Veteran striker Kevin Phillips was the toast of his teammates on Monday evening - but will he return to the Premier League next year? (Image | Sportinglife.com)

Veteran striker Kevin Phillips was the toast of his teammates on Monday evening – but will he return to the Premier League next year? (Image | Sportinglife.com)

Kevin Phillips’ 105th-minute penalty on Monday afternoon secured Crystal Palace a win and the biggest prize in football – an estimated £120m windfall to go with their return to the Premier League after an eight-year absence.

In what could have been his final game for the club, Phillips, whose career began at defeated finalists Watford, stayed calm to blast the decisive spot-kick beyond Manuel Almunia.

Nearing the age of 40, there is no guarantee that Phillips, who was on loan at Palace after following manager Ian Holloway from Blackpool, presents a viable option on the London club’s summer shopping list. It would be only practical for Holloway to look at younger, more long-term options (i.e. almost any other player) with the greater physical ability so demanded of those playing in English football’s top tier.

For Holloway, who told BBC Sport after his second Playoffs triumph in three years that the club are “on a hiding to nothing” in the Premier League next year, the triumph brings a second bite of the cherry at the highest level. After his Blackpool side wowed the crowds in the 2010-11 season, including one famous 3-2 victory over Manchester United during a particularly good run in the autumn, the inevitable happened when the Tangerines’ open, attacking style saw them ship too many goals and succumb to relegation.

Can Palace achieve any more? A look at the squad suggests that changes will be necessary if they are to beat the drop. How much of that £120m (half of which is comprised of the parachute payments received over four years by any club relegated from the Premier League) will be assigned to transfer spending? Or, as the manager himself has suggested, might the club’s owners choose to spend the money either on a redevelopment of Selhurst Park or a completely new stadium?

With leading striker Glenn Murray not set to return from injury until after Christmas, and rising star Wilfried Zaha, who terrified the Watford back line at Wembley, off to Manchester United in the summer, Holloway will certainly have his eyes set on the transfer window as the defining period of his campaign. He could do worse than to take a peek at the teams he will replace in the Premier League – could the likes of Loic Remy, Adel Taarabt, Hal Robson-Kanu, Shaun Maloney or James McArthur be tempted to join him?

It is perhaps somewhat satisfying that Watford’s season, featuring no fewer than fourteen loanees and a heavy reliance on those supplied by other clubs under the ownership of the Pozzo family, has ended in frustration. Consider that the Hornets’ loan habits this season have almost single-handedly brought about a rule change by the Football League – can you really justify gaining promotion with someone else’s squad?

The problem is not that Watford have used loanees – that is a vital part of the English football system. The problem is the nature of those loanees. Pozzo’s other clubs have provided Watford with the likes of:

Daniel Pudil is one of many veteran internationals who have found their way to Vicarage Road on loan this season (Image | Holly Cant/Watford Observer)

Daniel Pudil is one of many veteran internationals who have found their way to Vicarage Road on loan this season (Image | Holly Cant/Watford Observer)

  • Daniel Pudil, 27, defender with 23 caps for the Czech Republic
  • Marco Cassetti, 36, five-time Italy international centre-back with three Serie A titles since 2006 to his name as a near ever-present for Roma
  • Alex Geijo, 30, Swiss midfielder with thirteen years’ professional playing experience
  • Almen Abdi, 26, Swiss midfielder with eight caps who has been a mainstay in Udinese’s first team squad for two years before suddenly being loaned to Watford
  • Matej Vydra, younger at 21 but already a seven-time Czech international
  • Joel Ekstrand, 24, Sweden defender who just last season was starting against Arsenal in the Champions’ League

This abuse of the loan system angered the Football League so much that they introduced a rule in February stating that only five loanees can be named on a team sheet from next season. Seven started for Watford on Monday, with two more coming off the bench.

Ironic it may be, then, that a loanee sealed their demise on Monday, and that the man of the match (Zaha) is technically also on loan from his new owners up north. Ultimately, though, this is a team that will take plenty of sculpting next season if survival is to be targeted, let alone achieved – and in the Premier League, loaning often isn’t enough.

Julian Speroni, the Argentine who has been with the club since 2004, was replaced in goal by eccentric Hungarian Gabor Kiraly during Palace’s last stint in the Premier League. There are those with top-level experience – Stephen Dobbie (Swansea), Kagisho Dikgacoi (Fulham), Peter Ramage (Newcastle Utd), Aaron Wilbraham (Norwich) – but only Danny Gabbidon has played regularly in the Premier League. The defence is at least experienced, but there is a shortage of creativity in midfield and a shortage of goals (even players) up front, especially bearing Murray’s injury in mind.

In recent years, however, Swansea and Norwich have proven that the right type of squad coming up from the Championship can be competitive with minimal transfer activity, given the right management. Holloway has undoubtedly learnt the lessons of his first experience in the Premier League, and he returns as a more shrewd and circumspect operator with his reputation enhanced by this promotion success.

Reasons to be nervous? Yes, plenty. But reasons for optimism, with that cash injection and Holloway’s infectious energy and passion? Definitely. Like Blackpool before them, Crystal Palace are in for an incredible ride.

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