Smith says he spoke out too late

FOOTBALL: Defeat at Elland Road leaves Crystal Palace on the brink of relegation while Leeds move nearer to a place in Uefa Cup
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The Independent Online
Alan Smith, the manager of Crystal Palace, yesterday peered over the Premiership parapet into the Endsleigh League and admitted: "Perhaps I didn't speak out in time."

Palace's 3-1 defeat at Leeds United on Tuesday night left them odds-on to join Ipswich, Norwich and Leicester in the First Division next season. Although Smith is still hoping his side can escape by winning at Newcastle on Sunday, he accepted yesterday that he might have been too quiet about the problems at Selhurst Park.

Smith's brittle relationship with his chairman, Ron Noades, has finally snapped beyond repair, with the manager almost certain to depart at the end of the season.

Although he tried not to widen the divide, Smith made it clear that things had been going wrong at the club for some time.

"I've said my bit about things before and everybody knows what my thoughts are," Smith said when pressed on the problems with his chairman. "For me to over-elaborate looks as if I'm having a snipe at the last minute and I don't intend to do that.

"I said my bit earlier, trying to rattle the cage a little bit, hoping it would jolt some people into action. But I think by the time I did that it was slightly too late anyway. Perhaps I should have done it in the summer a bit more.

"The trouble is that you get sucked into the summer air. We'd just won the championship and you think it will be all right. Realistically though, when you get to October and November, it's then you start realising that it isn't. But going that route will do no good now. It's gone past that."

Although Palace have conceded just 46 goals this season - only the top six have better defensive records - they have scored just 32, the lowest tally in the Premiership.

Smith also pointed out that the cup campaigns that had taken his side into two semi-finals had drained his players.

"I remember listening to the radio when Leeds went out of the Coca-Cola Cup to Mansfield," Smith recalled. "Perhaps if we'd been knocked out then we wouldn't be in this situation. We've played 15 cup games this season and that's a lot of extra games for a squad with the limited strength of ours."

Leeds can make certain of a place in the Uefa Cup next season if they avoid defeat at Tottenham on Sunday. There has been a remarkable change in fortunes at Elland Road in recent months, particularly since the arrival in January of the Ghanaian striker, Tony Yeboah.

Howard Wilkinson, the Leeds manager, said: "Our form over the last 20 games has been very, very encouraging. We've taken 40 points from those games and all the effort will seem worthwhile if we can get a result on Sunday."

Leeds are to hold talks with Yeboah next week aimed at fending off advances from his old club, Eintracht Frankfurt, who were represented at the game against Palace. Yeboah has a get-out clause in his three-year contract which allows him to leave next January.

But the Leeds chairman, Leslie Silver, said: "We are keen to sign Tony up for the balance of the three years and I shall be meeting him and his agent next week with that in mind."

Tottenham Hotspur are another club keen to retain the services of an international striker. Jrgen Klinsmann is expected to announce he will stay with Tottenham by the end of the week. Klinsmann is considering an offer to play for Bayern Munich.

There is also a doubt about the future of Gerry Francis, the Tottenham manager, who is believed to want to spend more time with his family.

After Spurs had lost 3-1 at home to Coventry on Tuesday - a result which guaranteed Coventry's survival in the Premiership - Francis admitted that speculation over Klinsmann's future had unsettled the German striker.

"It can't help Jurgen or the team, it's been a difficult situation, one that's unfortunate," Francis said."That will be resolved, I would imagine, before the end of the week or at the end of the week."

On his own situation, he revealed: "That scenario will also be sorted by the end of the week as well, everything will be clear, one way or the other, all questions will be answered."