CRYSTAL Palace defender Joel Ward has played down his own superb Wembley performance to praise the team spirit in the Eagles’ dressing room.

The 23-year-old right-back made numerous last-ditch challenges to prevent Watford taking the game to penalties after Kevin Phillips’ spot-kick had given the Eagles an extra-time advantage, notably by heading Fernando Forestieri’s late shot off the line.

But Ward knows it was a real team effort to keep the clean sheet intact and secure a place in the Premier League.

“Words cannot describe how it feels,” he said.

“Everyone put in a massive shift and I think we fully deserved it.

“It is a team game and everyone has played their part this season.

“I am thankful that I was in the right place at the right time on a few occasions today to help the team see it through to the finish line.

“Of course we are all looking forward to going to the likes of Old Trafford, Anfield and the Emirates, we will relish every moment of it.”

Croydon Guardian: Joel Ward celebrates after the final whistle. PICTURES BY KEITH GILLARD.

Ward saw his summer move to south London from Portsmouth tarnished when he picked up an injury just before Christmas.

But the energetic defender worked his way back into the fold towards the end of the campaign and is now one of the first names on Ian Holloway’s team sheet.

“Obviously I got injured early in the season and spent some time out,” said Ward.

“Thankfully I have come back stronger.

“Coming back into a team like this is easy, though.

“The lads are fantastic, so they made it easy to come back in and focus on my own performances as they will always do their jobs.

“We have a tight knit group here which makes this moment even better.”

Ward has seen some tough times in his relatively short career, as hometown club Pompey continued to sink down the Football League.

But now he wants to relish every moment of winning at Wembley in the biggest game in club football.

“This is undoubtedly the highlight of my career for sure,” he said.

“I will never forget this day, I am just thankful I could do it with this group of lads.

“To have my family in the crowd and to see how much it means to the fans is great.

“It felt like I could play another 90 minutes when I was dancing around the pitch with the lads.”

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