Football: Venables draws solace

El Tel watches his Palace charges get back up off the canvas in a return to Selhurst of contrasting fortunes
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The Independent Online
Crystal Palace 2

Jansen 50, Curcic 61

Bolton Wanderers 2

Holdsworth 33, Gunnlaugsson 90

Attendance: 19,029

IF Terry Venables has returned to Crystal Palace for some unfinished business left over from 1981 when he departed acrimoniously, his first match in charge yesterday had the feel and outcome of a fixture left over from last season's Premiership, from which both clubs were relegated. Though the points were shared after Bolton's injury-time equaliser gave Venables cause for disappointment, in reality it was a match that showed how much work he faces, which is exactly what he said afterwards.

Venables' reappointment is a gamble with his reputation as one of the game's tacticians and motivators. Proving it over again in the First Division, where mid-winter trips to Grimsby or Bury will make searching contrasts with his days at Barcelona and with England, is going to be tough and he knows it. He says the will to win applies wherever you go and at whatever age, but he warns the Palace fans not to expect automatic promotion. Well he would, and they will.

Yet Venables himself is not a particularly patient man who enjoys remaining anywhere for long. Anyone who takes on Australia and acts as distant chairman to Portsmouth at the same time has to be prepared to come to the conclusion that he might just fail on one or other counts.

He remains offended by anyone who revives the old criticism that he should never have diverted from what he does so well: coaching at club level in Britain. He says he has no regrets over flirting with writing and, of course, running clubs that have nothing to do with football. That Palace fans will expect a lot goes back to the time in the late Seventies when Venables raised the club from the Third to the old First Division in three seasons, then, understandably, took offence when he discovered Palace had been sounding out other managers. Ironically, this year he agreed to take over before he found out that Real Madrid were interested in persuading him to return to Spain. But he admits that Mark Goldberg, the new chairman, eventually came up with a "serious contract". At the end of it he will have more than enough funds to retire and still pay off any legal fees involved in the dispute with his former chairman at Spurs, Alan Sugar. There is no chance of his ever opting out of football.

Yesterday he was hugely welcomed by a crowd basking in Mediterranean sunshine. But he admitted later: "In future we've got to deserve that sort of reception." He beamed like a middle-aged schoolboy and clearly took pleasure in seeing Bruce Dyer quickly power through the Bolton defence without completing his solo attack. Bolton survived the initial Palace surge for their manager and made him cringe as Jimmy Phillips unleashed a 30-yard shot that Kevin Miller had to deflect round the post. Dean Holdsworth then spurned an outstanding shooting chance while the Palace goalkeeper was recovering from trying to predict Claus Jensen's weaving move through the penalty area. Venables was beginning to see the depth of his task.

Palace relied on breakaways, Bolton on patience, possession and added to that surprise when Holdsworth hit a low shot from outside the penalty area. The ball turned in the air, appropriately in this cricketing weather, and settled in the far corner.

Jensen, Bolton's pounds 1.6m buy from Lyngby, continually disturbed the home defence but it was Palace's Matt Jansen who equalised four minutes into the second half when he turned on the ball ingeniously and shot in. Three minutes later Palace appealed vainly after Dyer seemed to force the ball home.

Whatever Venables said at half-time it had effect. After 61 minutes a deep cross from Jamie Smith to Sasa Curcic, hovering on the fringe of the penalty area, was well controlled and beautifully struck in from that difficult distance.

Conceding a late goal to Arnar Gunnlaugsson's explosive shot from just inside the penalty area was a little hard, but Bolton's first-half display was superior to anything Venables and his new men could muster. He said: "We did reasonably well - there's a good spirit but there's still a lot to do." Precisely.

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