Monday, May 20, 2013

The Championship Play-Off Final - Big Willie Style!

There are only seven days until Crystal Palace Football Club take on Watford at Wembley in what is comfortably recognised as the the richest domestic football match in the world.

The npower Championship Play-off Final 2013 is a game reportedly worth somewhere in the region of £120m to the winners, and can literally change a club's standing in terms of structure and development overnight, but who will be the hero on the day?

Ultimately the whole playing squad, the management, the owners and the fans will all be winners should Palace reach the promise land, but often in Wembley finals, the hero on the pitch is someone rather unlikely!
Think Booby Stokes of Southampton, Alan Taylor of West Ham, Lee Martin of Manchester United, Wade Elliott of Burnley or Brett Ormerod of Blackpool.
Not necessarily players who set your pulses racing, but all of them have made significant and winning contributions in past Wembley finals.

Now Crystal Palace are a club that boasts a squad of young flair players, just think Zaha, Williams and Bolasie alongside some very experienced ones in Speroni, Phillips, Delaney, Jedinak, Gabbidon and Ramage.

However I think the key to success at Wembley lies with a player who has only stated five league games this season, having had to play second fiddle to the Championship's leading goalscorer Glenn Murray. However since a recent season ending knee injury to Murray, this player has been thrust into the role of  centre-forward, target man or lone striker (or whatever the correct modern day terminology is when you play with one out-and-out an out front man).

Step forward Aaron Thomas Wilbraham. The 33 year-old, 6ft 3" Cheshire born striker joined Palace from Norwich on a two year deal on 4th July 2012, after rejecting offers from several other clubs including Brighton and Bristol City.

The name Aaron is thought to descend from either ancient Egyptian origin meaning "Warrior Lion" or derived from various Hebrew roots meaning "Mountain of Strength."
Zaha & Wilbraham celebrate as Palace reach Wembley

In recent weeks Wilbraham has been given more game time and his performances have been reflected in that fact. He has taken on an almost no win role in trying to fill the boots of Palace hero Murray, but from what I have seen of his performances I have been impressed! He may not have grabbed the headlines but he was instrumental in our play-off semi final victory over Brighton and Hove Albion, a club now seemingly in freefall and reeling in the aftermath of that defeat!

He is by no means a goal scoring machine but he brings valuable experience to the team, and is particularly good at bringing other players into the game. He is a strong and mobile player and I think he holds the ball up adeptly, takes up good positions in and round the 18 yard box and has a decent touch in terms of ball control. In addition his work rate is good and as a result he is able to put pressure on opposition defences.

Wilbraham started his career in 1997 at Stockport County, where he made 118 league starts. He then had a spell at Hull City before joining MK Dons where he had a solid six years helping 'The Dons' to win the 2007–08 Football League Two title and in the following season under Roberto Di Matteo he was the clubs Players' Player of the Year, Player of the Year and was also was the clubs leading goalscorer.
On 1st January 2011 Norwich City under Paul Lambert signed the big man and he gained valuable Premier League experience in his 18 month spell with 'The Canaries.'

The season Norwich clinched promotion to the Premier League meant Wilbraham had won promotion from all three Lower Leagues: (League 2 to League 1 with MK Dons in 2007/08, League One to The Championship with Hull in 2004/05 and The Championship to the Premier League with Norwich in 2010/11)
Wilbraham became a member of an elite group of players who have scored at all 4 levels of English league football, namely for Norwich in The Championship and Premier League, the MK Dons and Stockport in League Two and the MK Dons in League One.

Now Aaron our "Warrior Lion and "Mountain of Strength" has the opportunity to step up and become a Crystal Palace hero with a match winning performance against 'Udinese Reserves' at Wembley in the Championship Play-Off Final in a week's time.

Can Palace do it on the 27th May 2013? Of course they can........and in style, with the help of Big Willie!

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