Virus throws Palace Cup plan into chaos

 

Dougie Freedman expected to endure a sleepless night last night in anticipation of the phone call this morning that could determine the prospects of his Crystal Palace side against Cardiff City in the first leg of the Carling Cup semi-final tonight.

Twelve months into his first managerial job, Freedman faces a problem that would tax his more experienced peers after a virus passed through his squad rendering a number of key players doubtful for the club's biggest game in years. Suddenly the club's doctor has emerged as a central figure in Palace's hopes of reaching Wembley.

Freedman has been forced to quarantine some of his squad but fears that may not be enough to prevent more last-minute drop-outs. Nathaniel Clyne, Paddy McCarthy, Anthony Gardner, Mile Jedinak and Sean Scannell are the main doubts, and the manager said: "I don't know about my team until five o'clock. My worry is if it catches any more. I know who's got it and who's getting better but I don't know who is going to catch it. I'm dreading the phone call in the morning that somebody new has got it.

"Everybody knows what to do now. They have a number to call for the doctor and know that they have to call if they have any symptoms. In terms of preparation, they will turn up and whoever I see tomorrow, I'll try and pick the best team."

Freedman could be forgiven for adopting a tone of frustration at a situation that seems particularly cruel given his side's achievement of beating Manchester United at Old Trafford in the previous round – a win that took them into the last four. Instead, he insisted it is not the worst-case scenario. "It could happen before the second leg when we could be losing it so it could be worse," he added.

"The virus won't change ambition, it will change personnel. There's no need to open up in the first leg, we've got 180 minutes. I have enough experience of the play-offs to know two-legged games are more often than not decided in the last 25 minutes."

Midfielder David Wright will be particularly hopeful of avoiding illness. Wright has been here before with Wigan in 2006, only to see his ambitions ruined by a training-ground collision.

"I got injured on the day before the semi-final and I missed everything," he said. "So this is like a second bite."

Kick-off 8pm (Sky Sports 1) Referee Mike Dean (Wirral) Odds Home 15-8; Draw 9-4; Away 6-4.

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