Burley stays positive as youngsters raise hope of brighter future

Crystal Palace 1 Queens Park Rangers 2
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The Independent Football

Crystal Palace are only one place off the bottom of the table, have scored just once in their last four matches and have a playing squad stretched to the limit by injuries, but George Burley remained in a positive frame of mind despite the pain of losing to an injury-time winner at Selhurst Park on Saturday.

The manager's blend of loan signings, energetic youngsters and the odd seasoned pro gave the Championship's leaders a run for their money and would probably have come away with at least a point but for lapses by two of their most experienced men.

A dreadful back pass by Edgar Davids, who was making his home debut, allowed Jamie Mackie to set up Adel Taarabt for Rangers' opening goal, while Julian Speroni, the Palace goalkeeper, was outmuscled and outjumped by Heidar Helguson as the Icelandic striker headed home the winner.

It was a rare error by the excellent Speroni, who is the only current Palace player with more than 100 appearances for them. Such has been the turnover of personnel at Selhurst Park that Palace's entire squad on Saturday had made just three more appearances for the club than Rangers' four former Eagles, Shaun Derry, Clint Hill, Gary Borrowdale and Mikele Leigertwood. Given that Neil Warnock, the Rangers manager, and his assistants, Mick Jones and Keith Curle, were also at Palace last season, it was quite a reunion.

Burley, who has a limited budget following the club's emergence from administration in the summer, had four loan signings on duty, with Blackburn's Alex Marrow a tower of strength, but it is the form of his younger players that gives encouragement for the future.

Following the half-time departure of the ineffective Pablo Counago, Burley put his faith in an attack composed of three of his academy graduates, Kieron Cadogan, 20, Kieran Djilali, 19, and Wilfried Zaha, 17. All three combine pace with trickery and Cadogan's 89th-minute equaliser was made possible by a lovely piece of skill from Zaha.

Having watched his team recover from the previous Saturday's 5-0 mauling at Derby County to take a point at Cardiff in midweek and play with such spirit here, Burley sees signs of progress. "In the last few days we've played two sides at the top of the division and, even though we have nine or 10 players out, we've put in good performances and the youngsters have continued to do well," he said.

Rangers, who are six points clear at the top, have now gone 10 games undefeated at the start of a season for the first time for 35 years. Their football flowed only intermittently on this occasion, but they have an abundance of attacking options, experience in key areas and a fierce will to win. Warnock, said: "We were 2-0 down at Derby in the 93rd minute and got a draw. My lot don't know when they're beaten."

Crystal Palace 4-5-1: Speroni; Clyne, McCarthy, Marrow, Bennett; Zaha, Davids (Gardner, 56), Garvan, Dorman (Andrew, 79), Djilali; Counago (Cadogan, h-t). Substitutes not used: Price (gk), Holness, N'Diaye, O'Keefe.

Booked Dorman, Speroni.

Queens Park Rangers 4-3-3: Kenny; Walker, Connolly, Gorkss, Hill; Ephraim, Derry, Buzsaky (Leigertwood, 83); Helguson, Taarabt (Smith, 72), Mackie. Substitutes not used: Cerny (gk), Rowlands, Agyemang, Borrowdale, German.

Booked Ephraim, Hill.

Man of the match Marrow.

Possession Crystal Palace 49% QPR 51%.

Shots on target Crystal Palace 5 QPR 8.

Referee K Friend (Leicestershire).

Attendance 17,171. Match rating 7/10.