It is an oft-repeated mantra in the First Division that any team can beat any other on any given day. Such a phrase is often wheeled out to protect the favourite for any given match and that was the position Crystal Palace found themselves in before this game.
Yet a defeat for Palace, despite the feeling there is quite a level playing field in this division, still seemed highly unlikely. The Eagles had won five consecutive away games before their visit to Pride Park and had suffered only one defeat in their previous eight League games. By contrast Derby had picked up just two wins in their previous 10 games, leaving them deeply concerned with fears of relegation.
However, the combination of a striker on a free transfer from Spanish football and a youngster on loan from Everton was enough to derail Palace who, if they had won this game, would have been in the play-off zone.
Iain Dowie praised Derby for their efforts but the Palace manager realised the blame for this setback lay at his own players' feet. "This was a disappointing result for us," he said. "There were some moments of madness. We went to sleep at two crucial moments but Derby did well.''
Derby's vital equaliser came from the head of Manel, who had been on the pitch only three minutes as a substitute for the ineffectual Izale McLeod. The tall Spaniard arrived on a free transfer from Espanyol last month and his first goal for Derby was a simple one as he headed home from Noel Whelan's flick-on at the near post.
The momentum had slowly been building up in Derby's favour as their manager, George Burley, made his three permitted substitutions as well as a total change of attitude compared to the home side's efforts in the first half.
Once Manel had equalised Derby were hungry for more and Leon Osman took his chance when it was presented to him. Osman is on loan from Everton but he showed he has a hunger about him to succeed when he harried Mark Hudson and won the ball off the Palace centre-back. In a flash Osman was in the penalty box and tucked his shot away past Cedric Berthelin for what turned out to be the winner.
"You've got to look to change it if things aren't working," Burley explained. "I'm very pleased for Manel and Osman as well. He is on loan for another month but Everton now have a 24-hour recall on him.''
Dowie only had to recall the 16th minute for the moment when Palace opened the scoring. It was a simple goal well taken by Michael Hughes as the Northern Ireland international ran on to Neil Shipperley's header and calmly lobbed Lee Grant for what looked to be the first of many Palace strikes.
Palace were denied more goals only by the excellence of Grant, who kept out one effort from Dougie Freedman, a save which inspired Derby to record this crucial win.
Derby County 2
Manel 70, Osman 76
Crystal Palace 1
Half-time: 0-1 Attendance: 21,856Reuse content