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03/04: Reports:

Nationwide Division One, 16/08/03, 3pm
Crystal Palace
A week later
By Matt Rowson

Crystal Palace away. At lovely Selhurst Park. A preview loaded with (attempts at) bile and sarcasm, then, almost a BSaD tradition...

Don't think so. Not in the mood somehow. Maybe next week.

Palace started the season extremely positively with a 3-2 win away up at Turf Moor, a victory rendered all the more impressive by the fact that the win was achieved with a one- or two-man deficit for the larger part of the game, and in searing heat. Burnley will not be challenging for promotion this season, their subsequent results may throw a different light on this outcome but either way, three points away from home on the opening day represents a good start.

The combined factors of the first day of the season, Steve Kember using players in unfamiliar positions and the enforced rearrangements of two sendings-off and heat-induced exhaustion makes it impossible to call the formation that Palace used at Turf Moor. Academic, in a sense, since they weren't able to use it for very long, eight minutes in fact. 5-3-2, 5-2-3, 3-4-3 and 4-3-1-2 have all been variously reported in different places.

One fairly safe bet is that Matt Clarke, ex- of Bradford City, was in goal and performed well enough overall despite being blamed for one of the Clarets' two goals. His deputy is Frenchman Cedric Berthelin, Alex Kolinko having finally departed.

At the back, Darren Powell put in a powerful display alongside Australian Tony Popovic, who shook off a groin injury in time to play. Kit Symons was either a makeshift left-back or on the left of a three, depending on your point of view, but was replaced quite early in proceedings. With Hayden Mullins recovering from a hernia op, Palace are not particularly flush at the back, and former Hornet Mark Williams is on trial with a view to a (presumably short-term) permanent deal.

Former Grimsby man Danny Butterfield played on the right... Jamie Smith, his chief competition, was an energetic substitute but Curtis Fleming picked up a knock pre-season and is unlikely to feature on Saturday. On the left, one-time captain Danny Granville is transfer-listed and also recovering from a hernia op; Gary Borrowdale can play on the left in a defensive role but seems relatively lightweight. Wayne Routledge was on the left of midfield or a wing-back, whatever, on Saturday, if only for eight minutes... this was the second sending-off of the winger's brief career following his harsh dismissal at Vicarage Road last season.

In midfield, captain Shaun Derry has had a bit of stick but impressed at Turf Moor before kicking one ankle too many and picking up a second yellow. Highly-rated youngster Ben Watson ran himself into the ground but an impressive cameo from Aki Riihilahti, whose Palace career appeared to have ended under Francis, could win the Finn a starting role at the weekend. Julian Gray is also still, nominally, a Palace player, but is in the Tommy Smith position of having talked himself out of Selhurst Park without sufficiently wooing any potential suitors. Michael Hughes, meanwhile, is hoping to sign for Palace in time for Saturday after impressing on trial pre-season following a year in limbo as Franchise and Birmingham bickered over his ownership.

Andy Johnson seems to be playing an advanced midfield role just behind the strikers, a position that could also be filled by persistent benchwarmer Tommy Black. The front two, however, seem certain to be Neil Shipperley, back at Palace after five years, and Dougie Freedman, scorer of a hat-trick at Turf Moor. Other attacking options would be the transfer-listed Akinbiyi and promising young Welsh striker Gareth Williams.

Our League season starts a week later than scheduled, for choking reasons that have been much discussed elsewhere. Team and supporters will each have a role in picking each other up. It's a process that may take longer than one weekend....