Crystal Palace 1 Bristol City 2
David Noble’s last-gasp 30 yard goal enabled Bristol City to stun Crystal Palace in a thrilling Coca-Cola Championship play-off semi-final first leg.
The former West Ham trainee struck in stoppage-time, shortly after Ben Watson’s penalty had cancelled out Louis Carey’s opener.
Carey, the Bristol-born defender and City captain, had picked the perfect time to score his first goal of the season, a stunning curling effort which gave Julian Speroni no chance.
Carey then blotted his copybook by conceding the 86th-minute penalty which allowed Watson to drag Palace level from the spot.
But Noble’s stunner gives City the advantage in what is set to be a blockbusting second leg on Tuesday.
Play-off specialist Neil Warnock will have to reach Wembley the hard way if he is to put his 100% record at the national stadium on the line with Palace.
The Eagles were the form horses going into the play-offs and the only team not to have been in with a shout of automatic promotion.
But City, who only came up from League One last season, have dusted themselves down from the disappointment of blowing the lead in the final straight and could yet complete remarkable back-to-back promotions.
Their goals had boss Gary Johnson punching the air and would not have looked out of place in the Barclays Premier League.
The former Latvian national manager is now just a clean sheet from Wembley and a shot at reaching the top flight.
He even had time for a colourful exchange of words with Shaun Derry on the Palace bench as tempers frayed in the high-stakes encounter.
Warnock is looking to add a seventh promotion to his CV and had whipped a packed Selhurst Park to fever pitch, but it was City who made the brighter start.
Lee Trundle forced a couple of early corners and Jamie McCombe was unable to get his header on target from Michael McIndoe’s free-kick.
Palace were millimetres from a being awarded a penalty after 11 minutes when Scott Sinclair was felled by Nick Carle a fraction outside the area.
McIndoe was claiming a spot-kick at the other end after being thwarted by Fonte, but the Portuguese centre-half had timed his tackle to perfection.
City got a sight of goal eight minutes before the break when Dele Adebola outwitted Jose Fonte on the byline and crossed towards Carle, whose shot was bravely blocked by Clint Hill.
Moments later Adebola was acrobatically denied by Speroni as he planted a firm downward header towards goal from Bradley Orr’s cross.
After the break Ben Watson fizzed a low shot narrowly wide, but it was City who finally made the breakthrough in the 54th minute.
A well-worked free-kick routine saw Noble find Carle, who squared for Carey to find the top corner of Speroni’s net with a superb first-time curling shot.
Warnock introduced James Scowcroft but the forward lasted just five minutes before being carried off on a stretcher with the hamstring injury which sidelined him for a month – and will surely rule him out of the return leg.
Watson put another header wide as Palace pushed for an equaliser, and they were rewarded four minutes from time when Carey, who had initially stumbled himself, dragged down makeshift forward Fonte.
Watson stepped up to coolly convert his penalty past Adriano Basso to level the scores.
But City were not finished and Noble collected a loose ball in midfield, took one step forward and unleashed a rocket of a shot which flew into the top corner to give the visitors what could prove a priceless lead.