Monday, Wembley, 3pm (live on Sky Sports 1)
FAVOURITES Watford could be upset in the Championship play-off final against a resilient Crystal Palace side who have returned to form at the perfect time of the season.
Two wins in three after a spell of nine games without victory take Ian Holloway's Palace into the showpiece final at Wembley brimming with confidence.
Star man Wilfried Zaha struck a decisive double blow against bitter rivals Brighton at the Amex in the semi-final second leg to secure the Eagles a shot at the Premier League which at odds of 3.10 they are good value to take.
Despite just two goals in 25 appearances before scoring twice against the Seagulls, Manchester United-bound Zaha showed his taste for the big occasion on the south coast, and he could replicate that performance and take Palace into the top flight with a similar showing in his last game for the club before switching to Old Trafford.
Monday's clash represents the fifth time Palace will contest a Championship play-off final and the South London club have a good record winning in 1989, 1997 and 2004 with just one defeat in 1996.
You can add to that Ian Holloway's play-off success with Blackpool in 2010, although he did lose last year's final against West Ham. But his and the club's experience at this crucial stage of the season could be vital, with Palace having also played in more Championship play-off finals than any other side in the country.
Watford will head to north-west London for their third play-off final in the second division, having experienced an 100 per cent win record after promotions in 1999 and 2006.
Coincidentally, that triumph was seven years apart and the Hornets have the chance to repeat history another seven years on. Adding to their cause is the fact five of the last seven Championship play-off finals have been won by the side that finished the regular league season in third, which Watford did, in doing so producing a campaign two places and five points better off than Palace.
Gianfranco Zola's side enjoyed a thunderous moment of retribution against Leicester in the semi-final second leg – when Watford recovered from a final-day full of mishaps and back luck to concede a penalty minutes from time only to see keeper Manuel Almunia save and instigate an attack which was finished off at the other end by returning striker Troy Deeney just 20 seconds later.
Deeney is a worthy option to score at Wembley too, having struck form with six goals in his last nine games for the club. The former Aston Villa forward – who was in prison at the beginning of the season – will end it with at least 20 goals for the campaign.
His strike partner Matej Vydra notched two more with a haul of 22, and his double during the 3-1 win over the Foxes to take them through to the final was impressive.
Although, like Brentford in the League One play-off final, destiny does not always follow the suggested script on the day, with the Bees suffering Wembley heartache after a turbulent few weeks not dissimilar to that of Watford. At a price of just 2.2, the Hornets don't offer tempting odds despite their perceived advantages over their opponents.
One thing that can be expected however is goals, considering the last 10 competitive meetings between Palace and Watford have produced 38, and average of 3.8 per match.
Both encounters between these two sides this season offered four strikes or more, with the Selhurst Park clash ending 3-2 to away team Watford and the corresponding fixture at Vicarage Road a 2-2 draw with a second half rally from the visitors.
A huge blow to Holloway's team selection is the knee injury of Championship top scorer Glenn Murray (30) but in Zaha the play-off specialists will arguably possess the best player on the pitch at Wembley.
Watford's tendency to suffer red cards – they have been given a league-high six cards in the division this season – is a cause for concern to Hornets fans while Palace have been awarded more penalties in the league (15) than any other team.
Including play-off matches Watford have averaged 1.83 goals per game this season and sit top of the league table for goals scored. But the Eagles aren't far behind with the third highest average, registering 1.56 times a match.
Those looking for a solid if unspectacular bet should consider both teams to score at a healthy 1.80 but given Palace's play-off pedigree and influential figures, Holloway on the sidelines and Zaha up front, they could shock the odds and triumph in 90 minutes.
Back Crystal Palace at 3.10
Back Both Teams to Score at 1.80