Late reprieve helps Dowie push Palace into the play-offs

Coventry City 2 Crystal Palace 1
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The Independent Football

It was not the way they would have wished to clinch a play-off place but Crystal Palace made it in the end. Brian Deane's last-minute equaliser for West Ham United at Wigan ensured that the astonishing turnaround engineered by Iain Dowie since he took over at the South London club in December did not go unrewarded.

Until that moment, it was Wigan and not Palace who were joining Sunderland, West Ham and Ipswich in the post-season knock-out, with potential Premiership riches lying in wait for the victors in Cardiff on 31 May.

Behind to two early goals, substitute Dougie Freedman had given them a lifeline but time was running out and the party planned by their 4,000 travelling fans was on the verge of going flat. But Wigan's agony became Palace's joy as news spread of the score at the JJB Stadium.

"I wish we could have got the point we needed and done it ourselves," Dowie said. "But I've told the players that they have earned their play-off place because of what they have done over the 22 games I have been in charge.

"They have won 45 points in that time, which is play-off form," the Palace manager added, "so they are where they deserve to be. I never in my wildest dreams imagined we would be in the play-offs but here we are. We have a big task getting past Sunderland in the semi-finals but we have a chance."

Under Dowie, who took over from caretaker-manager Kit Symons in December following Steve Kember's departure, Palace have lost only five First Division games. Incredibly, they had slipped into the bottom three shortly before his appointment. But they have gathered momentum with each month and a run of six wins in seven games saw them roar into the top six.

That roar appeared to have turned into a whimper yesterday, however. Having come to protest at the dismissal of the popular Eric Black and his replacement as manager by Peter Reid, the Coventry fans were slightly perplexed as to how to react as their side swept into a two-goal lead inside 27 minutes.

Not that Reid, installed only on Thursday, had much to do with it. And, having thumped Gillingham 5-2 in Black's last match in charge, the players could hardly be accused of raising their game for the new manager. At least Reid gave Black the credit, before promising to reinforce the squad with "players who can get a result when we do not play as well as today."

Even before Mo Konjic headed Coventry ahead from a fourth-minute corner, Palace had survived a couple of scares. Then, anxiously looking for an equaliser, they left themselves exposed to the counter-attack and paid a heavy price when Gary McSheffrey's run through the middle set up Michael Doyle for a left-foot finish.

Freedman's strike, from Andrew Johnson's low cross, rewarded an invigorated second-half performance by Palace but the second goal they craved would not come, the impressive Callum Davenport denying Julian Gray with a goalline clearance. In the end, though, thanks to Deane's dramatic intervention, it did not matter.

Goals: Konjic (4) 1-0; Doyle (27) 2-0; Freedman (64) 2-1.

Coventry City (4-4-2): Shearer; Deloumeaux, Konjic, Davenport, Warnock (Giddings, 89); Gudjonsson, Safri, Doyle, Barrett (Jorgensen, 78); Morrell (Shaw, 72), McSheffrey. Substitutes not used: Brush (gk), Whing.

Crystal Palace (4-4-2): Vaesen; Butterfield, Liegertwood (Freedman, 59), Popovic, Granville; Routledge, Riihilahti (Derry, 59), Hughes, Gray; Johnson, Shipperley (Black, 83). Substitutes not used: Berthelin (gk), Borrowdale.

Referee: A Butler (Nottinghamshire).

Bookings: Coventry: Morrell, McSheffrey. Crystal Palace: Popovic, Routledge, Hughes.

Man of the match: Davenport.

Attendance: 22,195.