Football: Brave new Palace dance to same old tune

Aston Villa 3 Taylor 1, Milosevic pen 15, 36 Crystal Palace 1 Jansen 62 Attendance: 33,781
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The Independent Online
SO FAR, statisticians have failed to record the quickest goal conceded by a team under the stewardship of a caretaker-coach. When they eventually complete their research, Crystal Palace and Attilio Lombardo will be rightly up there. At 3pm yesterday, Lombardo's career as a coach, or head of team affairs as they are calling it in South London, began and 58 seconds later the honeymoon was over.

All the hopes, aspirations and dreams which tend to accompany a new beginning - even one as bizarre as this - vanished, together with, it must be said, the Palace defence. Fernando Nelson crossed from the right and Ian Taylor, in the middle surrounded only by grass, had an elementary task with his header.

Immediately, Palace's gamble, announced to general astonishment the previous day, looked to be based more on a supposition that all London clubs may as well appoint inexperienced, balding Italians to take charge than on any genuine belief that Lombardo might succeed.

Matters were eventually to improve for Palace in the second half when they managed to make Aston Villa look deeply unimpressive and their 20- year-old acquisition from Carlisle, Matt Jansen, scored a handsome goal, but by then the game was up. The moment had passed as early as the first minute and Lombardo, still looking mildly bewildered, sounded later as though he knew it.

He put it down to his boys' failure to understand his instructions. "It wasn't just conceding a goal but the way they conceded it with the man not marked at all," he said. "It was very disheartening." By the 14th minute, Palace were further behind when Julian Joachim romped into the box, pursued by Valerien Ismael. Joachim went over, Ismael protested and was booked. Savo Milosevic scored from the spot.

Villa played as though they could hardly believe what was happening before their eyes, which was virtually nothing in terms of movement and structure, and they were over-elaborate. Perhaps Atletico Madrid were on their minds when dinky touches may be needed. There was none dinkier than in the 36th minute when Milosevic, his back to goal, turned on the verge of the six- yard box and made conclusive contact with his left foot.

The new Palace, the bold Palace, perhaps the foolhardy Palace, had arrived at Villa Park 75 minutes before the start. On the coach, Lombardo sat alongside Tomas Brolin, the Swede who it was indicated on Friday would be his assistant, but it seems is to be more an interpreter to the team. Brolin, formerly with Parma, speaks fluent Italian. Not that much conversation seems to have taken place on the journey, for as the coach pulled in, Lombardo was just waking up.

Whatever language the half-time talk was delivered in worked. Palace re-shaped, threw caution to the winds and put on an array of substitutes. Jansen's 20-yard volley from his left foot with Villa's defence standing off was their reward. Lombardo was delighted by the retort and said so through his interpreter, Dario Magri, who is obviously in for a hard and busy time conveying football tactics.

There was a rumour during the first half that Alex Ferguson had resigned as manager at Manchester United. This turned out to be untrue, but for a few minutes it was assumed he had been hired to take over at Selhurst Park.

Palace panic, page 23