Crystal Palace 1 Cardiff City 2: Chopra opera leaves Palace in tears

Cardiff striker's talent subdues determined rivals and confirms leaders' star quality
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The Independent Online

Palace were yesterday celebrating the purchase of their home ground, but combining that with a home win over the best team in the Championship thus far proved beyond them.

The news that Simon Jordan, the owner and chairman of the club, had also become the freeholder of the ground had been met more enthusiastically by most fans than would have been the case not so long ago, when his motives were questioned and his knowledge of football considered superficial. Those points may remain valid, but he says that everything is now in place to secure Palace's future. Whether the fans will eventually lose Selhurst is another matter, and the question yesterday was more about Palace's chances of staying in touch with the leaders.

Before the recent international matches curtailed the programme Cardiff had taken a five-point lead, and six over Palace. Immediately, they seemed destined to improve that situation when taking the lead in less than two minutes. And attractively it was done. Palace failed to clear when they had the chance. Steven Thompson laid the ball off inside the penalty area and Michael Chopra swept a perfectly targeted shot under the crossbar.

If there is anything to be said for conceding such an early goal it could only be that it provides ample time to recover. Palace composed themselves quite well, Jobi McAnuff driving a long shot a few inches wide, but several other attacks were frustrated by shooting of a lesser standard.

When Cardiff broke out they did so in a more considered, less urgent way - they could afford the luxury. Chopra was particularly thoughtful and quick to turn whichever defender tried to obscure his path. Meanwhile, Cardiff's midfield appeared able to keep things tidy, but five minutes before half-time they slipped.

Palace moved the ball out of defence along the left edge. McAnuff caught a glimpse of Stuart Green making a forward run past hesitant defenders who were half-expecting an offside flag. None came. McAnuff played his pass and Green, now completely free, slid in the equaliser.

So Cardiff needed to be more aggressive in the second half. They began looking that way when Thompson instigated an impressive cross-field move, but after Paul Parry slammed the ball across the goalmouth neither striker could reach it. Three minutes later, from a higher Parry centre, Thompson's header brought about a fine tip over the bar by Gabor Kiraly.

Palace brought on Dougie Freedman after 67 minutes, forfeiting the less direct McAnuff, who had not been at his nimble best against a sturdy defence.

It took until the 84th minute for Cardiff to break through for their winner, and in the end it was Chopra who got the space to thud a shot against the base of the post. The ball rebounded and Riccardo Scimeca easily found the net.

Can Cardiff maintain the momentum? Their manager, Dave Jones, is aware that he has only 14 senior experienced first-team players and now has Chopra facing an imminent suspension. However, he said: "The subs are chomping at the bit." Even so, the club's owner, Sam Hammam, hinted last night that a good-quality loan player could be obtained this week.

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