Aston Villa 1
Steve Coppell, the Crystal Palace manager, had some sound advice for Jeff Winter, the referee, after Saturday's Premiership match at Selhurst Park. "If everyone's going to be as strict as he is so be it," Coppell said. "But maybe he should chill out."
Winter sent off Palace's Jamie Smith, booked six and managed to upset players, staff and supporters of both sides. This was no mean feat given that there was barely a bad foul in this keenly contested match.
The dismissal of Smith after 77 minutes was typical of Winter's heavy- handed style. Smith was harshly booked in the first half for knocking the ball to one side after a free-kick had been awarded, but it was the sort of offence you see a dozen times in every match. The red card followed a mistimed tackle on Ian Taylor, yet the challenge was clumsy rather than malicious and common sense should have prevailed.
Some of Winter's decisions were baffling and Villa were furious with Palace's 42nd-minute goal. The referee's assistant flagged for a foul on the touchline, but Winter allowed the free-kick to be taken several yards infield, apparently penalising a later - and seemingly innocuous - challenge. Andy Roberts' quickly taken free-kick was headed home by the diving Neil Shipperley.
Brian Little, the Villa manager, said: "The team are convinced that when the linesman gave the decision, it was right on the byline. But the free- kick was taken enough yards away to make it a different game and to make everyone distracted. It just surprised us more than anything else and I was surprised there was not talk between the referee and the linesman afterwards about that."
If the goal had a touch of good fortune about it, Palace could count themselves unlucky not to have recorded their first home victory of the season. Driven forward by the tireless Roberts and Simon Rodger, the home side created several openings with their neat passing football.
The finishing was poor, however, as Palace showed a curious reluctance to test Mark Bosnich. Shipperley crossed when he should have shot, Attilio Lombardo attempted unsuccessfully to chest the ball down when given a free header six yards out, and Bruce Dyer showed a lack of composure when left with only Bosnich to beat after a mistake by Gareth Southgate. It was almost the only mistake by Southgate, who gave a masterful defensive display.
Without the injured Mark Draper, Villa were pedestrian in midfield and showed their mediocre Premiership form rather than the style which has brought them success in Europe this season. However, Savo Milosevic and Dwight Yorke always looked capable of opening up Palace's defence and Smith's dismissal appeared to give Villa the impetus they needed.
Late pressure was finally rewarded after 86 minutes when Kevin Miller was unable to hold Milosevic's fierce shot and Julian Joachim netted the rebound.
"We had a little bit of good fortune getting back in the game," Little said. "Sometimes a little bit of luck in grabbing a goal at the end of a game can give people a little bit more confidence. We are a bit up and down at the moment."
Coppell could not hide his disappointment. "Having got our noses in front - we were fortunate to have done that with where the referee allowed us to take the free-kick from - we thought we'd done enough," he said. "The sending-off changed the complexion of the last 12 minutes and left us on the back foot and hanging on. Unfortunately we could not hang on well enough."
Goals: Shipperley (42) 1-0; Joachim (86) 1-1.
Crystal Palace (5-3-2): Miller; Smith, Linighan, Edworthy, Hreidarsson, Gordon; Lombardo, Roberts, Rodger; Dyer (Emblen, 77),Shipperley. Substitutes not used: Veart, Nash (gk), Quinn, Ndah.
Aston Villa (5-3-2): Bosnich; Charles (Joachim, 73), Scimeca, Staunton, Southgate, Wright; Nelson, Grayson, Taylor; Yorke, Milosevic. Substitutes not used: Ehiogu, Oakes (gk), Curcic, Hughes.
Referee: J T Winter (Stockton-on-Tees).
Sent off: Crystal Palace: Smith. Booked: Crystal Palace: Gordon, Smith. Aston Villa: Charles, Taylor, Milosevic, Yorke.
Man of the match: Roberts.