Dover vs Crystal Palace match report: It's a happy return for Alan Pardew as Palace sail past Conference Dover

Dover 0 Crystal Palace 4

Click to follow
The Independent Football

Alan Pardew never actually played at the Crabble during his seven years developing as a footballer on the non-League circuit, but he played at plenty of grounds like it. Places where fans hang in the trees to watch big games, where the pitch slopes two metres from side to side, where the dressing rooms are tucked into a corner cabin and the pitch is treacherously soft on top but frozen underneath.

FA Cup third round - as it happened

That experience came to the fore yesterday as he ensured his return to Crystal Palace would not begin in embarrassment. Pardew imbued his team with the positive attitude Premier League teams require to negotiate FA Cup ties on non-League grounds and relegation-haunted Palace produced one of the sharpest displays of their season to dismiss Dover Athletic in summary style.

True, it was only Conference opposition, but Pardew took a bold approach, sending out an attacking formation with instructions to “put the ball at risk”. It paid off as they killed the tie with two goals from Scott Dann in the opening half-hour, Dwight Gayle and Kevin Doyle doubling the tally in the second period.

“Anyone who’s seen Crystal Palace [this season] will know to tick the box marked ‘attitude and application’,” said Pardew, “but it’s about passing, it’s about opening up the pitch, it’s about quality, a bit of exuberance. That was the box we ticked today in a really, really good way.

“We’re not going to stay in the Premier League unless we express ourselves, and I thought we did that. I changed my formation to try and get that message to the team. We need to put the ball at risk, and we need to have a bit more attacking oomph, so to speak.”

Faced with opening their account with a non-league banana skin, some managers might have tried to delay their arrival until afterwards but Pardew, like Tony Pulis at West Bromwich, was bold enough to sign on for the challenge. He said: “I had a couple of texts from friends saying, ‘Why the hell have you put yourself up for that one? Couldn’t you have waited a couple of days and let it ride by?’ I think it’s important when you secure your contract and it’s signed that you start working from that minute.”

These are billed as no-win games but, in putting seven past Gateshead, Pulis had turned his debut into a feelgood match and Pardew – who refused to answer any questions on his time at Newcastle – was hoping for a similar boost. However, an away fixture on a Kentish hillside was a different proposition to a home one at The Hawthorns and Pardew had told his players to take an instant grip on the tie. Glenn Murray, fresh from a loan spell at Reading, went close three times in the opening eight minutes as Dover struggled to cope with Palace’s formation.

Dover usually play three at the back with wing-backs, but were immediately confounded by Palace deploying Gayle and Wilfried Zaha as wingers either side of Murray. It was no surprise when the visitors took the lead but the scorer’s identity was less expected, Dann arriving at the far post to meet a deep Zaha cross. It was the first goal Dover had conceded in the Cup this season.

The Dover manager, Chris Kinnear, who had started by packing the midfield behind a lone striker, switched to a 4-1-4-1 formation, then to 4-4-2, but the Whites still struggled to get into the tie.

Alan Pardew, manager of Crystal Palace

Dover were in good form, unbeaten in 16 matches stretching back to October, having disposed of two League Two clubs – Morecambe and Cheltenham – in that run. But even a Palace side searching for form represented a different calibre of team entirely and any chance of an upset disappeared when Dann, unmarked, headed in a Barry Bannan corner.

There was no way back for Dover after that, though there might have been had Andre Marriner been brave enough to dismiss Bannan on the hour for kicking out at Liam Bellamy after being tackled. The Premier League official merely gave a free-kick.

Stuart O’Keefe shot over soon after but the reprieve was brief as Gayle, a non-league player himself not long ago, left Tom Bonner on the deck before beating Andy Rafferty after 68 minutes. In the closing moments Kevin Doyle – who never managed a goal for Neil Warnock, the manager who signed him – opened his account for Palace.

It was a disappointing afternoon for Dover supporters in a record home gate. They never tested Wayne Hennessey in the Palace goal once but, as  Kinnear said, were still winners, having banked more than £250,000 from their Cup run.