make of that.
There was still the matter of the remaining matches. Away to Middlesbrough was the first opportunity to clinch the title, but we lost 3-1, despite enjoying a lot more of the ball. This also marked a second defeat in a row since securing a Premier League place. I wasn’t pleased with how the side had lost their focus. The next chance to win the league came with the visit of Peterborough, who were stuck in the relegation zone, with little hope of avoiding the drop. Surely, surely, this would be the moment?
Despite falling behind midway in the first-half, a brilliant performance saw Brewster and Doan score two goals each, along with loan signing Shoretire scoring a powerful effort from the edge of the area. The 5-1 victory meant Crystal Palace were not only going up, but going up as champions!
There were still four games of the 24/25 season remaining. The first of these was a tricky tie away to Notts Forrest, who were second and six points clear of Sheffield United. Forrest also stood to be automatically promoted, and weren’t too far away, so they would be motivated to beat us. Indeed, Forrest took the lead but we rallied, winning 2-1, asserting our dominance, you might say.
I had hoped that we’d set a new record at home to West Ham, with the chance for Palace to claim the most ever wins in a Championship season. Instead we lost 2-1, despite creating more chances. It was time to work on chance creation and finishing, something a 1-0 defeat at Derby on served to emphasise.
Onwards then, to the final game of the 24/25 season, and the visit of Bristol City. The game finished 2-2 and it felt like we’d not done ourselves justice over the final few games of the season. Still, the Eagles were about to rise to glorious heights. I couldn’t be mad. The season was over, we’d won the Championship emphatically, and next season I would be a Premier League manager.