Palace showing spirit in fight for survival

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Two down, two to go. With apolgies to all those who care for Ipswich and Leicester, that, realistically, appears the state of play at the wrong end of the Premiership this morning.

There are now eight points between this pair - who each lost matches they desperately needed to win on Saturday - and Coventry. More pertinently, they are respectively 10 and 12 points adrift of Everton, who occupy the first safety spot.

Even the classic championship formula (home win, away draw) is unlikely to save either straggler - not that they appear likely to produce it. But who goes with them is anybody's guess. Norwich, in 10th place, are only six points ahead of Coventry. In between are some big names and, as Nottingham Forest discovered two years ago, they do not always escape.

With four clubs going down, this season looks like creating a new record points score for a relegated club. The current record-holders, Crystal Palace, demoted with 49 points two seasons ago, are in it again. Their 2-0 win over Ipswich at Portman Road onSaturday was as uplifting to them as it was crushing for their hosts. Without it, Palace would also be in the bottom four.

Last year, Palace were promoted as runaway winners of the First Division of the Endsleigh League. Their present position - and that of Leicester - underlines the gap between Premiership and Endsleigh. The cup exploits of the likes of Bolton notwithstanding, it is getting wider and wider.

In the seven seasons since the play-offs began, six clubs have gone straight back down. In the previous nine seasons, only two did so. Only clubs with resources - Leeds, Newcastle, Blackburn, and to a lesser extent, Forest and Villa - have made a seriousimpact. With Premiership income dwarfing that in the Endsleigh League, this gap will continue to increase. Hence the speculation about Premiership II.

Until it arrives (and probably even afterwards) failure will exact a heavy price. Ipswich, like Villa and Everton, have already sacked a manager this season. Alan Smith, Palace's incumbent, freely admits he expects to depart should the club go down. The new man in charge at Ipswich, George Burley, already seems to have accepted the inevitability of relegation.

He may have inspired a freakish win at Anfield soon after his arrival, but Saturday's defeat was much more representative of the fortune and form his club have suffered and shown this season.

After the match, Burley talked persuasively of a long-term job and long-term aims. One suspects he said much the same to emerge from the back of the pack when the job interviews were conducted. Burley has a clear idea of where he intends the club to go, and if it means getting there via relegation, then so be it.

Burley talked of wanting a return to the habits of Ipswich's golden side of the late seventies, when he was right-back and Bobby Robson was the manager. "You won't get a side like that again," said one hack. "But you can play to the same principles," replied Burley, who criticised his team for resorting too often to the long ball.

"The financial situation means it is more difficult for a club like us to challenge as we once did, but it means you have to work harder at bringing on your own players. People are asking £2-3m for ordinary players now, so we have to bring players up theright way and into the first team."

Six players from each side on Saturday had come through the ranks, although John Wark, still one of his team's best players at the age of 37, dates from Burley's generation. Wark efficiently marshalled a defence that would not have been breached on Saturday afternoon had it not been for errors by two less-experienced players.

The second mistake nearly cost Wark his right to stay on the pitch. Tony Vaughan, only 19 and otherwise impressive in his ninth match, gave the ball away to John Salako deep in his own half.

Salako ran at Wark, and was body-checked on the edge of the box as he drifted by. Wark could easily have been sent off, but since a penalty was given even though the foul had been committed outside the box, justice - of a sort - was done.

By then the match was over, the first goal having been crucial. It should have gone to Ipswich. A minute into the second half, Nigel Martyn tried to dribble clear on receiving a back-pass. Lee Chapman disposs- essed him and slipped the ball to Stuart Slater, but he delayed shooting long enough for Chris Coleman to cover.

Nine minutes later, Craig Forrest found himself in a similar position and opted to clear upfield. the ball struck Salako and rebounded off his elbow to Iain Dowie, who scored.

Ipswich had already struck the woodwork twice in the first half. Neil Thompson hit the bar from 25 yards, and Slater found the post from 10. Palace were similarly afflicted when Salako did the same from a curling free-kick.

Palace also had Ricky Newman dismissed. Booked in the first half for kicking the ball away, he was involved in a scuffle with Adam Tanner - who was booked - with 17 minutes to go. Newman then departed with his team-mates for a short break in Cyprus, leaving Ipswich to study the tables in the Sunday papers. It would have made for cheerless reading.

Goals: Dowie (55) 0-1; Gordon pen (86) 0-2.

Ipswich Town (4-4-2): Forrest; Yallop, Wark, Vaughan, Thompson; Tanner, Williams (Thomsen, 77), Sedgley, Johnson (Paz, 66); Slater, Chapman. Substitute not used: Morgan (gk).

Crystal Palace (4-4-2): Martyn; Patterson, Coleman, Shaw, Gordon; Pitcher, Southgate, Newman, Salako; Armstrong (Bowry, 76), Dowie. Substitutes not used: Preece, Wilmot (gk).

Referee: S Lodge (Barnsley).