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Match Report

 

Posted Sat 08 Aug 09 at 17:09 PM

CRYSTAL PALACE 1 ARGYLE 1

Crystal Palace 1
Lee 62

Argyle 1
Timár 5

A DRAW away from home anywhere in the Championship is a result not to be sniffed at, so Pilgrims of the New World can take a lot of pleasure from their opening-day Coca-Cola Championship encounter in South London.

However, the manner of a performance showing no little skill and plenty of artfulness and craft will be as gratifying to manager Paul Sturrock and his new-look board of directors as the share of the Selhurst spoils.

Football is all about ifs, buts and maybes, but a significant Argyle victory was on the cards for most of the first half if chances created had maybe been taken.

Centre-back Krisztián Timár celebrated the dawn of Argyle's New World with one of the earliest goals of the afternoon, stabbing home Luke Summerfield's corner after five minutes.

Palace levelled almost an hour later, during which time they had been second-best for vast swathes of the game, when substitute Alan Lee headed home a sweet cross by Victor Moses.

Unusually for the start of the season, although not uniquely, Argyle's starting 11 did contain a single new face.

There was one summer signing in the 'squashed' diamond formation, although midfielder Carl Fletcher played the second half of last season at Home Park on loan - from Crystal Palace - and made quite an impact on the Pilgrims' progress.

Fletcher anchored a basic five-man midfield and, with Karl Duguid named only as one of the seven substitutes permitted this season, captained the side on his immediate return to Selhurst Park.

Luggy chose not to throw centre-back Réda Johnson into the deep end, instead pairing Timár with Marcel Seip in the middle of the back four, with David McNamee and Gary Sawyer on the outside.

Jim Paterson was given a deep role alongside Fletcher in the middle of Selhurst, with Steve MacLean playmaking ahead of them in support of lone striker Rory Fallon. Summerfield and Jamie Mackie were wide right and left respectively, with a brief to get forward and back up the front whenever possible.

Johnson took his place on the ever-increasing bench with, among others, on-loan Blackburn Rovers midfielder Alan Judge and former Barnsley goalkeeper Kyle Letheren, who signed a short-term contract on Friday.

Palace, too, contained mostly recognisable names, the effect, at least in part of the transfer embargo they have been under for most of the summer.

Two of their new men, West Ham loan striker Freddie Sears and former Southampton man Stern John, took their places in a three-man forward line, with another close-season capture, Darren Ambrose on the substitutes' bench.

The Pilgrims started with some lovely passing that had Palace chasing thin air, but were given a start by the more direct home side when Moses crossed from the left for John to power a header from which he should have hit the target.

Suitably warned, Argyle regained their positive momentum - and made it count.

Mackie's trademark persistence won a free-kick on the edge of the Palace penalty area which was taken so quickly that Palace were grateful to clear for a corner.

They were not so thankful 30 seconds later, after Summerfield had swung over an in-ducking dead-ball from the left that arrived at the same time as Timár at the far post, from where the big Hungarian smashed it home from two yards.

The Mack-in-the box nearly extended the early lead (the old favourite "Top of the league - we're havinga laugh was neatly and ironically reprised by the Green Army) when he snuck in behind the Palace defence but could not quite lift a bouncing ball over Eagles' goalkeeper Julian Speroni.

It has been a failing of the Greens in previous seasons to attempt to hold on to any lead they get, and, in doing so, falling further and further back, but there was no immediate evidence of this, quite possibly because the attacking nature of Luggy's side would not allow it.

In pushing forward, they allowed Palace opportunities for a sight on Romain Larrieu's goal, but none were taken. Sears shot wide after a busy run, cutting in from the right, and John touched home Moses' low drive from a clearly offside position.

Mackie, meanwhile, continued to ask questions from the Argyle left, and went close again when he cut into the penalty area and drove a shot wide of Speroni's right post.

Palace lived up to their, and Neil Warnock's, reputation as arch exponents of the set-piece, with Moses chipping anything within range of the Pilgrims' goal up to the far post for the big men to earn scraps from their less robust team-mates to feed off. Argyle stood firm.

The home side lost John in curious circumstances ten minutes before the break after he chased a ball and collided with Larrieu. I say "collided", but "brushed" would be a more accurate description of their coming together. Nevertheless, John left the pitch on a stretcher, to be replaced by Lee.

Palace's highly-rated right-back Nathaniel Clyne continued to be torn apart by Mackie, who maybe could have done better when he broke free and found the bye-line but failed to find any support for his efforts.

The home side's best opportunity to level before the break fell to the feet of young Sears, who showed the impudence of youth by unleashing a fierce rising shot from range that Larrieu turned around the post.

The Pilgrims ended the half as they had begun it - and, indeed, played most of it - on the attack.

A throw from McNamee was flicked back from the near post by Fallon, despite being the subject of a bear hug by Clint Hill, with Paterson only just unable to bundle the assist into the net at the far post.

Immediately, the roles were reversed, with Paterson showing fine vision down the left before sending over a pluperfect cross that Fallon flung himself towards and connected with, the full force of his airborne 6ft 4in frame behind it.

Had the ball been even an inch or two either side of Speroni, it would have been number two for the Pilgrims. As it was, the Argentine custodian still needed to display fine reflexes to deflect it for a corner.

Sears had another sight of the Argyle goal in the opening moments of the second half, but his shot from 20 yards was deflected wide, as Palace attempted to set an attacking tempo.

Argyle, though, looked comfortable and composed, and showed no little skill. A marvellous sweeping move started by Summerfield involved Paterson and Mackie before MacLean's diving header at the far post was bundled away by Speroni.

Palace's purpose kept the Pilgrims keen, with the flow of the game being largely towards the Argyle goal, a situation Warnock attempted to reinforce by introducing Ambrose on the hour.

However, it was the first Palace substitute who hauled the Eagles level, Moses sending over the perfect cross for Lee to rise in between several white-shirted players and head past an exposed Larrieu.

From the re-start, Argyle tested the theory that a side is never more vulnerable than when they have just scored by sending Mackie away down his wing for the umpteenth time.This time, he cut the ball back from the bye-line for Fallon, whose attempted sweep into the opposite corner was thwarted by Speroni.

Duguid replaced the ailing MacLean, and Judge came on for Summerfield, but the momentum remained with the home side, although it was Argyle who played the more thoughtful and composed football.

Judge linked well with McNamee before crossing towards Fallon at the far post, where only the late intervention of a defender prevented the big Kiwi from at least attempting to capitalise.

Storm weathered, Argyle regrouped and finished strongly, with Judge coming close to crowning his return to the Westcountry with a spectacular free-kick goal that had Speroni beaten but drifted wide of the post.

In the final five minutes, a largely redundant Larrieu kept Argyle on par by diving bravely at the feet of Sears, but a Palace winner then would have been thoroughly unjust.

Rick Cowdery

Crystal Palace (4-4-2): 1 Julian Speroni; 2 Nathaniel Clyne, 17 Matt Lawrence, 5 Patrick McCarthy, 3 Clint Hill; 4 Shaun Derry (capt), 8 Neil Danns (7 Darren Ambrose 60), 33 Alassane N'Diaye, 11 Victor Moses (14 Sean Scannell 78); 9 Stern John (19 Alan Lee 35), 16 Freddie Sears. Substitutes (not used):10 Nick Carle, 12 Darryl Flahavan (gk), 20 Danny Butterfield, 22 Johnny Ertl.

Booked: Lee 90.

Argyle (4-5-1):1 Romain Larrieu; 16 David McNamee, 5 Krisztian Timár, 19 Marcel Seip, 18 Gary Sawyer; 20 Luke Summerfield (25 Alan Judge 70), 4 Carl Fletcher (capt), 9 Steve MacLean (2 Karl Duguid 65), 3 Jim Paterson, 8 Jamie Mackie; 14 Rory Fallon. Substitutes (not used):6 Chris Clark, 17 Craig Noone, 22 Réda Johnson, 23 Kyle Letheren (gk), 24 Ashley Barnes.

Booked: Timár 27, Summerfield 54.

Referee: Andy Penn (West Midlands).

Attendance: 14,358 (1,492 away).

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