Football: Lombardo clings to Palace's mathematical escape route

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The Independent Online
Crystal Palace 1 Tottenham Hotspur 3

WHEN Attilio Lombardo arrived at his post-match press conference on Saturday, accompanied by a restless curly-haired toddler, it would have been only mildly surprising if the boy had been introduced as the Premiership's first under-five manager, so strange have recent episodes in the Selhurst soap opera been.

The child, however, introduced as the manager's son, Mattia, was just there to give his dad some moral support, something he will need in the coming weeks.

"You can't say we're in a good position in the League," said Lombardo, reflecting on the fact that Palace, mainly due to their woeful home record, are seven points below the safety zone with only seven games remaining. His aptitude for understatement was matched only by his optimism.

"But I can't look at our position in the League and say there is nothing we can do, because mathematics tells me the opposite," he said. Mathematics is one thing, but footballing reality suggests that Palace simply have too much to do in too short a space of time.

Had they not suffered with injuries for most of the season - to Lombardo himself, to absent strikers Paul Warhurst and Bruce Dyer, and to Neil Shipperley, who returned as a substitute after a long lay-off to score a late goal - perhaps they would have maintained some of the early promise that saw them lie ninth in the Premiership after their first eight games.

Had they made a signing like Sasa Curcic - influential in everything positive about Palace's performance on Saturday - earlier in the season, they may have been able to achieve the stability and consistency to avoid the drop. But they did not, and it will be at their expense that other troubled clubs, such as Tottenham, will stay up.

Christian Gross displayed little emotion after the match. "It was a good performance in the special circumstances we are in," the Spurs coach said. Like Lombardo, his injury list has been as long as his list of available players for much of his tenure. Unlike the Italian, it seems he now has the resources to avoid relegation.

Even without David Ginola, Gross' side eventually impressed, even if it took them over 70 minutes to do so. Chris Armstrong added to Nicola Berti's headed goal with one of his own in the 72nd minute, then Jurgen Klinsmann's smooth chip made it three a few minutes later.

With players as (albeit sporadically) capable as Ginola and Klinsmann, Gross should manage to achieve the results he needs to keep Spurs up, especially if others, like Ruel Fox, continue to turn in the kind of selfless running performances seen on Saturday.

Gross will see his side continue their six-pointer series at home to Everton next week. Lombardo, meanwhile, faces another home game, against Leicester in a fortnight, something he is sure to be as enthusiastic about as his son is about press conferences.

Goals: Berti (0-1) 55; Armstrong (0-2) 72; Klinsmann (0-3) 77; Shipperley (1-3) 82.

Crystal Palace (4-4-2): Miller; Gordon, Edworthy, Ismael, Smith; Curcic (Hreidarsson, 60), Rodger, Brolin (Billio, 75), Lombardo; Jansen, Padovano (Shipperley, 65). Substitutes not used: Nash, Bent.

Tottenham Hotspur (4-4-2): Walker; Wilson, Campbell, Calderwood, Vega; Carr (Howells, 30), Berti, Saib, Fox (Brady, 73); Klinsmann, Armstrong (Dominguez, 81). Substitutes not used: Baardsen, Mabbutt.

Referee: M Reed (Birmingham).

Bookings: Crystal Palace: Edworthy, Padovano. Tottenham: Fox, Armstrong, Dominguez.

Attendance: 26,116.

Man of the match: Fox.