Symons ends with success as Palace strive to impress

Reading 0 Crystal Palace 3
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The Independent Football

As an exercise in pre-match preparation it was, to say the least, novel. Simon Jordan, Crystal Palace's chairman, chose the tunnel at the Madejski Stadium, just half an hour before Saturday's kick-off, to inform his caretaker player-manager, Kit Symons, that the job was no longer his.

Symons, who had previously been told he had until January to prove himself, is being replaced by Iain Dowie, who has left Oldham Athletic to become Jordan's seventh manager in his three-and-a-half years at Selhurst Park.

What followed on the pitch was equally bizarre as Palace, who began the day one place and two points above the First Division relegation zone, totally outplayed opponents who lay 14 positions above them.

Steve Coppell, Reading's manager, had difficulty accounting for his own team's limp display but had a good explanation for Palace's performance, "New manager syndrome", where players strive to impress their next boss and cement their place in his team.

"I was desperate for an announcement not to be made before this game because you know a new manager is always going to be a factor," Coppell said. "Palace shouldn't be where they are in the table. Their team today cost a lot of money. They've just suffered an awful lot of turmoil." As the first of Jordan's managers, who failed even to last beyond the pre-season friendlies, Coppell should know.

Therein lies the challenge for Dowie, who made a good job of his first manager's post but now comes to a club where expectation is high, the first-team squad has been assembled at great cost and the demanding chairman has cut back on his lavish spending.

At least Dowie can draw on the support of his predecessor. Symons, who returns to the playing ranks, said he would offer the new manager any assistance he could, despite his obvious disappointment.

When asked about his very public conversation with Jordan, in which voices were raised, Symons replied: "He's an animated kind of fellow. We both had a point of view - and they weren't necessarily the same."

Symons said the pre-match conversation was the first indication he had had from Jordan that he was being replaced, despite the fact that Dowie's arrival had become public knowledge by Friday. Had the players been told of the imminent change? "They already knew what was going on because they've been reading the papers," Symons said ruefully.

And what of Stuart Gray, the former Southampton manager, brought in by Symons as his assistant? "I've no idea what's happening to him, but he's been a major factor in the turnaround of the team's performance," Symons said. "He's the best coach I have ever worked for and he's done a fantastic job for me and this football club.

"We can walk away from this knowing that we are in a healthier position than when we took over and I'm sure Iain Dowie will be thankful for that. In my eight League games in charge we've won three, drawn three and lost two.

"That's one-and-a-half points a game, which is play-off form. We've kept four clean sheets in those games: before I took over we'd had one all season. It's been a fantastic opportunity for me and I was delighted with the way it went."

As a send-off for Symons, it was an extraordinary display by Palace. Thomas Myhre, the goalkeeper, barely had a shot to save behind a defence shrewdly marshalled by Tony Popovic. The tireless Michael Hughes ran the midfield, Neil Shipperley led the line with authority and Andy Johnson's pace and control terrified the Reading back four.

The goals were testimony to Palace's domination. For the first, Aki Riihilahti turned Steve Sidwell before cleverly finding Johnson, who chested the ball down and shot past Marcus Hanemann from 15 yards.

Routledge swept home the second after a searing run by Johnson, who had been sent clear by the tenacity of Hughes. Johnson added the third, racing on to a through ball after Shaun Derry's determination had won the ball in midfield.

Coppell said he had been "bemused" by some results this season. "The organisation of teams in this division is very tight, but not many have got individual match-winners who can transform the game," he said by way of explanation.

"I believe there are 16 clubs who are capable of going for promotion. Any of them who can put together a run of eight or nine results could get into the play-offs and I think you might find a totally unexpected team in the Premiership next season."

Goals: Johnson (39) 0-1; Routledge (42) 0-2; Johnson (90) 0-3.

Reading (4-4-2): Hahnemann; Brown, Mackie (Murray, 62), Ingimarsson, Shorey; Savage, Watson, Sidwell, Salako (Morgan, 74); Forster, A Hughes. Substitutes not used: Young (gk), Harper, Newman.

Crystal Palace (4-4-2): Myhre; Butterfield, Edwards, Popovic, Borrowdale; Routledge, Riihilahti, M Hughes (Derry, 87), Gray; Johnson, Shipperley. Substitutes not used: Berthelin (gk), Fleming, Freedman, Black.

Referee: B Curson (Leicestershire).

Man of the match: M Hughes.

Attendance: 12,743.