Football: Eagles still flying high

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The Independent Online
Crystal Palace. . . 2

Wimbledon. . . . . .0

MANY years ago, under Terry Venables, Crystal Palace were heralded as the likely team of the Eighties. It did not quite work out that way, and, despite the relative success of recent seasons, the Eagles have never quite recaptured the class of that side. Team of the Nineties they are not but, with five wins on the bounce under their belt, Palace can at least claim to be the team of December 1992.

After a dismal start to the season, a victory over Liverpool in the Coca-Cola Cup has provided a springboard for Palace's campaign. Steve Coppell maintains that his team had always been playing better than their results suggested but acknowledges the habit of winning has bred a vital confidence. 'Five on the trot - it's frightening,' he began unconvincingly. 'We concentrated today and the early goal was nice.'

Early it certainly was. Anyone requiring a machete to cut a path through the domestic flotsam of Christmas Day might well have missed Chris Coleman's second- minute opener, popped in from close range after Simon Rodger had crossed from the left. It was a blow Wimbledon never recovered from. Though they battled hard, they could never counter a Palace midfield revitalised by the return of the club captain, Geoff Thomas.

Thomas has his critics but always seeks to stamp his authority on proceedings - a priceless virtue in an increasingly conformist game. He has had a difficult time of it - dropped early on after speculation about a move to Blackburn and then laid up with back and knee injuries. His rehabilitation was completed in the 39th minute when Wimbledon failed to clear Eddie McGoldrick's corner and Thomas hammered home his first goal of the season from seven yards.

No one could accuse the Don's manager, Joe Kinnear, of faint- heartedness as he withdrew two of his guilty defenders in the second half and replaced them with the attackers, Steve Talboys and Neil Ardley. The net effect, though, was to concede more space to the opposition and several exciting runs by McGoldrick, now being employed as a sweeper, nearly led to more goals. 'I don't like the sweeper system,' Coppell said. 'I prefer 4-4-2, which I think is more balanced. But I'm not going to fix the car if it ain't broke.'

Brian McAllister was dismissed in the 85th minute for a second bookable offence and those two Christmas angels, John Fashanu and Vinnie Jones, both received cautions. The two teams may still be sharing Selhurst Park next season but, on this evidence, only one of them as a Premier League side.

Crystal Palace: N Martyn; J Humphrey, R Shaw, G Southgate (S Osborn 80, min), E Young, A Thorn, C Coleman, G Thomas, C Armstrong, S Rodger, E McGoldrick. Sub not used: G Watts, A Woodman (gk). Manager: S Coppell.

Wimbledon: H Segers; D Holdsworth, R Joseph (N Ardley, 53 min), V Jones, J Scales, B McAllister, D Blackwell (S Talboys, 57 min), R Earle, J Fashanu, L Sanchez, A Clarke. Sub not used: N Sullivan (gk). Manager: J Kinnear.

Referee: R Lewis (Surrey).

Goals: Coleman (1-0, 2 min); Thomas (2-0, 39 min).