Anelka drives Keegan out of a jam

Crystal Palace 1 Manchester City 2
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The Independent Football

This felt like rubbernecking at a car crash. Crystal Palace, stalled in the hard shoulder, unable to get their season underway while the Manchester City juggernaut - big, flashy but out-of-control - came careering towards them, failing to apply the brakes to their own chaotic season. In the end, it took a high-performance display from Nicolas Anelka, with two goals, to provide some order.

This felt like rubbernecking at a car crash. Crystal Palace, stalled in the hard shoulder, unable to get their season underway while the Manchester City juggernaut - big, flashy but out-of-control - came careering towards them, failing to apply the brakes to their own chaotic season. In the end, it took a high-performance display from Nicolas Anelka, with two goals, to provide some order.

Whether it will prove a reprieve for Kevin Keegan or a stay of execution, to coin the City manager's own phrase, is another matter even if this convincing result took his side into the top half of the table, and above Manchester United. It was Keegan's 150th game in charge but the problematic run-up to it meant there was no cause for celebration. Afterwards, he stepped from the wreckage of it all with an emotional defiance.

Keegan dismissed reports of a training ground bust-up with Danny Mills - the defender, apparently, is so upset that he has had a barrister briefed in order to sue the newspaper involved - and rounded on the media for not being "honest". He relayed tales of the phone calls he had received from anxious friends who had read of his demise.

"From what I've been hearing I've been buried alive," he said. "All I have done is tell the truth; that any manager when he is not getting the results is under pressure. My chairman and the rest of the board have been very supportive." A couple more positive results, said the man who only reads the Racing Post, and the "circus" will move on to another manager.

Maybe. But there were also chinks in the Keegan defence, as there had been with his side's, when he praised Anelka's record of five goals this season "in a struggling side" before adding: "What we have done over the last season has not been good enough for me." Or the fans or the board, and that is why the rumours over the impending end of his three-year tenure will not go away.

Nevertheless, all involved with the club will have taken heart at the commitment - something that the players have been accused of lacking - which earned City their first win on the road in seven months. Their defending, however, has to improve. And how many times has that been written about a Keegan team? "People will argue that sides like ours should come and beat Palace but people are blasé about the Premiership," Keegan said. However, Palace's assistant manager Kit Symons, standing in for Iain Dowie, who had to catch a plane, was quick to stress the financial gulf between the clubs as well as his players' "effort".

Whatever the excuses this is a poor Palace side. They finished sixth in the First Division last season and despite the drive and ability of Dowie, the step up is proving too much. In each of Palace's last three spells in the Premiership they went straight back down and this time they have made a far worse start than before. Following their opening day draw against Norwich City they have lost five times in a row and are showing little sign of coming to terms with the task.

However, there is one glimmer in a late cameo from the Italian striker Nicola Ventola, on loan from Internazionale, who earned a penalty and appeared capable of providing the support that Andy Johnson so clearly needs. Keegan also made alterations to his strikeforce, finally dumping Robbie Fowler, whose abject form since joining City has been an indictment. In came Jon Macken although his most serious contributions were, in the first-half, to twice inadvertently block goalbound shots by Antoine Sibierski and, in the second, to shoot weakly into the sidenetting when through on goal and with Anelka unmarked.

Indeed City, as is their wont, were wasteful throughout. But after the initial, messy skirmishes in which the passing was woeful, the first opportunity fell to Palace when Wayne Routledge burst through only for his low cross to be miskicked by Sandor Torghelle. The Hungarian striker was unattended and just six yards out. After that, the ascendancy was with City. Twice Joey Barton tested Julian Speroni from distance while Claudio Reyna should have provided the lead when running on to Mills's fine through ball. He snatched at his shot and it flashed over.

Admirably City did not allow half-time to break their gathering momentum and after Mark Hudson's desperate hack away from Shaun Wright-Phillips' low cross, a corner from Anelka was only half-cleared. The ball ran to the Frenchman who shifted it to his left, creating space, and calmly shot across Speroni and into the net.

The two sides then exchanged penalties. Both, interestingly, were flagged by the assistant referees. "They are obviously running the game these days," Symons said. "There was a question mark over both," Keegan said. The decisions were all the more contentious because it was the first Premiership match for referee Martin Atkinson. For the first Danny Granville was adjudged to have pushed over Wright-Phillips and then Sylvain Distin was pulled up for bringing down Ventola. Both penalties - one by Anelka, the other by Johnson - were struck high. One to the right; the other to the left. Johnson's goal gave Palace the opportunity to rally but despite the muscular Ventola miscuing a header they never truly threatened to make the afternoon any more uncomfortable for Keegan.

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