Palace revolution is halted

Crystal Palace 0 Portsmouth 0 Attendance: 17,039
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The Independent Online
AFTER five consecutive home wins under the new stewardship of Dave Bassett, Crystal Palace merely escaped with a draw yesterday. The loss of two points will do nothing to advance their belated hopes of an automatic promotion place, but more worrying for them was their lack of wit and adventure against a side 12 places below them.

The rise of Palace under Bassett has not only been remarkable but an object lesson in how to peak at the right time. They have lost only once in Bassett's first 11 games, and he has effected the change without tampering with their style.

The long ball on which he built his reputation has been in scant evidence, as Palace exhibited again yesterday. Their play from out of a five-man defence was neat and not designed to give the ball away easily.

Portsmouth might have had slightly more possession in the opening exchanges but their moves were always destined to end on the outskirts of the Palace area.

Not that Palace were especially incisive at the front. Their leading scorer Dougie Freedman created some space and a shooting chance for himself on the left, but produced a limp shot. His striking partner George Ndah was no less wasteful moments later with Darren Pitcher's diagonal through ball.

This sort of fitful stuff made Bruce Dyer's presence on the bench look suspiciously misguided. He has scored 12 goals in 17 appearances this season and only four nights earlier scored twice to break a seemingly interminable deadlock against Luton. The biggest cheer came when he entered, presumably earlier than expected in the 32nd minute, when Freedman was forced to depart.

Astonishingly, it was Portsmouth who created the most telling chance of a woeful first half. With five minutes left Deon Burton escaped down the right, worked his way behind the defence and crossed in front of goal. With both Paul Hall and Jimmy Carter bearing down, Marc Edworthy just managed to clear the danger from five yards. Palace secured a free-kick on the right-hand edge of Portsmouth's area seconds before the interval and Jamie Vincent's shot went predictably over the bar.

The contest then marginally improved as an advertisement for the standards of the division - the willingness to play the offside trap with tedious frequency notwithstanding - and perhaps surprisingly it was almost exclusively Pompey who were responsible. Six minutes into the second half Burton again launched a cross from the left, this time finding Alan McLoughlin storming in to meet it with his head. Inaccurate maybe, but at least it showed adventure.

A minute later Fitzroy Simpson hit the bar with a snap shot and then McLoughlin swerved wide from 10 yards. In what was now a blaze of attacking play Simpson had another attempt on goal for Portsmouth, on this occasion after Carter had made his way to the left touchline.

McLoughlin, always involved, was the subject of a late tackle by a somewhat reckless Pitcher. It led to an unseemly scuffle involving too many petulant players before referee Alan Wiley made Pitcher his fourth booking of the afternoon. This provoked Palace into attack and only Alan Knight's awareness in narrowing the angle denied Dyer in the 77th minute. In the second minute of injury time Knight dived bravely at the feet of Hopkin and in the ultimate second Roberts's shot from 20 yards hit the back of the net. But the final whistle had blown before it reached its destination, and the match deserved to be goalless.

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