BY TREVOR HAYLETT
Alan Smith and Ron Noades, the warring manager and chairman of Crystal Palace, at last found something to agree upon yesterday: that Smith had served his time and should go.
Smith's departure by "mutual agreement" brought to an end an 11-year association with the south London club who were relegated from the Premiership after just one season the previous afternoon.
There was no surprise in the Selhurst Park announcement that kick-started a summer of likely moves in both the managerial ranks and transfer market. Rarely have a manager and his chairman fallen out quite so publicly.
The club's statement expressed "deep appreciation" of Smith's "work and commitment", but it was one of the exiting manager's complaints that praise was never forthcoming from the chairman's office.
Before yesterday's final meeting with Noades, Smith commented: "I can't say sorry for the things I have said. Over the last few months exasperation has just got the better of me, and in many ways I wish I had said those things last summer when we had just won promotion."
Disagreements have followed Smith's criticism of his players and the way he handled the controversy after Chris Armstrong tested positive for cannabis. Smith was unhappy at the lack of money made available for new players - and also about his authority being challenged.
Recently, Noades has taken a closer involvement in the team and has been talking to other managers about players he might want to sign. Instead of travelling to Newcastle for Palace's final shot at Premiership salvation, he was at Huddersfield.
Smith will stay in football, but is wealthy enough from a property business not to go chasing jobs. "I don't need to take much out of the game but I want to give something back," he said.
Palace have made no decision about a replacement, but the picture might become clearer after today's board meeting. Peter Nicholas, the youth- team coach appointed by Noades, who has accompanied him on recent scouting excursions, is a likely choice, possibly in tandem with the first-team coach, Ray Lewington.
With Smith gone, a question mark hangs over the future of players he has nursed through from the youth team such as the captain, Gareth Southgate, and John Salako. "I just can't imagine the place without Alan, and I need to get away for a few days and take stock of the situation," Southgate said. "I can't honestly say where I will be next season."
Salako suggested players will be sold. "It is a big crossroads for me. I am sure the chairman will want to trim the wage bill and bring in some revenue."
Smith's departure brings to 11 - exactly half - the number of Premiership clubs who have changed managers this season. That figure is likely to increase: Trevor Francis is awaiting the public announcement of his departure from Sheffield Wednesday and Brian Horton's days at Manchester City appear numbered, while Stewart Houston at Arsenal is also vulnerable.
It promises to be a summer every bit as competitive as the previous nine months in the transfer market. Arsenal say they have upwards of £10m to spend, and Tottenham will endeavour to match that.
Both are watching developments at Queen's Park Rangers, where Les Ferdinand says he will meet with the Loftus Road manager, Ray Wilkins, later this week to sort out his future.
"I have not been told that anyone has inquired about me, but if they have I would consider things very carefully," Ferdinand said. His refusal to rule out a move will ignite Newcastle's interest. Armed with around £12m from the Andy Cole transfer, a new shirt sponsorship deal and advance season-ticket sales, Kevin Keegan is considering a renewed offer for Armstrong - and could also move for Stan Collymore.
The Nottingham Forest striker has promised his club a decision by tomorrow on whether he wants to stay. Also uncertain as to where he will be next season is Michael Hughes, whose goal while on loan for West Ham on Sunday ultimately deprived Manchester United of the Premiership title. He is concerned that the London club have made no moves to meet Strasbourg's £500,000 asking price.
Blackburn will also be big spenders again in the coming weeks. Colin Hendry requires an ankle operation that is likely to put him out of Scotland's European Championship tie in the Faroe Islands next month, as well as this week's tour of Japan.
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