Allen's authority leaves Palace a poor second best

Crystal Palace 0 Swansea City 3
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The Independent Online

Never mind Gavin Henson. In the Championship it is two other Welsh sporting institutions, Cardiff and Swansea, who are leading their rivals a merry dance. The principality's big two meet in Cardiff in seven days' time and at this rate third-placed Swansea will fancy their chances of cutting the six-point deficit behind their great rivals, who are now top of the table.

Swansea waltzed to a sixth successive League match without defeat thanks to a thoroughly professional display. There were lengthy periods when Crystal Palace dominated possession, but George Burley's team, who went bottom with this third successive home loss after the club's worst start to a season for a decade, rarely looked capable of finding the key to unlock a well-organised defence.

Brendan Rodgers' team have built their challenge on a rock-solid back line, in which Ashley Williams equalled a club record for an outfield player by featuring in a 106th successive League game. Williams and his partner in the centre of defence, Alan Tate, barely allowed Palace a shot at goal. It was the fifth game in succession in which Swansea have not conceded a goal.

Joe Allen anchored the midfield with authority, while Scott Sinclair, Darren Pratley, Nathan Dyer and Andrea Orlandi were always looking to provide support for the lone striker, Marvin Emnes. Swansea were slick in their movement, controlled in their passing and looked a threat on the break. Palace were completely outplayed for half an hour, though their game picked up, ironically, after Owen Garvan, their main playmaker, went off suffering from a virus, which had also forced them to send Alex Marrow and Kieron Cadogan home earlier in the day. The reshuffle enabled Wilfried Zaha, Palace's most likely source of a goal, to move into the centre, having been only fleetingly involved when out wide.

However, Dorus de Vries, the visiting goalkeeper, was extended only once in the first half, when he dived low to his right to keep out James Vaughan's curled free-kick from 25 yards.

Swansea were in control from the moment they took advantage of slackness in the Palace defence in the sixth minute as Orlandi's quick free-kick sent Angel Rangel clear down the right. The Spaniard's cross deflected off the hand of Edgar Davids into the path of Sinclair, who scored his 11th goal of the season. Fred Graham, the referee, initially ruled out the goal after mis-interpreting his assistant's flag for the handball before changing his decision.

Another poor piece of defending gave Swansea their second after 70 minutes, Pratley being given room to side-foot home at the near post direct from Orlandi's corner. Nine minutes later the unmarked Allen beat Julian Speroni from 15 yards after Dyer had pulled the ball back from the byline.

"We could have scored four or five," Rodgers said afterwards. "Overall, it was a really good win. To score three and keep a clean sheet, and control the game as we did, was pleasing. It wasn't an easy game. Palace have some wonderful talent who, on their day, can cause you real problems. But the best teams start quickly and finish strongly. That's what we did today."

Burley, who was disappointed by the "shocking" defending that led to the first goal, said Swansea were "probably the best footballing side we've come up against this season".

He added: "They ran us ragged in the first half, the way they played and passed it. They played really well. For20 minutes in the second half we pressed them higher and had four opportunities, including two good ones, but didn't take them."

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