Football: Barnsley stuck on automatic

Crystal Palace 1 Barnsley 1
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The Independent Online
Crystal Palace 1 Barnsley 1

If Barnsley are to live up to expectations and win a place in the Premiership, they should enjoy the First Division's traditional hospitality while they can. While there can be no doubting that Danny Wilson's team are in an automatic promotion place wholly on merit, the generosity they were shown at Selhurst Park on Saturday will surely not be on offer if they reach the top flight.

At half-time Crystal Palace were comfortably in control of this game and looked to be strengthening their own claims for a place in the play- offs. Neil Shipperley's towering header had given them the lead and, thanks to the tenacious tackling of Simon Rodger and David Hopkin, the home side were winning the midfield battle by a substantial margin.

In the first minute after the interval, however, all the good work of the preceding 45 minutes was undone as Andy Linighan's clumsy and unnecessary challenge brought down Paul Wilkinson. Neil Thompson converted the subsequent penalty and, although Palace continued to have the better of things, the damage was done.

The draw leaves Barnsley needing a maximum of five points from their last three games to take the second automatic promotion place behind Bolton. They should do it, although nerves could become frayed if they fail to win tomorrow at Portsmouth - who have their own promotion hopes - and Wolves beat Grimsby at Molineux the following night.

John Hendrie's dribbling skills and Clint Marcelle's deft touches gave Palace occasional cause for concern, but in truth Barnsley did not look like a team ready to take on the Premiership. While it is never easy to predict how promoted teams will fare - Sunderland comfortably won the First Division last year but Derby County and Leicester City have both adapted better to Premiership football - it would be hard to see anything other than a season-long struggle for Barnsley if they make it.

Wilson has assembled a team of honest professionals who are well organised and play a fluent passing game, but the same was said in recent years of Swindon and Bolton, who were both relegated immediately after winning promotion. While players like Hendrie and Wilkinson are able to make their experience tell in the First Division, it would surely be expecting too much of them to make an impact in the top flight.

To survive, Barnsley would have to build on the strengths they have - most notably Marcelle, a beautifully balanced forward in the Dwight Yorke mould, and an accomplished defence in which the Dutchman Arjan de Zeeuw was outstanding on Saturday alongside Adrian Moses and Matt Appleby, who will miss the rest of the season after tearing ankle ligaments.

Palace, meanwhile, played with renewed vigour despite a run of bad form that has brought only one win and five points from their last six games. Remarkably, Steve Coppell's team still have their fate in their own hands and a final-day fixture at home to Port Vale is likely to be decisive.

Goals: Shipperley (30) 1-0; Thompson (pen 46) 1-1.

Crystal Palace (5-3-2): Nash; Edworthy, Davies, Roberts, Linighan, Gordon; Hopkin, Rodger, Houghton (Freedman, 83); Shipperley, Dyer. Substitutes not used: Veart, Muscat.

Barnsley (3-4-1-2): Watson; Moses, Appleby (Bullock, 76), De Zeeuw; Eaden, Redfearn, Sheridan, Thompson; Marcelle; Wilkinson, Hendrie. Substitutes not used: Liddell, Bosancic.

Bookings: Crystal Palace Davies, Rodger. Barnsley De Zeeuw, Hendrie.

Man of the match: De Zeeuw.

Referee: C R Wilkes (Gloucester).

Attendance: 20,006.