Palace inspired by Popovic double

Crystal Palace 5 Grimsby Town 0
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The Independent Football

Steve Bruce said he is prepared to do battle with every side in the First Division to turn Crystal Palace from a relegation club to promotion contenders after watching his side thrash Lennie Lawrence's high-flying Grimsby last night.

Bruce, who took over in the summer after Palace avoided relegation by the slightest of margins, wants his youngsters to face every team with the same confidence as he says there are no clear favourites for the title this year.

"I can't see anybody romping away with it," Bruce said. "I hope not because the whole First Division were embarrassed by last season.

"This club was two minutes from being relegated but that was a false position with the talent we have here. I've managed now for five years. It's the teams that reach a constant level of performance week in week out unless you've got exceptional players like Fulham and Blackburn had."

Palace were dominant throughout and tore through Grimsby's defence with ease but it took 30 minutes to break the deadlock after a profligate start by the home strikers Clint Morrison and Dougie Freedman.

Instead it was in midfield that the chance was formed and finished for the opening goal as David Smith broke down the right before dragging back for Jovan Kirovski to finish.

Kirovski turned provider for the second minutes later as his free-kick was headed against the bar by Dean Austin but Tony Popovic knocked in the rebound. Popovic then struck again after the break heading in from a corner, while the Palace strikers finally found their feet when Morrison set up Freedman for the fourth half-way through the second period before netting himself in injury time.

But Bruce refused to criticise the strikers' failure to capitalise on the hatful of chances that fell their way.

"We created chances and that's pleasing," he said. "It's a young team and they like to excite and put the ball in. The two up front are very clever. They've got seven this season already, I hope they keep doing it and I wouldn't swap them."

Lawrence tried to defend his players, but it looks like being a long season for Grimsby. "We weren't mentally and physically ready tonight," he admitted. "Palace will never get an easier three points."

Crystal Palace: Clarke, Popovic, Austin, Mullins, Smith, Riihilahti, Rodger (Thompson, 60), Gray, Kirovski (Rubins, 87), Morrison, Freedman (Black, 67). Substitutes not used: Kolinko (gk), Harrison.

Grimsby Town: Coyne, McDermott, Groves, Broomes, David Smith, Pouton (Burnett, h-t), Butterfield, Willems, Campbell, Jeffrey, Rowan (Allen, h-t). Substitutes not used: Croudson, Beharall, Boulding.

Referee: P Prosser (Innsworth)