March 01, 2015

It is sometimes tricky for players and fans alike to muster enthusiasm for the final match of a Premier League campaign if their team isn't battling for a title, the top four or to stave off relegation, but the folks in south London are still likely to be watching their squad with plenty of interest Sunday.

While Crystal Palace's Premier League fate is sealed - they can finish as high as 12th if other results go their way - Alan Pardew's Eagles will use Sunday's league finale against Southampton to sharpen up in preparation for their biggest match of the season.

Palace will try to claim their first FA Cup title in club history next Saturday when the battle Manchester United at Wembley Stadium in a rematch of the 1990 final. Pardew was a midfielder on that team, which drew United 3-3 after the teams traded goals in extra time but lost a replay a week later on a goal by Lee Martin.

Palace (11-9-17) had a strong start to the campaign, but a club-record 14-match unbeaten run, which finally ended April 9 with a 1-0 win over Norwich City, knocked it off the rails. Still, the club can claim a successful season - and a berth in the Europa League - if they can topple United.

They head into Sunday's final clash aiming to finish the season with two consecutive victories and positive momentum following last week's 2-1 result over Stoke City in which Dwight Gayle netted a second-half brace.

With the Cup final looming, Pardew insisted the match with Southampton is still an important one for his squad.

"I've got one eye on the cup final because we've got a chance to make history at this club and I'm very much aware of that, but it's (Southampton) a game that's very important," the manager said. "There's a four-place swing for us - we could get two places higher and two teams below us could catch us, so we need to get a result. It's a big game for us because that four-place swing is a lot of prize money.

"I don't think anybody in the division underestimates Southampton. They have a strong footing with the CEO and the manager who are very experienced and competent people, and we're all envious of the playing staff and the facilities they have. It's a really growing club and when you think of some of the days down at The Dell when things weren't so great they've come a long way."

Joe Ledley will miss Sunday's match and the Cup final for Palace after picking up an injury against Stoke. Wilfried Zaha will also miss Sunday, but Pardew hopes to have him back for the final.

"(Ledley) he's going to miss Sunday's game and the final, and now he's got to battle to be fit for the Euros so that's been a blow to us. Wilf is not going to make Sunday's fixture but whether he makes the cup final we'll have to wait and see, but he's better than he was."

Sunday's fixture carries plenty of significance for Southampton (17-9-11) as Ronald Koeman's men can earn a Europa League spot with a victory, so long as other results go their way. The Saints would benefit from Palace losing the FA Cup final because United would enter the Europa as the trophy winner as opposed to their place in the table.

The Saints have endured patches of inconsistent play, but they've given another good account of themselves under Koeman's guidance and are aiming to finish the campaign with four wins on the trot.

The offence came from an unlikely source last week as Steven Davis netted on either side of halftime to deliver a 2-1 victory over Tottenham, and Koeman admitted this week that next week's Cup final makes preparing for Palace a unique challenge.

"It's difficult," said Koeman, whose name is being linked to the Everton opening following the sacking of Roberto Martinez. "I don't know what to expect, because they play the final of the FA Cup. Maybe they will make some changes in the team, but they are professionals like everybody and they will come to win the game. They will definitely be prepared for the game, but we will have to see what we have in front of us."

Southampton's injury situation is light reading heading into the final clash of the season - only midfielder Jordy Clasie has been ruled out with a groin injury.

Palace beat Southampton 1-0 at Selhurst Park in December as Yohan Cabaye scored the game's only goal on 38 minutes.

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