Cast your mind back a mere three decades. Its early 1980, and the media people are telling everyone/anyone who will listen, that Terry Venables Crystal Palace are destined to be ‘The Team Of The Eighties’. Things were looking up at Selhurst Park, an upwardly mobile young team, a well respected young manager at the helm, and things could only go one way for Crystal Palace Football Club. Or so we were assured.
Of course, as we all well know, it didn’t happen the way the so called experts predicted it would do. Venables moved on, to be replaced for a second brief stint by Malcolm Allison (he of the fedora hat, and bath time with Fiona Richmond fame), the young Palace team broke up and went their separate ways, and apart from a couple of brief sojourns spent in the top flight, Crystal Palace were once again doomed and destined to tread the backwaters of English football.
Now thirty years on, things are arguably as gloomy as ever, the club hovering just above the relegation places in the Championship, after being deducted points for losing their battle against falling into the hands of the administrator. The immediate future looks far from rosy, but you wouldn’t have been able to have read that situation from the faces of the home supporters as they filed into Selhurst Park for the F.A. Cup fifth round tie. They were well and truly ‘up for the cup’, creating a superb atmosphere, playing their part in proving that the oldest and most respected knock out tournament in the world is still very much alive and kicking.
As for myself and my four traveling companions, we had journeyed down from Brum, cautiously optimistic, without being over confident. On all of the occasions that we have visited Selhurst Park down the years, not one of us could readily recall a good Villa performance. We did see us come back from 2-0 down to draw a League Cup tie 2-2 when goals from Chico Hamilton and Andy Lochhead secured a Villa Park replay, but even on the odd occasion we’ve triumphed here, the performance has left a lot to be desired.
Going back to our most recent visit, a 2-0 defeat some five years or so back, we’d been outfought and outplayed, and were lucky to return home without suffering a heavier defeat.
As had been widely reported in the days leading up to the game, Gabby was unfit and not able to keep his place, but Stan Petrov was deemed able to keep hold of the captains armband. A surprise return for Stephen Warnock, we hadn’t seen that one coming, and Luke Young preferred to Carlos Cuellar at right full back. In goal MON had also decided to go with Brad Snr as opposed to baby Brad, so we lined up as follows:-
Friedel, L. Young, Collins, Dunne, Warnock, Petrov, Milner, Downing, Delph, A. Young, Heskey.
On the bench:- Guzan, Delfouesno, Carew, Cuellar, Sidwell, Beye, Davies.
We started brightly, looking composed, in very little trouble, yet once again we seemed to lack that cutting edge when we approached the home sides penalty area. In fairness to Palace, they certainly weren’t overawed, and played with plenty of spirit within their ranks. Manager Warnock had assured the home faithful that they wouldn’t exit the competition without putting up one hell of a fight, and his players certainly gave credence to their managers fighting words.
On twenty-five minutes the stadium erupted as Palace took the lead. Darren Ambrose swung over a left wing corner, Brad flapped, although in fairness he may well have been impeded by Stephen Warnock, and up rose foreign import Ertl, to score what we learned in the pub afterwards, was his first goal for the club after two years plus at Selhurst Park. Game on!
Danns hit a shot from the edge of the area straight down Friedel’s throat, and as we all agreed at the time, if that had have flown in, at 2-0 down we would really have been up against it.
We’d lost a bit of composure following Palace’s opener, but fortunately James Collins got on the end of an inswinging delivery from Stewie Downing, and at 1-1 we were back in business.
Ambrose was a real live-wire for the home team, and just before the break he tested Brad from range, in what was becoming quite a compelling cup-tie.
John Carew came on for the disappointing Emile Heskey at the interval, the opening forty five minutes re-iterating what many supporters believe. This current team is one very good centre-forward away from being a very good team.
Into the second half and JC had a shot on the turn saved by the home keeper, but the contest remained open, with Palace coming forward at every opportunity, responding superbly to the vocal support from their supporters.
Then on seventy minutes the home side took the lead again, following a superbly struck twenty-five yard free kick from Ambrose. Serious stuff now, with hopes of a second trip to Wembley this season looking under serious threat.
John Carew brought a fine save out of the Palace keeper, while James Collins failed to notch his second of the game when his close range effort was scrambled off the line.
Delfouesno had been thrown on in place of Delph as we chased the game, and while he looked lively, the minutes ticked away with no sign of another Villa goal in sight.
Then came Cap’n Stan’s late equaliser, and we live to fight another day. Joyous celebrations amongst the traveling Villans, coupled with the realisation that the Eagles came very, very close to dumping us out of the competition.
Right, here we go with my marks out of ten:-
Brad Friedel – 5
Luke Young – 6
James Collins – 6
Richard Dunne- 6
Stephen Warnock – 5
James Milner – 6
Stilyan Petrov – 6
Stewart Downing – 6
Fabian Delph – 7
Ashley Young – 6
Emile Heskey – 4
John Carew – 6
Nathan Delfouesno – 6