Tuesday 3rd April.
The important thing when you are playing one of the teams also
involved in the relegation dogfight is not to lose. This is especially
so when you are playing away from home, and Town needed all of their
battling qualities to rob the home side of two precious points.
Macari’s team selection today sprang no real surprises as Delroy
Facey earned a start at the expense of Ben Thornley who surprisingly
didn’t feature in the 16 at all. This meant an all Huddersfield
striking partnership of Booth and Facey, with the lively Lee Morris
continuing his role on the left wing.
Heavy rain in the south east made for a greasy pitch more suitable
for Rugby League than football, and both teams began the game cagily
as they were more intent on not letting the advantage go to the
other side. Chances were at a premium in the early stages, but it
was the home side that were more adventurous as they tried long-range
efforts from Tommy Black whose effort was wide of the target and
David Hopkin had a shot easily saved by Nico Vaesen. Town created
little in front of goal, and as the half progressed it was clear
that Crystal Palace had the more attacking ambitions as both Morrison
and Zhiyi tried their luck but failed to trouble the Town keeper.
Town’s defence battled resolutely as further chances fell to Mikael
Forsell and Matthew Upson, but once again their accuracy was lacking
and failed to seriously trouble Nico Vaesen. Late in the first half
Forsell was again well positioned with a header, but in keeping
with the rest of the half headed the ball wide from just 6 yards
out. As the half drew to a close Delroy Facey created Town’s best
chance with a rasping 20 yard shot that the Palace keeper did well
to turn around his post, but with the scores level I would gladly
have accepted the full time whistle at this stage.
Knowing that Town are a second half team I anticipated an improved
performance in the second half, but unfortunately it was the home
side who were in the ascendancy. Their half time lecture must have
told them to up the tempo of the game and find their shooting boots,
and unfortunately for Town they heeded the words. Palace soon got
into their stride and began to control the midfield, providing their
forward players with far more support than they had enjoyed in the
first 45 minutes.
Centre backs Chris Lucketti and Jon Dyson had to be at their best
to repel the constant threat of Forsell and Morrison, whilst Steve
Jenkins seemed to revel in the atrocious conditions as he set about
the onerous task of containing Tommy Black. Shots that would have
been wayward in the first half were starting to find the target,
and Nico Vaesen had to be alert to deny the dangerous duo of Morrison
and Forsell. After about 55 minutes Chinese international defender
Fan Zhiyi had to be focused to deny Delroy Facey, but after that
it was more or less all one-way traffic from Palace.
Soon after the hour mark Clinton Morrison let rip with a volley
that thankfully whistled just wide of the mark with Vaesen well
beaten, then within a few minutes had to react smartly to save a
Matthew Upson header. Moments later David Hopkin tried his luck
with a volley only to see it pass narrowly wide of goal, and this
was to mark the end of Town’s attacking ambitions. Macari brought
on Kenny Irons for the ineffective Simon Baldry in an effort to
shore things up in midfield but it was all hands to the pump, as
the entire side seemed to be on defensive duty.
Town were possibly guilty of defending to deeply at times and
when they were able to make a partial clearance there were insufficient
numbers available to hold possession and give the back four some
respite. It was nail biting stuff as Crystal Palace continued to
launch wave after wave of attacks with the recently returned David
Hopkin pulling the strings from midfield. It was gritty stuff from
Town, and had they shown this kind of determination in the first
3 months of the season would probably be in a nice comfortable mid
table position, if not pushing towards the play-offs.
Lee Morris was sacrificed for Jim Brennan in the 79th minute as
Town looked to consolidate at the back and hang on to the point
they had worked so hard to earn. Brennan did in fact have a very
good surging run towards the Palace goal, but lacked support and
his eventual pass was wayward. It was the other end of the pitch
that saw the majority of action in the last 10 minutes or so as
the home side looked for the goal which would have put some daylight
between the teams both on the night and in the league table. All
looked lost when in the 86th minute Clinton Morrison sprang the
offside trap, and as he looked to despatch David Hopkins pinpoint
pass Nico Vaesen pulled off a wonderful reaction stop to deny him.
The seconds ticked slowly by as David Hopkin continued to taunt
the defence, but Town stood firm as they resisted the last flurry
of attacks and corners that ensued.
It was a huge relief when the referee finally called time on proceedings
and allowed Town to escape with a point. One point was not enough
to lift us out of the bottom three as Stockport picked up a surprise
point away at Bolton. More importantly, however, was a display that
showed that the team still have some fight for the remaining 8 games
of the season. They are now within a win of the three teams immediately
above them and have at least one game in hand so our destiny is
back in our own hands. It’s a simple equation, win 7 of the last
8 games and our first division status is guaranteed, the only problem
with this is that we have to get these wins against some of the
high-flying teams like Fulham, Blackburn and Birmingham.
Crystal Palace 0
Position in table – 22nd
Town – Vaesen; Jenkins; Lucketti; Dyson;
Heary; Morris (Brennan 79); Armstrong; Gorré; Booth; Facey
(Gallen 86); Baldry (Irons 62). Subs not used – Margetson;
Crystal Palace – Kolinko; Upson; Austin;
Zhiyi; Rodger; Morrison; Black (Rubins 80); Forsell; Harrison;
Hopkin; Riihilahti. Subs not used – Carlisle; Berhalter; Fuller;
Referee – Rob Harris (Oxford). Attendance