Bassett shows off his virtues

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The Independent Online
There was an air of expectancy as Dave Bassett approached the Selhurst Park press room on Saturday night. Was he coming to talk about Crystal Palace's 3-1 win, or about Manchester City's 3-1 defeat? Would he do separate press conferences, one as manager of Palace, then, after a brief announcement, another as manager of City?

Reality proved less exciting. He arrived and left as manager of Palace, a point he underlined by wearing a Palace tie and a Palace blazer, but he had spent most of the time deflecting questions about City.

The gist of the answers was "It is nice for people to say you are wanted, but I have not been approached and I can't say what I would do if I was. It is a hypothetical question. I'd rather talk about how well my players played."

It did not get any easier for him when the inquisition finished. As he left the press room Bassett was doorstepped... by a five-year-old.

"It's his first match," the proud father said as Bassett obliged with an autograph.

"Did you enjoy it?" Bassett asked. "Will you come next week?"

"Will you be here if he does?" responded the father.

"You're worse than the press," Bassett said, only half in jest.

Having spent approaching pounds 100 on tickets and replica kit the father justifiably felt he had a right to ask. That he failed to get a satisfactory answer is not surprising. When it comes to dispensing information English football is very much Fourth Division.

Not that it is necessarily Bassett's fault. He may have been linked with City almost daily for a month, but it is quite possible he has not been directly approached. Even if he is not interested he would be foolish to admit it. After all, a bit of outside interest may help him wheedle a few extra quid from his budget-conscious chairman, either for his wage packet or a new player.

The fault is more with City. The stories have emanated from the north and, if City are not deliberately leaking them why not come out and say Bassett is not wanted? Perhaps because he is, but only after this match was out of the way. They have asked George Graham, Howard Kendall, Howard Wilkinson, Bruce Rioch etc. Then again, having seen the state of the team on Saturday it would be no surprise to find the administration in chaos as well.

As the Juventus scout said of Manchester United at Elland Road last week, it was hard to judge how good the winning team was because their opponents were so bad. City certainly did not play as if they thought their future manager was watching. Palace played as if keen to show their current one what he would miss by leaving - and thus inadvertently produced such a good advertisement for Bassett's abilities even the City fans were chanting his name.

Bassett's main qualities have long been known. He has consistently built promotion-winning sides on a shoestring. Now, however, the Sainsbury's End has a new, improved Bassett on display. With added passing.

There was a 6ft 5in giant in Palace's side, but he was Swedish, not Nigerian, he kept his elbows to himself and he played as a central defender. Leif Andersen did score, but with his feet on a rare sortie upfield. The rest of the time he was the left-sided marker in one of the few English back- threes to attempt playing with a genuine sweeper, Andy Roberts.

Palace's key player was David Hopkin, once of Chelsea, who scored twice from 20 yards and generally bossed a midfield which Georgiou Kinkladze decorated just twice.

Uwe Rosler spurned his first offering, after a minute, and by the time Mikhail Kavelashvili accepted the second City were three down and a man short. Kit Symons had been dismissed after 70 minutes for bundling over Dougie Freedman as he pursued a through ball.

City finished with nine, Kavelashvili departing early after George Ndah's clumsy foul. This bedraggled end seemed to epitomise the last 20 trophy- less years as well as the afternoon. Frannie Lee appears no nearer ending the atmosphere of decline than the last chairman, and it was no surprise to find Asa Hartford eager to scotch suggestions that he wanted to make his caretaker status permanent.

"I do not want the job full-time and have never said I do," he said emphatically. "I enjoy being assistant, I enjoy the coaching side. The new man may want his own men and I will have to take my chance."

That man will probably be Bassett, who will have been impressed by City's supporters if not their team. Palace are relatively ambitious, with a large catchment area but, as Bassett admitted, "are not going to be big- hitters in the Premiership". City's 27,000 average gate is twice Palace's. They do have "big-hitting" potential. But, as 14 other managers can testify over the last 25 years, realising it is another matter.

Goals: Hopkin (12) 1-0; Andersen (31) 2-0; Hopkin (49) 3-0; Kavelashvili (79) 3-1.

Crystal Palace (3-5-2): Day; Tuttle, Roberts, Andersen; Edworthy (Boxall, 87), Houghton, Hopkin, Veart, Muscat; Dyer (Ndah, 77), Freedman. Substitutes not used: Harris.

Manchester City (3-5-2): Dibble; Lomas, Symons, Ingram; Brown (Brightwell, h/t; Kavelashvili, 75), Whitley, Kinkladze, Clough, Frontzeck (Wassall, 60); Rosler, Dickov.

Referee: A D'Urso (Billericay).

Bookings: Crystal Palace: Hopkin, Ndah. Manchester City: Dickov.

Sent off: Manchester City: Symons (72).

Man of the match: Hopkin.

Attendance: 17, 638.