Football: Derby driven back by Coppell's makeshift battlers

Derby County 0 Crystal Palace 0
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The Independent Online
To describe a goalless draw at Pride Park as a "magnificent result" may have seemed a little over the top, but in the circumstances Steve Coppell had every reason to be pleased with his side's performance on Saturday.

The Crystal Palace manager has been having a tough time in recent weeks as a succession of injuries has eaten away at his resources. Coppell went into Saturday's game without seven first-choice players in his starting line-up - Attilio Lombardo, Michele Padovano, Bruce Dyer, Neil Shipperley, Jamie Smith, David Tuttle and Marc Edworthy - but his makeshift team produced a battling performance to earn a deserved point. It was the first time Derby had failed to score at home in the Premiership this season.

Palace's 16 men on duty included three youngsters - Sagi Burton, Stephen Thomson and Rory Ginty - who had yet to start a first-team match, and three more players - Yitzik Zohar, Neil Emblen and Jamie Fullarton - with just 11 starts this season between them.

Zohar, a midfielder, had to play in attack, although he was replaced by a far-from-fit Dyer early in the second half. Paul Warhurst, who has been employed as a sweeper in recent games, moved into the front line, while Andy Roberts dropped back from midfield to reinforce the defence, where he did not put a foot wrong all afternoon.

Coppell can usually be relied upon to produce at least one tactical surprise, and his master stroke here was the decision to man-mark the player he had clearly identified as Derby's main threat, Francesco Baiano. Fullarton stuck diligently to his man for the entire 90 minutes and Baiano rarely threatened.

Derby are far from being a one-man team, however, and some of their approach play was a pleasure to watch. Lee Carsley and Darryl Powell were always looking for ways to open up the Palace defence, while Deon Burton's speed and deft footwork made him a constant threat.

However, for all their pressure - Derby had 13 corners to Palace's two - the home side created very few clear-cut chances. When they did break through they found Kevin Miller at the top of his form. The Palace goalkeeper was unable to stop a fine Baiano volley which hit his crossbar, but he produced a magnificent save to keep out Chris Powell's follow-up shot.

Jim Smith, the Derby manager, lamented his side's poor finishing, but in truth the home team were reduced all too often to shooting from long range as they failed to break down Palace's resolute defence.

Palace were on the back foot for most of the game, but had their chances as well. Emblen shot narrowly past the post in the first half and after the interval Andy Linighan wasted the best opportunity of the match, heading wide from eight yards after Simon Rodger's free-kick had found him totally unmarked.

As goalless draws go this was good entertainment, and Martin Bodenham, the referee, more than played his part. Some officials would have shown half a dozen yellow cards in what was a hard-fought game, but there was never any malice and Bodenham sensibly kept the game flowing. If only some of his whistle-happy, card-waving colleagues would follow his example.

Derby (4-3-1-2): Poom; Rowett, Stimac, Elliott (Yates, 55), C Powell; Eranio, Carsley, D Powell; Baiano; Wanchope, Burton (Willems, 83). Substitutes not used: Hoult (gk), Kozluk, Hunt.

Crystal Palace (5-3-2): Miller; Burton, Linighan, Roberts, Hreidarsson, Gordon; Emblen, Fullarton, Rodger; Zohar (Dyer, 55), Warhurst. Substitutes not used: Nash (gk), Quinn, Thomson, Ginty.

Booking: Crystal Palace: Fullarton.

Referee: M J Bodenham (East Looe).

Man of the match: Roberts.

Attendance: 26,590.