Freedman saving his best until last for Palace

Swindon Town 0 Crystal Palace 2
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The Independent Online
For 65 minutes the football matched the weather that hung ominously over the County Ground on Saturday: gloomy, depressing and with the prospect of only getting worse.

Crystal Palace had generally shown the commitment you would expect of a team aiming to finish in the First Division's top six - Port Vale's 2-1 defeat at home to Wolves yesterday guaranteed Palace's participation in the play-offs - but their approach lacked inspiration and imagination. Swindon, meanwhile, were so poor that you wondered how they had managed to keep clear of the scramble to avoid relegation at the foot of the table.

Enter Dougie Freedman, Palace's leading scorer last year but a player who had lost his way this season despite a promising start. After losing his place in the team in December, the 23-year-old Scot has spent much of his time on the substitutes' bench and has scored only twice.

Freedman's apparent lack of appetite for the physical side of the game has not endeared him to many Palace fans, but in his 25 minutes on the pitch here he showed what a good footballer he can be. He tormented Jason Drysdale and Gary Elkins on Swindon's left flank with a series of mazy runs and was desperately unlucky not to score.

One surge through the home defence culminated in a shot that struck a post and another ended with an astute cross in the final minute that enabled Neil Shipperley to tap home his second close-range goal, Bruce Dyer having set up an almost identical move at the end of the first half.

Steve Coppell said after the game that his team had looked "a little weary" following a sequence of seven matches in 21 days. However, Palace's caretaker-manager can take take heart from the fact that Freedman, who has started only nine games in the last four and a half months, should be fresh for the play-offs.

The same cannot be said of Dyer and David Hopkin, Palace's leading scorers this season, who both looked jaded. Shipperley, however, worked tirelessly up front, and the Palace defence comfortably held an unenterprising Swindon attack.

As the last team to earn a place in this year's First Division play-offs, Palace might take some encouragement from the events of 12 months ago. Leicester City got into the play-offs on the last day of last season and went on to win promotion - by beating Palace in the final.

Goals: Shipperley (44) 0-1; Shipperley (89) 0-2.

Swindon Town (5-3-2): Digby; O'Sullivan (Cowe, 78), Robinson, Darras, Elkins, Drysdale; Smith, Bullock, Gooden; Thorne, Allison. Substitutes not used: Watson, King.

Crystal Palace (5-3-2): Nash; Muscat, Davies, Tuttle, Linighan, Gordon (Edworthy, 84); Veart, Roberts, Hopkin; Dyer (Freedman, 65), Shipperley. Substitute not used: McKenzie.

Referee: G Singh (Wolverhampton). Booking: Palace: Veart.

Man of the match: Freedman. Attendance: 10,447.