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Sep 18, 2004

Keegan safe - for now

CRYSTAL PALACE: 1 MANCHESTER CITY: 2

Kevin Keegan should survive as a Premiership manager for another week at least, but this was not a performance to suggest a Manchester City revival is just around the corner.

The word on the football grapevine all week has been that defeat in this game would condemn Keegan to the managerial graveyard for what may be the last time and such an outcome would have been justified if his expensively assembled side failed to see off a dreadful Palace outfit.

In the end, City picked up the three points that may prove to be a turning point for Keegan, but their wastefulness in front of goal meant they were forced to hang on for grim life in the final few minutes. That after they appeared to take a commanding lead after being awarded a dubious penalty new Premiership referee Martin Atkinson and wasted a host of glorious chances.

Shivering on the touchline as the rain tumbled down, Keegan could have been forgiven for thinking the world was against him, but when news filtered into the press box that one of the horses he owns had won a big race, the feeling that it may be his day grew. And if the former England boss is to bow out as a Premiership manager for the final time, he must be glad that his final game will come at a more glamorous location than this.

I'm not alone in thinking this is one of the more woeful places in the world to get to. The immortal words, 'I want you to do the Palace game on Saturday,' were uttered to me on Tuesday morning and since that fateful moment, the preparations for what is always a trip into the unknown have been underway.

Selhurst Park must be the only football ground in the county that is not blessed with a train station near by. Norwood Junction is a 15 minute walk away from the ground and getting to that rendezvous seems as easy as becoming Mastermind champion.

One of British Rail's more articulate members of staff provided this ideal route planner. 'You need to get off at Kings Pancras mate, get the tube to south London like, then go to East Croydon innit, then go back one stop to Norwood Junction like, you know. Fink so anyway, mate.' And Keegan thought he had problems!

When you finally reach the stadium, you always wonder whether the two and a half hour trek was all worthwhile. The poor view from the press seats always seems to be complimented by woeful weather conditions in this corner of South London and as usual, the rain was pouring down today.

In a first half low on quality and high on boredom, City had the majority of the chances, but the most glaring miss came courtesy of the Palace striker Sandor Torghelle.

With 18 minutes gone and some of us in the press box wondering if we could ask for a movie to be put on the press box TV's to lighten the depression, Torghelle came up with a moment of football farce that you don't see every week. Faced with beating City keeper David James from five yards out, he somehow managed to miss from around five yards out. You had to laugh.

After Torghelle's moment of comedy, City spurned a host of chances. Antoine Sibierski was unfortunate when team mate Jonathan Macken got in the way of his and the same duo were guilty of further misses before the break. Claudio Reyna also went close with a long range effort.

Keegan: Bathetic departure.
Keegan: Bathetic departure.

The second half was never going to bring them any more joy as they are simply not good enough to compete in the Premiership and even against one of the worst sides in the league, they struggled to create chances and looked incapable of putting pressure on Keegan's creaking defence.

Nicolas Anelka showed flashes of class throughout and the bloke next to me in the press box came up with this pearl of wisdom over a half-time cuppa. 'If Anelka understood the off-side rule, he would be dangerous,' was the profound assessment of the reporter suffering from disappointing body odour problems. He also had an annoying voice that he showed no signs of resting.

He seemed pleased when Anelka was again caught off-side again early in the second half, but he fell strangely quiet when the Frenchman gave City a lead with a fine individual goal after 55 minutes. It was a classy finish from a striker who looked less than interested in the game for much of the afternoon.

Macken wasted another glorious chance before Danny Granville handed City what seemed to be the match clinching chance. His push on Shaun Wright-Phillips in the box was foolish and Anelka made little mistake from the penalty spot with a cool finish.

Palace were handed a route back into the game when Nicola Ventola gave us an example of how the Italians like to dive in the box and he was duly awarded a spot kick. Andy Johnson scored for the Eagles, but they rarely threatened an equaliser and Keegan was a relieved figure as he reflected on a win that will see him earn his lavish wages for another week at least.

And so Keegan could greet his tormentors in the press with a smile again. 'I don't worry about pressure on me,' he said sporting an all-black outfit and clearly fuming after a week of media speculation. 'If there is pressure in football, it should be on the manager, but some of the rubbish written by you boys this week has been disgraceful.

'Some of you don't seem to have any shame, but making things up is not fair game as far as I'm concerned. I don't mind talking to you people if we are given a fair crack of the whip and I hope you report that we played well today.

'Palace showed great spirit and they have to do that, but we had that little bit of extra class. I thought it was a thrilling game at the end, with both teams fighting for everything, but it was never going to be a classic game of football. We are fighting for our survival, so it is never going to be a free flowing game between two sides packed full of confidence. That is not the way football works.'

Palace boss Iain Dowie said he had 'pride in his team's fighting spirit' and insisted he could take positives from the performance. None of us managed to identify too many of those positives and maybe he was talking of the experience gained when they are back in the Football League next season. It is impossible to see how Palace will collect the 40-plus points they need to survive.

As for City, time will tell whether this victory may prove to be another false dawn.

MAN OF THE MATCH - NICOLAS ANELKA

Amid all the mediocrity, the Frenchman provided a touch of class and his first goal was the defining moment of the match.

PRESS VIEW - Not great and the poor atmosphere created by the muted Palace fans didn't help. They didn't seem to wake up until the final ten minutes.

OUT OF HIS DEPTH - Sandor Torghelle. It is easy to criticise the Palace forward on a day when he was guilty of one of the all-time great misses, but the Hungarian does not look Premiership class. Neither do most of his team-mates.

REF WATCH - Martin Atkinson was making his Premiership debut and he gave a couple of debatable penalties. The Palace spot-kick, in particular, was debatable as Nicola Ventola tumbled in box, but the decisions seemed to be awarded by his assistants on the line.

VERDICT - With Arsenal and Chelsea set to play City in the next few weeks, you can't see this team of under achievers keeping their manager in a job for long. Expect Keegan and City to enjoy a 'mutual parting' by the end of October.