What a difference three months can make. Crystal Palace, their very existence in doubt after going into administration with debts of £30 million, ended last season securing the draw they needed on the final day to avoid relegation to League One, while Leicester City crowned their first year back in the Championship by reaching the play-offs.
At Selhurst Park yesterday you would never have guessed that had been the scenario as George Burley celebrated his first match in charge of Palace with a stirring victory. Leicester did well to make a match of it after going 3-0 down within 41 minutes, but all in all it was a rude awakening for Paulo Sousa, their new manager.
There had been an air of celebration around Selhurst Park from the moment three of the four businessmen who rescued the club in the close season went on to the pitch before the match to acknowledge the applause of the crowd. Palace are still in administration – the remaining loose ends of the takeover are expected to be tied up within the next few days – and Burley learned only late on Friday that the Football League would allow him to register all of his new signings.
His team included three newcomers. Julian Bennett, on loan from Nottingham Forest, filled in at left-back, while Owen Garvan and Andrew Dorman, signed from Ipswich Town and St Mirren respectively, formed a central midfield partnership. Both men impressed with their measured passing, a quality that Burley always likes to encourage in his teams.
After the departure of a number of senior players in the summer Burley has had little option other than to put his faith in youth, and his first line-up included two teenagers who had never started a match, having made just five substitute appearances between them.
Wilfred Zaha, a 17-year-old striker who is the latest talent to emerge from Palace's highly successful academy, showed some lovely touches and crowned his full debut with the opening goal, while 19-year-old Kieron Cadogan always looked a threat down the right flank.
Zaha scored after 19 minutes, volleying confidently into the roof of the net from 12 yards after being set up by Alan Lee. Seven minutes later Darren Ambrose, last season's leading scorer, hit a low drive into the corner of the net from the edge of the penalty area.
With four minutes of the first half remaining Zaha created space on the right and crossed to Cadogan, who turned smartly before striking a shot that Chris Weale could only parry into the path of Lee. The Palace striker turned the ball into an empty net, upon which Burley looked at his watch in apparent disbelief.
Leicester had barely had a chance to get their game going, though Matt Fryatt wasted a glorious chance to pull a goal back just before the interval when he shot wide from four yards.
To their credit, however, Leicester pushed forward in the second half, for most of which Palace were in retreat. Lloyd Dyer shot against the bar and after 57 minutes Andy King headed home Robbie Neilson's penetrating cross from the right. Julian Speroni, the Palace goalkeeper, did well to keep out further efforts by King and Dyer and with six minutes left Steve Howard took advantage of a mistake by Claude Davis to slide a cross into the path of DJ Campbell, who scored from close range. Palace, nevertheless, held on resolutely to end their sequence of opening-day defeats in the last four seasons.
Sousa was unhappy about "silly goals" conceded in the first half but was pleased by his team's response after the interval, while Burley could hardly keep a smile off his face in the post-match press conference. "Leicester are a top-class side," he said. "When you come off the pitch with three points against a side like that it speaks volumes."