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02/03: Reports:

Nationwide Division One, 21/09/02, 3pm
Crystal Palace
Shit happens
By Matt Rowson

Sometimes shit just happens. What separates winners from losers, dignity from disgrace, is how you deal with it. As GT is probably saying to Peter Enckelman as I type.

Two recent Watford games have illustrated this point. Having done well for most of the first half at Norwich, we fell behind to a deflected shot and never really recovered. Similarly at Forest, the home side had at least their share of the first half before falling behind to what they saw as a contentious decision. Their fervour at the start of the second half always felt slightly uncontrolled, and it was hardly an enormous surprise when the side's indiscipline boiled over.

So when an accident befell me on the way through Watford today, there were really two ways to handle it. I was negotiating the roads from the Ring Road to Watford Junction with the window wound down and my elbow resting above it when a falling object struck my arm. Shit had, quite literally, happened... down the side of my T-Shirt, on my arm, and on the car's interior.

So how to react ? Well the calm, dignified way was the one largely adopted by Palace fans in the light of the arrival of Trevor Francis last season, in comparison to which a t-shirt sleeve covered in bird shit is a walk in the park. Disquiet, as you'd expect, which has festered and built up into this season as Francis' famously unlovable tactics and graceless demeanour began to grate. But generally a deal of restraint... buoyed no doubt by the romantic optimism that besets so many football fans when their team wins ("maybe everything will be OK, despite Trev...").

The other option, the embarrassing, petulant tantrum, cf. one S.Jordan, whose status and ego have both taken as much of a battering as his club's finances following the ITV Digital collapse and who is frantically looking for small children to steal pocket money off. Jordan it is, in an excessively statesmanlike manner, one suspects, who has lead the calls for a League "restructuring" to facilitate a greater share of the financial pie for Division 1 clubs (albeit a much smaller pie. Vol-au-vent, maybe). Justification for this seems to be that, erm, well it's only fair, and, erm, who the hell watches York City anyway ? In fairness to Jordan, the Premiership got away with similar logic once, but the confrontational way that he and other Division One chairmen are attempting to steal Third Division paper for their widening cracks is not winning any friends.

Palace's season took a distinct turn for the better at the weekend with a slightly surprising but apparently fully merited win over Wolves at Selhurst. This has lent a more convincing edge to what had become a 4-game unbeaten run going into Tuesday's game with Derby, and in Trevor's opinion was the culmination of a number of good performances. But then he would say that.

In goal for City will be Alex Kolinko, slightly surprisingly still at the club following his altercation with Francis during Palace's match with Bradford ("A bit of fun" said Trev, as Kolinko threatened to levy assault charges). With Matt Clarke injured, youngster Lance Cronin is on the bench although rumours are that an out-of-contract keeper may be brought in as cover.

In the centre of defence, Darren Powell, a summer signing from Brentford, is commanding in the air but looks less comfortable challenging on the deck. He plays alongside Australian Tony Popovic, recently recovered from injury; Kit Symons, out since January, is near to a return but not near enough to feature at the weekend so Dean Austin is probably first-choice cover in defensive positions.

At right-back, Curtis Fleming has held sway since his arrival from Middlesbrough; Jamie Smith, another contender here, is out with a knee cartilage problem. On the left, former Chelsea and Leeds fullback Danny Granville... his main competition, Craig Harrison, is also out long term.

In midfield, Trev's penchant for defensive midfielders leaves Palace with a few options. Steven Thomson featured in the hassling role in the win over Wolves, putting in a decent performance to calm down Palace's own psychologists-in-residence who had been giving him a hard time. Finn Aki Riihilahti will be available again at the weekend following injury but Shaun Derry, a summer signing from Pompey, is out following an operation. Hayden Mullins should certainly feature... occasionally a centreback, Mullins played Paul Ince off the park at the weekend. On the right, former Grimsby man Danny Butterfield and on the left, Palace's latest prodigy Wayne Routledge. The seventeen year old made his first league start against Wolves and scored within 45 seconds... will be interesting to see how he compares to our own left wing diamond.

Other options in the middle include reserve team captain Andrew Frampton, the pacy but flaky Latvian Andrejs Rubins and Tommy Black, whose tendency to get caught in possession has led some to suggest that his pace is less risky a weapon up front. Julian Gray, meanwhile, is out with an ankle problem, perhaps the most significant of Palace's many casualties.

Up front, Dougie Freedman seems to have suffered from Clinton Morrison's departure and had contributed little this season, but managed to net twice at the weekend. Andy Johnson, he of a missed penalty in the 2001 Worthington Cup Final, is very eager but doesn't tend to shoot much. Hmmmm. Meanwhile Dele Adebola's presence once again bears testimony for Trev's dislike of "big strikers"... Ade Akinbiyi, meanwhile is out with ligament problems until November, whilst Steve Kabba is on loan at Grimsby.

So did I respond with dignity or with a tantrum? Well, neither really... more with a general confusion borne of not really knowing what had hit me. Ignorance is bliss they say... although a shit-stained t-shirt can never really be described as blissful, I was pissed off enough eventually. Similarly you feel that it's only a matter of time for Trev at Palace. His managerial limitations and particularly his lack of nerve were proven beyond doubt at Birmingham, whilst at Selhurst he doesn't have the brownie points of a thrilling playing career to trade off. A shitty t-shirt is a shitty t-shirt whichever way you look at it, and whoever's fault it is. Not Trev's naturally.