Dowie faces losing battle in Palace full of strangers

Portsmouth 3 - Crystal Palace 1
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The Independent Football

Five matches into the Premiership season and the future is already looking bleak for Crystal Palace. Iain Dowie's side have taken just one point from their first five matches, three of which have been against teams expected to be fellow strugglers. Worryingly, the Palace manager admitted that the performance in Saturday's defeat at Fratton Park was his team's worst yet.

It is not hard to see where Palace's problems lie. Six of the starting line-up here were summer recruits and Palace looked every bit a team of strangers. Winning promotion via the play-offs gave them less time to bring in players than their rivals and most of the new signings did not arrive until last month.

The recruitment, moreover, has been unbalanced. While Palace have reasonable cover in attack and defence, they are desperately short of experienced numbers in midfield. Fitz Hall, a central defender signed from Southampton, tried hard in the centre alongside Aki Riihilahti, but it was a big task against Eyal Berkovic and the excellent Nigel Quashie. You wondered why Michael Hughes, an outstanding playmaker for Palace last season, was left on the bench until the closing stages.

They were up against it from the third minute, when Ricardo Fuller side-footed his first goal for Portsmouth. Dowie's hopes were raised when Danny Granville equalised with a header from a corner just before the interval having earlier hit the bar with a free-kick, but Palace gave the ball away far too often.

Patrik Berger put Portsmouth back in front with a thunderous 25-yard strike less than three minutes after the restart, although the ball appeared to be on course to hit a post until Julian Speroni, the Palace goalkeeper, diverted it into his own net. Tony Popovic's comical own goal, the ball flying off the Palace captain's heel into the corner of the net, rounded off a miserable day for the Premiership newcomers.

Dowie, who refused to comment on speculation linking him with the vacant manager's job at Blackburn Rovers, said: "I have no excuses. We didn't do the fundamentals well enough today. I can't say we were unlucky. That was the worst we have played this year. Portsmouth were much crisper, much brighter.

"We didn't defend properly," he added. "We dealt with Aiyegbeni Yakubu and Ricardo Fuller quite well, but we were sloppy. To come out and go behind so early again is a bitter blow to take."

Harry Redknapp sympathised with Dowie. Portsmouth's manager has been steadily building his squad, though his defensive resources will be tested if the knee injury suffered here by his captain, Arjan de Zeeuw, turns out to be serious. "It's the first time since I have been here that I have felt I have a strong squad," Redknapp said. "I look a bit thin at the back suddenly and wish I hadn't loaned John Curtis out. But I have plenty of midfielders and four strikers who can be a threat to anybody."

Although the injury to De Zeeuw and two subsequent defensive reshuffles disrupted Portsmouth's play, Redknapp's men were good value for their win. Their strength looks to be in attack, where Yakubu and Fuller are establishing a good partnership.

Redknapp believes the best is yet to come, too. Portsmouth's club record signing, Diomansy Kamara, a £2.2m purchase from Modena, was introduced in the second half and the Senegal international showed some excellent touches. Redknapp said after the game: "I have not been more excited about a player in a long time than I am about him. He has got everything."

Goals: Fuller (3) 1-0; Granville (43) 1-1; Berger (47) 2-1; Popovic (85) og 3-1.

Portsmouth (4-4-2): Hislop; Primus, De Zeeuw (Taylor, 11), Stefanovic, Unsworth; Stone, Quashie, Berkovic (Faye, 61), Berger; Yakubu, Fuller (Kamara, 54). Substitutes not used: Ashdown (gk), LuaLua.

Crystal Palace (4-4-2): Speroni; Boyce, Hudson, Popovic, Granville; Routledge (Derry, 85), Riihilahti (Hughes, 85), Hall, Kolkka (Ventola, 70); Johnson, Torghelle. Substitutes not used: Kiraly (gk), Powell.

Referee: P Dowd (Staffordshire).

Booked: Crystal Palace: Hall, Derry.

Man of the match: Quashie.

Attendance: 20,019.

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