Monday, November 22, 2004

Blessed relief

Saturday's 2-0 victory at Crystal Palace brought to a sequence of three consecutive league reverses, edging us up one place to 9th in the table. The clean sheet was only our second in league matches this season, and our first away from home.

So, all smiles in the end, but it had the potential to be a horrible afternoon. Our record at Selhurst Park is not good (though mainly against Wimbledon), and Palace have set about proving some doubters wrong in recent weeks, myself included, with displays of passion and commitment epitomised in the match with Arsenal which, but for an awful miss by substitute Lakis, they could have won. In Andy Johnson they have a striker in form, and someone who no doubt took one look at our defensive record and rubbed his hands with glee. I would have settled for a draw, just to stop the rot.

Unlike at Birmingham and Charlton, though, we were fortunate not to come against a side determined on putting in one of their best performances of the season. For once, our superior class and talent told, though we didn't take the lead until the 78th minute and had Given to thank for a couple of decent stops before then.

With Shearer out injured, Bellamy had the opportunity to show his worth up front and form a partnership with Kluivert and it was they who combined for the decisive first goal. Bellamy latched onto Dyer's pass out wide and his low cross was deftly flicked past Palace keeper Gabor Kiraly by Kluivert. It would have looked foolish if it hadn't come off - but it did, and we were celebrating a brilliant goal from a player who's been badly in need of one since his comeback from injury.

A welcome victory was assured with the second goal two minutes from time. Robert found Bellamy in the box and he shimmied away from a defender before lashing the ball high into the roof of the net. Even though he's been being played out of position in recent weeks, it's pleasing to note that he's responded to the arrival of Kluivert by sharpening his scoring instincts and finding the back of the net with increased frequency - that was his seventh of the season in all competitions.

Not wanting to read too much into the win, it does at least prove that even without Shearer we have more than enough strike power to score goals, and that if the defence stays tight and focused, victories will follow. It's not rocket science.

Thursday's UEFA Cup match in France against Sochaux promises to be a tough encounter, especially given the ineligibility of Johnsen to compound the absence through injury of Carr and O'Brien. What's more, Sochaux are now eight games unbeaten, having defeated last season's Champions League finalists Monaco 3-1 at the weekend. We're going to have to be on our mettle to take something from the game.


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