Francis has plenty of striking options

TREVOR Francis, the Crystal Palace manager, seems to collect strikers like a lepidopterist collects rare butterflies. An ace marksman himself, Francis perhaps tends to be more demanding of his strikers than players in other positions, writes Tony Garnett.

TREVOR Francis, the Crystal Palace manager, seems to collect strikers like a lepidopterist collects rare butterflies. An ace marksman himself, Francis perhaps tends to be more demanding of his strikers than players in other positions, writes Tony Garnett.

Palace seemed well equipped up front with players like Ade Akinbiyi, Dougie Freedman, Dele Adebola and Andy Johnson. Yet only last week Noel Whelan joined the club on loan from Middlesbrough until the end of the season. He scored on his debut against Bradford City at Valley Parade on Saturday. Bryan Robson paid £2 million for Whelan when he joined Boro from Coventry City in 2000. The Palace interest in Whelan developed only after their efforts to secure Marcus Stewart from Sunderland had been unsuccessful.

It seems ironic that Steve Kabba, released by Palace this season, scored Sheffield United's FA Cup winner against Leeds United at Bramall Lane on Sunday. Kabba has scored one for Palace this season, six for Grimsby and five for Sheffield United.

Palace looked, on paper at any rate, one of the possible promotion candidates before the season started. They have lost ground in recent weeks but still have an outside chance of reaching the play-offs.

Francis paid £1 million for the powerful Adebola when he joined Birmingham City from Crewe Alexandra. Akinbiyi has moved from club to club for even bigger money over the past six years.

Norwich City let him go to Gillingham for £250,000. The Kent club sold him to Bristol City for £1.2 million but that proved to be a bargain because Wolves then paid £3.5 million of Sir Jack Hayward's money.

Most Read

Akinbiyi never set Molineux alight but he still joined Leicester City for a massive club record £5 million, a figure time has proved the Foxes could not really afford. Francis has always rated him and took him to Selhurst Park for £2.2 million and will now be expecting a worthwhile return. Akinbiyi was seen as a replacement for Republic of Ireland striker Clinton Morrison, who is now in the Premiership with Birmingham.

Palace have conceded only 12 goals in 16 home League matches. They will be hard to break down despite the fact that the experienced Curtis Fleming is ruled out for the season with a knee injury.

The first-choice goalkeeper is Frenchman Cedric Berthelin, a 26-year-old who joined Luton Town from Lens on an initial two-month contract earlier in the season.

Long-term injury to Matt Clarke (who was at Sheffield Wednesday with Jim Magilton) and an ongoing row between Alex Kolinko and his manager has seen Berthelin establish himself.

Kolinko, a Latvian international signed from Skonto Riga for £600,000, claimed he was struck by Francis in the dugout earlier in the season. More recently he did not turn up for a match and was fined two weeks' wages by chairman Simon Jordan.

Kolinko wants to leave. Spartak Moscow are keen to take him on, but Palace are adamant that he cannot depart until a replacement has been found. Efforts to sign Norwegian international Thomas Myhre fell through. Kolinko played for Palace in a recent Surrey Senior Cup tie at Leatherhead, a far cry from Russia.

Danny Butterfield is a former Grimsby Town defender while Danny Granville is a former Cambridge United youngster who moved to Chelsea for £300,000 and then had six figure moves to Leeds United and Manchester City. He was never able to establish himself at Maine Road and had a loan spell at Norwich before a £500,000 transfer to Palace.

Contenders for midfield include the Finnish international Aki Riihilahti, Shaun Derry (ex-Notts County, Sheffield United and Portsmouth) and Hayden Mullins who is home-produced by Palace. Steve Thomson is a former Scottish youth international who is in his fourth season of League football for the London club.

The Palace wingers, Tommy Black and Julian Gray, both started as trainees at Arsenal but found their paths blocked by the superstars at Highbury.

Both have been offered new contracts by Palace to prevent them from leaving at the end of season on a Bosman free transfer.

Francis, who made his League debut for Birmingham City when he was 16 years and seven months old, likes to push talented youngsters forward if they are good enough. The Palace teenagers at the moment are Gary Borrowdale and striker Wayne Routledge.

Become a Supporter

This newspaper has been a central part of community life for many years. Our industry faces testing times, which is why we're asking for your support. Every contribution will help us continue to produce local journalism that makes a measurable difference to our community.

Become a Supporter