The Big FYP Interview: Vince Hilaire on Brighton, Zaha & Palace's playoff chances

Written by Jim Daly

In the build-up to the big one against Brighton on Friday, FYP caught up with for Eagles legend Vince Hilaire, scorer of two against the Seagulls in a 3-1 win in the late 70s. He talks Zaha, Bolasie and playoff predictions...


He helped Palace demolish Brighton in the 70s and dazzled fans on the wing, and now Vince Hilaire is backing the Eagles to beat their rivals in the playoffs.

Ian Holloway's men face the Seagulls on Friday night in the semi-final first leg at Selhurst and despite going down 3-0 at the Amex two months ago, Vince is convinced Palace should be confident.

"Palace losing to Brighton 3-0 in March to me is no big deal because those things happen," he told FYP. "The playoffs, particularly in the Championship, are absolutely weird. Anything can happen.

"It wouldn't surprise me if the second leg goes to extra time or penalties because I think they are very evenly matched. When Brighton won 3-0 in March they were hitting form and Palace were at the bottom of their slump. It was bad timing.

"Also I think Palace just shade it when it comes to match winners. Brighton are probably a lot more steady which is unusual with someone like Poyet in charge but I'd rather have those players like Bolasie, Murray and Zaha that can make a difference in an evenly matched game than having average ones. 

"It's all about keeping it tight at the back and I hope Holloway starts with Bolasie because I am a fan of his. Brighton will be favourites so there isn't going to be the over confidence there might have been before.

"Palace showed great character in the Peterborough game after a dip in form, which will help. Hopefully it looks like they've got themselves back together again, every team has a run of bad form, they've had that and can kick on again now.

"If they hadn't won it would have been going into the game on the back of another draw so it's good to get confidence going."

And Vince puts Palace's downturn in form in part down to Wilfried Zaha's transfer to Manchester United in January.

He added: "As far as I'm concerned the downward turn was really after the Wilfried Zaha deal [to Manchester United]. I love Crystal Palace, and I'm sure he does too, but with the best will in the world, if you have a move to United looming on the horizon, I don't care who you are, you cannot be 100% focused on the club that you're basically on loan to.

"Especially when you are young, you can't help but think about what the future holds. You can't do it, you wouldn't be human!

"He was always going to go, and I think Palace should have had contingency plans for another couple of players in the pipeline. Take nothing away from Wilf, I think he will be great at Manchester United but I would have had a contingency plan and get someone who may not have been as good but would have been 100% focused and trying to impress the Palace fans.

"It looks like Wilf has got his mind back on it again though, maybe because it's the playoffs and it will hopefully be three big games and I think you will see the best of why United have bought Zaha. 

"With gifted players you have to take the rough with the smooth and hope they have more good days than bad days. What brought Zaha to the attention of the bigger clubs was that he was doing it week in week out, which is unusual for a wide player as skilful as he is."

But it's another Palace winger that Hilaire is backing to be a game changer in the two playoff semi-finals, despite an inconsistent run of late.

"Bolasie had a great start to the season but has proved my point about wide players, you've just got to hope you have more good days than bad days," said Vince. "With wide players you could be the best in the world - you could have Gareth Bale playing for Palace - but if your team hasn't got the ball you aren't going to notice him. 

"What I noticed when I was playing was if your team was playing badly and you'd get the ball nine times out of 10 moves and lose it three or four times, the fans would still be behind you because the other four or fives times you'd do something amazing. It would be a case of you've not been in the game for 10 minutes so as soon as you get the ball you've got to do something amazing.

"Therefore your heart rules your mind and you might take on one player too many you might try a shot from an outrageous angle because the team is not playing well and you think you've got to step up to the plate.

"But players are the best judges of players, you don't get three in the PFA Team of the Year if they can't play and football will always be a team game, no matter how good you are as an individual, and if a few of you are off the boil the team suffers. And I think Bolasie has suffered as a result of the team's poor form."

Back in the late 70s it was Hilaire who ran Brighton rugged, scoring twice at Selhurst in a 3-1 win, just as the rivalry was hotting up, and he believes it will add spice to what is already going to be two close games.

He said: "The rivalry certainly had an effect on the players when I was playing. When I was at clubs in the north people couldn't get their heads around the rivalry because geographically it doesn't look like one. 

"I was around really when it first reared its head, and it was entirely down to two ex-managers; Terry Venables and Alan Mullery. I listened to an interview with Mullery the other week and he said it was down to Venables and Macon Allison - he failed to mention himself! He was as much the instigator!

"We're talking about the game like fans and it's the team with the most players that understand that will win. I'm looking round at Palace and there's Speroni who's played in a few but otherwise how many are there who know what it means? I look at Brighton's team and they've got even less!

"Brighton will be favourites but I just got a sneaking feeling Zaha will prove why Manchester United signed him. And Murray, its sods law he will get back to scoring ways against his old team. 

"I like him, he leads the play well. He isn't someone who will beat five players but he will score goals. He relies on good service, and that's why you need those players who supply that service, Zaha and Bolasie, on form. And the great thing about Ian Holloway, he has been there and done it when it comes to the playoffs. 

"The one thing I love about about the playoffs even if you don't win at home in the first leg, you've always got a chance, so I wouldn't despair. Anything can happen and Palace are good on the break and will definitely score in both legs. Holloway has been there and done it, Poyet is a good manager but hasn't been in this position before."