Football: Coppell takes the scenic route

Oxford United 1 Crystal Palace 4
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The Independent Online
Steve Coppell's last game in charge of Crystal Palace had been at Highbury nearly four years ago, when defeat condemned Palace to relegation from the Premiership and prompted his resignation a few days later. If the surroundings at the Manor Ground on Saturday were somewhat less glamorous as Coppell began his second spell as Palace manager, the circumstances were not dissimilar.

Just as in 1993, a place in the Premiership is almost the only target that matters. Coppell acknowledged as much after this comprehensive victory, which leaves Palace in one of the First Division play-off positions and only seven points off the second automatic promotion place.

Coppell again finds himself in charge of a young team with plenty of potential and, as if to reinforce his sense of deja vu, the opening goal here was scored by Dean Gordon, the only player in the Palace side who also played at Highbury four years ago.

However, the goal emphasised how much Palace have changed from the old days under Coppell when their tactics were based on getting the ball forward to Ian Wright and Mark Bright as quickly as possible. Gordon's goal was the result of an intricate passing move that seemed to involve almost every outfield player and ended with one wing-back, Kevin Muscat, providing the cross for the other to head home.

While the style is different, it was in fact Coppell who helped to mastermind the switch when he returned two years ago as Palace's technical director and signed several of the current team, including Dougie Freedman, David Hopkin and Andy Roberts.

Coppell has made it clear that there will be no sweeping changes as he attempts to build on the work of Ray Lewington and Dave Bassett, whose defection to Nottingham Forest last week prompted his return as caretaker until the end of the season.

Indeed Coppell was anxious to give much of the credit for this victory to Lewington, who has remained as first-team coach throughout the changes of recent years. Lewington made small but significant alterations to Saturday's line-up as Palace played with an extra striker at the expense of a midfielder and pushed their wing-backs further forward.

Oxford, for whom Simon Marsh scored a late consolation goal, hit the bar through Bobby Ford after 15 minutes but crumbled after going behind and were overrun in the second half.

Hopkin capped an inspirational performance for Palace in midfield with his 14th goal of the season after rounding Phil Whitehead, the Oxford goalkeeper. Bruce Dyer scored twice, shooting home from close range following a corner and then running on to Freedman's through ball to beat the advancing Whitehead.

Goals: Gordon (37) 0-1; Dyer (50) 0-2; Hopkin (63) 0-3; Dyer (82) 0-4; Marsh (85) 1-4.

Oxford United (5-3-2): Whitehead; Robinson (Beauchamp, 45), Wilsterman, Purse, Gilchrist, M Ford (Marsh, 60); Gray, Smith, B Ford; Gabbiadini (Murphy, 60), Jemson.

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

Referee: M Pierce (Portsmouth).

Bookings: Oxford United: Purse. Crystal Palace: Tuttle.

Man of the match: Hopkin.

Attendance: 8,572.