Football: Beardsley still at home at the top

Crystal Palace 2 Bolton Wanderers 2
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The Independent Online
Speculation that Peter Beardsley would be among Kevin Keegan's first targets at Fulham was inevitable. Whether Bolton's 36-year-old forward would want to follow his former Newcastle manager to Craven Cottage is another matter entirely.

Saturday's Premiership match at Selhurst Park showed once again how much Beardsley still has to offer at the highest level. The former England international has lost none of his trademark enthusiasm or fitness, and his intelligent linking of Bolton's midfield and attack helped Colin Todd's team to turn around a match which had appeared beyond them after Crystal Palace had taken an early two-goal lead.

While his 36th-minute strike played a key part in launching Bolton's revival, Beardsley's greatest contribution is likely to be his ability to bring the best out of those around him, particularly his fellow striker, Nathan Blake, and the stylish midfielder, Alan Thompson, who is being linked - despite Todd's denial of any approach - with a move to Tottenham.

Beardsley and Blake worked well together here and after the game Steve Coppell, the Palace manager, described the pair as "a fine smash and grab combination". At 25 Blake has taken a circuitous route to the top, but now that the former Cardiff City and Sheffield United striker has reached the Premiership he is immediately looking the part. Fast, strong and with good technique, he is proving a handful for the best defences.

Blake set up both Bolton goals with forceful runs that stretched Palace on the flanks. The Welsh international would have got on the scoresheet himself but for some excellent saves by Kevin Miller and his own occasional lack of composure, which appears to be his only real weakness. Todd indicated as much when he said after the game: "If he had taken all his chances this season, he would easily be the leading scorer in the Premiership."

Goals have proved a problem for both these promoted teams, yet this match was full of scoring opportunities and a 5-5 draw would not have been an unfair reflection on the game. For half an hour Palace regularly opened up the Bolton defence, the first goal typifying their enterprising football as neat passes by Dougie Freedman and Jamie Fullarton sent Paul Warhurst clear. Dean Gordon's fierce shot doubled the advantage, but Palace failed to drive home their superiority.

"When you go 2-0 up you think the job is more or less done," Coppell said. "My players clearly thought so. They took their foot off the pedal, but Bolton did well in the second half."

Bolton's recovery was capped by Michael Johansen's equaliser at the far post, but Warhurst and Freedman were guilty of bad misses as Palace still continued to create enough chances to win the game. Although this was their first home point of the season, they will still regard it as a case of two points lost.

Goals: Warhurst (8) 1-0; Gordon (19) 2-0; Beardsley (35) 2-1; Johansen (66) 2-2.

Crystal Palace (5-3-2): Miller; Muscat (Quinn, 72), Linighan, Edworthy, Hreidarsson, Gordon; Lombardo, Roberts, Fullarton; Warhurst (Veart, 77), Freedman (Shipperley, 72). Substitutes not used: Nash (gk), Zohar.

Bolton Wanderers (4-4-2): Branagan; Bergsson, Todd, Taggart, Whitlow; Pollock (Johansen, 61), Frandsen, Thompson, Sellars; Blake, Beardsley. Substitutes not used: Ward (gk), Phillips, McAnespie, Gunnlaugsson.

Referee: D R Elleray (Harrow-on-the-hill).

Bookings: Crystal Palace: Fullarton, Muscat. Bolton: Frandsen, Sellars, Todd.

Man of the match: Blake.

Attendance: 17,134.

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