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Coppell's return to combat

Steve Coppell, who looked and sounded a broken man when he walked out of Manchester City nearly four months ago, re-entered the fray of football management yesterday with Crystal Palace for the second time.

The pressures that Coppell had said were the reason he had left the Maine Road hot seat after just 33 days seemed to be far from his mind, judging by his relaxed countenance at Selhurst Park when he was named as Dave Bassett's successor at Palace for the second time in 13 years. He has taken the job in a caretaker capacity until the end of the season. Ray Lewington will stay as first team coach and will pick the side for today's game at Oxford United.

While expectations may be slightly lower at Palace than at Manchester City, Coppell did not give that as the reason why he was prepared to return to management. In announcing his departure from Maine Road in November "on medical grounds", Coppell had said: "I have suffered for some time from the huge pressure I have imposed on myself. Since my appointment this has completely overwhelmed me."

Yesterday Coppell said he had accepted Palace's offer because "I know the players here, the supporters and the personnel. I feel comfortable here." He refused to talk about his time at City, saying only: "It's over, done with, finished. I was in a footballing wilderness after that, but now I've got the opportunity to get my teeth into something."

The comments of Ron Noades, the Palace chairman, provided further confusion. Noades said: "The situation at Maine Road was all paper talk. Steve never got the chance to defend himself against the allegations of pressure and Manchester City massaged the situation to satisfy their supporters. I don't think his departure was down to ill-health, I think that is just something Manchester City put out."

Those comments infuriated City, who issued a statement saying: "Manchester City totally refute any suggestion that Steve Coppell resigned for any reason other than on the grounds of ill health. Manchester City require an apology from Mr Ron Noades within the next 24 hours for his statement. If this is not received, Mr Noades will have to face the legal consequences of what he has said."

Coppell had already been doing some scouting work for Palace in recent weeks and this is his third appointment by the club. Noades employed him for the first time in 1984 following Bassett's about-turn three days after leaving Wimbledon. Having resigned following Palace's relegation from the Premiership in 1993, Coppell returned as technical director two years later before leaving for Manchester City last October.

When Bassett's latest reign ended on Thursday with his decision to join Nottingham Forest as general manager, Noades decided "after a few jars with Ray Lewington" that Coppell was the man to keep them on the First Division promotion trail.

"The first six years of his previous stay was the most successful period in the club's history," Noades explained. During that time Palace won promotion in 1989, came within seven minutes of winning the FA Cup the following season and then finished third in the old First Division another year later.

"From the team's point of view it means a fresh person coming in with least disruption," Coppell said. "Dave has done a great job in setting the club up and we're in a position of great potential with 14 games to go. I'm looking forward to those remaining games and I will do my very best to get the club into the Premier League."

He has no immediate plans for delving into the transfer market before the deadline. "There are exciting players here with great potential," he explained. "It's a young squad with stability, good balance and good strengths."