Soaring Crystal Palace heading to WSL as Eagles defy odds after season of change

Promotion was sealed after a win over Lewes (The FA via Getty Images)
Promotion was sealed after a win over Lewes (The FA via Getty Images)

Crystal Palace Women could be forgiven for partying until 4am on Monday. Their 2-0 win at Lewes on Sunday means promotion to the WSL is now a formality and, barring a mathematical miracle, they will be crowned Championship title winners at Selhurst Park on Sunday.

Palace are three points clear at the top and only defeat by Sunderland, a Charlton win against Southampton and a 23-goal swing on the final day will stop them being champions.

The Eagles are going up after an extraordinary first season as a fully professional outfit.

There was so much change at the club last summer that no one expected promotion. Grace Williams joined Palace as head of women’s football from Bristol City, Charlton assistant manager Laura Kaminski was handed her first head coach role and the team moved from Bromley’s Hayes Lane to Sutton United’s Gander Green Lane.

And yet Palace have defied the odds, recruiting superbly, scoring 55 goals — 16 more than anyone else — and losing just four games all season. As many as 10,000 fans could be at Selhurst Park on Sunday to watch them lift the trophy.

Palace beat Lewes on Sunday (The FA via Getty Images)
Palace beat Lewes on Sunday (The FA via Getty Images)

“We’ve just chipped away each week,” right-back Ria Percival tells Standard Sport. “If you think of the bigger picture, you risk throwing points away.”

Kaminski recently admitted she has not looked at the table all season, because it serves as a distraction. Instead, her side have focused on themselves and won a five-way title race by edging out Charlton, Sunderland, Southampton and Birmingham.

“Getting promoted will be a dream come true for some of those girls,” says Percival, the 34-year-old with 161 New Zealand caps.

Wales striker Elise Hughes, 23, is the Championship top scorer with 16 goals, while Annabel Blanchard, 22, and 17-year-old Lexi Potter, on loan from Chelsea, have also starred. But Percival admits it will be a “battle” to keep key players for next season, which remains a problem in the women’s game.

Most players in the Championship and below sign one-year contracts and enjoy little career stability.

While their key players are set to be snapped up, Palace are likely to follow the lead of recently promoted sides in signing a raft of players with WSL experience.

Palace will look back fondly on October’s 4-0 away win against then-leaders Blackburn and February’s 2-1 win at St Mary’s, when the Eagles would have been eight points off the top if they had lost to Southampton. They have raised their levels at pivotal moments.

Percival believes Palace can finish mid-table in the WSL next season, and Chelsea boss Emma Hayes praised Kaminski’s side after February’s narrow 1-0 FA Cup defeat by the Blues.

That day showed they should be able to compete with the best next season.