Football: Jemson looking polished under Smith's care

Crystal Palace 2 Oxford United 2
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The Independent Online
It is curious how some of the country's best managers never seem to be in contention when jobs at the bigger clubs become vacant. Like Port Vale's John Rudge, Crewe's Dario Gradi and Plymouth's Neil Warnock, Denis Smith has an outstanding record in the lower divisions, yet it seems he is no longer regarded as Premiership material.

Smith, who brought success to York City and Sunderland, took over at Oxford three years ago and last season led the club to promotion from the Second Division with a sprint finish that brought 13 wins in their last 17 games.

Despite having little money to spend on new players, Smith has played the transfer market shrewdly. The two goals which earned a well-deserved draw at Selhurst Park on Saturday were scored by Nigel Jemson, a pounds 60,000 purchase from Notts County in the summer, and Stuart Massey, a free signing from Crystal Palace.

Jemson, the club's leading scorer with 14 goals, only fitfully realised his potential at Preston, Nottingham Forest, Sheffield Wednesday and Notts County, but he is clearly blossoming under Smith. He led the line intelligently on Saturday and created chances for himself and others.

Oxford looked a thoroughly well organised and tactically astute team, although they would have left without a point had Palace not defended so poorly. While Jemson could take some credit for finding space to head Oxford's first equaliser from a right-wing cross by Martin Gray, Palace's marking was non-existent as Massey thumped home the second from 15 yards.

Palace, who have taken only two points from the last 12, seemed in control when Bruce Dyer put them in front with a rasping drive after being put clear by Neil Shipperley's header. It was Dyer again who restored Palace's lead 10 minutes from time, shrugging off Mike Ford's challenge to score with another beautifully struck shot inside the far post.

Ray Houghton, coming on as a substitute, made his first appearance since suffering a thigh injury in September. Palace will need his leadership and inspiration if they are to revive their promotion challenge, but Dave Bassett must know that getting his defence right is the most pressing priority.

Goals: Dyer (16) 1-0; Jemson (64) 1-1; Dyer (80) 2-1; Massey (85) 2-2.

Crystal Palace (5-2-1-2): Day; Edworthy, Tuttle, Roberts, Gordon, Muscat; Hopkin, Veart; Freedman (Houghton, 68); Dyer, Shipperley (Ndah, 68). Substitute not used: Quinn.

Oxford United (4-4-2): Whitehead; Purse, Elliott, Gilchrist, M Ford; Beauchamp, Gray, Smith (Murphy, 84), B Ford; Jemson, Aldridge (Massey, 75). Substitute not used: Moody.

Referee: T Lunt (Ashton-in-Makerfield).

Bookings: Crystal Palace Shipperley, Hopkin. Oxford Elliott, Smith.

Man of the match: Dyer.

Attendance: 17,879.