Football: Palace need buyer to pay up quickly

Sheffield United 3 Crystal Palace 1
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THIS WAS dreadful. The winning manager admitted it, leaving his press conference with "Sorry you had to watch that" and the crowd acknowledged it by virtually nodding off in the steamy heat of Bramall Lane. But the frightening thing is it marked an improvement for Crystal Palace.

The last time they had scraped together their meagre resources to field a team they had been walloped 7-1 so this defeat, which was not as comprehensive as the scoreline suggests, was almost to be cherished. There are few other crumbs from which to draw comfort.

Asset-stripped to near nudity, even if one of the two anonymous consortia did buy out Mark Goldberg the financial lifebelt will not reach Steve Coppell until November by which time their First Division position might be beyond rescue. Certainly their beleaguered manager believes it could be too late.

Coppell flew to France two weeks ago to visit the businessmen most likely to be his new bosses and left dissatisfied. "We're supposed to have two consortia who want to buy the club and they should either put up or shut up," he said. "It's ridiculous the way this is dragging on. If one consortium is confident of taking over they should start contributing financially now because by the time they take over in November over a third of a season will be gone. If you agree to buy a house you don't allow the present owners start knocking walls down."

On Saturday the Palace was subsiding so alarmingly no surveyor of any competence would recommend purchase. Coppell had just 16 fit professionals and, although they showed commendable spirit, there was no evidence they will elevate themselves from second bottom in the First Division. Even luck seems to have been sold to shore up the bank balance.

Fraser Digby parried Paul Devlin's shot into Marcelo's path after 19 minutes and then wandered into no man's land to allow the Brazilian striker a free header into an empty net just before the interval.

There after Palace attacked with gusto but with little fortune and, if truth be known, with little clue how to get past the massed red-and-white ranks until a mis-hit corner and a defensive disaster allowed Clinton Morrison to score from two feet in injury time. By then the home team were 3-0 up.

Adrian Heath, the United manager, was disgusted with his team, who preyed on the mistakes of the opposition but offered little else. "A good result, a terrible performance," he said. "I'll take the three points but in terms of performance it was as bad as I've seen by a team I've been involved with. We were awful at times and if we'd been playing a side coming here with a bit of confidence we'd have been beaten.

"It seemed to me the whole second half was played in or around our penalty area but thankfully we had two centre-halves on the top of their game, otherwise we would have lost quite easily."

Heath had sympathy for Coppell and with good reason, because if any team has tried to rival Palace in the "he's good, let's sell him" stakes then it is United. Which makes you wonder how long they will keep hold of Marcelo, who may not be a Ronaldo but he has scored 32 goals in 54 starts.

The Brazilian says he is happy at Bramall Lane but that might change by this afternoon, because he has a grisly experience ahead of him. "I don't particularly like sitting players down to watch videos," Heath said darkly, "but sometimes you have to do that because when you're caught up in a game you don't always realise how bad it was. We'll certainly be watching that video nasty on Monday morning."

Having watched it live, my sympathies are with the United players this morning, but at least they have the technology. Palace probably cannot afford a video player.

Goals: Marcelo (19) 1-0; Marcelo (45) 2-0; Ford (73) 3-0; Morrison (90) 3-1.

Sheffield United (4-4-2): Davison; Kozluk, Craddock, Murphy, Sandford (Quinn, 17); Ford, Derry (Burley, 81), Woodhouse, M Smith; Marcelo, Devlin. Substitutes not used: Duke, Hamilton, Smeets.

Crystal Palace (4-3-3): Digby; J Smith, Linighan, Woozley, Austin; Thomson (Harris, 85), Mullins, Rodger; Morrison, Fan Zhiyi (Sharpling, 70), Bradbury (Rizzo, 70). Substitutes not used: Carlisle, Gregg (gk).

Referee: D Laws (Whitley Bay). Bookings: C Palace: Woozley, Linighan.

Man of the match: Craddock.

Attendance: 11,886.