| 26 May 1997|
| Neale Barry|
| Wembley Stadium, London|
The 1997 Football League First Division play-off Final was a football match played at Wembley Stadium, London on 26 May 1997 at the end of the 1996–97 season. The match determined the third and final team to gain promotion from First Division to the Premiership, and was contested by Crystal Palace, who finished sixth during the league season, and Sheffield United, who finished fifth. The teams reached the final by defeating Wolverhampton Wanderers and Ipswich Town respectively in the two-legged semi-finals.
1997 Football League First Division play-off Final Wikipedia
Crystal Palace were anxious in the first few minutes, but slowly took superior ground. Palace's powerful striker Bruce Dyer hit a shot which forced United keeper Simon Tracey to grab hold of the ball low by the far post after 15 minutes. A Blades’ defence including David Holdsworth (twin brother of Premiership footballer Dean of Wimbledon) held firm for the opening period, although they were fortunate to see penalty appeals turned down for a tackle on David Tuttle and Palace striker Neil Shipperley head over the crossbar when left unmarked. The Yorkshiremen were forced to change their tactics and their system when Don Hutchison (who had earlier taken a fierce Andy Roberts volley to the face in an attempt to clear) picked up an injury shortly before half-time with a suspected broken collarbone.
The Blades, having won only two first-half corners, returned after the interval with renewed vigour and registered 10 set-pieces within 20 minutes. It was from there that they were most dangerous, with Jan Åge Fjørtoft winning the flick-ons. Palace captain David Hopkin was never far from the action, and he combined well with Kevin Muscat, Simon Rodger and Roberts as the match wore on. In attack, Dyer was sharp down the wings (on one occasion shooting over a cross that flashed across the United goal with no-one close enough to profit) and was unlucky to see an overhead kick fly past the wrong side of United's left upright. Sheffield United's best effort of the second period was a left-footed volley from Fjørtoft that flew past Carlo Nash's left post.
With barely half a minute of regulation time left to play and extra-time looming, Palace forced a corner. Having exchanged passes with Roberts, Rodger's cross was headed clear by Carl Tiler only as far as the edge of the penalty area where Hopkin was positioned. The Scotsman, who had been a standout performer for the south London club throughout the season, composed himself with the loose ball and curled a right-footed shot into the top right-hand corner past the stranded Tracey in the Sheffield United goal. In beating Tracey (who had ironically nearly moved to Crystal Palace in the close season to replace England international goalkeeper Nigel Martyn), Hopkin decided the contest with what was virtually the last kick of the final, defeating the Yorkshire club in the same manner as Leicester City did against the victors at the end of extra-time in the previous year's final.