At once the philosophical difference between Mullery and Coppell became evident, with the new manager's team starting from the premise of a solid and logical shape, and players being used in very specific roles, contrasting with Mullery's confused and aimless formations. Behind the scenes, Noades was claiming that the club was now heading in the right direction financially, denying accusations that Palace lacked ambition, although he did appeal for a millionaire to take over as Chairman and inject some cash for new players. He had in mind someone like Elton John, but the closest
On the field, Coppell's newly wrought team made a poor start to the season, and very soon found themselves in the bottom three, with the manager fairly happy with his defence and midfield, but bemoaning "the age old problem of getting the ball in the onion bag". Trevor Aylott was carrying on where Langley, McCulloch, Jones and Brown had left off and Mabbutt's by now predictable injury problem was once again keeping him out of the team, leaving Cummins and Mahoney to forage up front to little effect. Cummins, who had looked as if he could have been such a good player, was apparently homesick in London and moved back to Sunderland, and with Whyte moving back to Arsenal shortly afterwards, this gave Gavin Nebbeling an extended run in the centre of defence alongside Jim Cannon, who had by now passed Terry Long's club appearance record.
Apart from the perennial problem of scoring goals, the midfield formation was unbalanced, with Irvine, Stebbing and Nicholas all being exclusively right-sided players, and Murphy as the only left-footer. This was remedied when Phil Barber, who was bought originally as a centre forward, replaced Stebbing in the team and took up a position wide on the left, releasing Murphy to his more natural central position. The immediate effect was an unbeaten run of eight games, with the best result a 3-1 win at Grimsby, who had recently knocked Everton o
The run of improved results came to an emphatic end when Palace lost 5-0 at Oxford, followed a few weeks later by a home defeat at the hands of Millwall in the League Cup and - especially humiliating - another 5-0 drubbing at home to Wimbledon, an abysmal performance which remains Palace's lowest point under Steve Coppell. His decisive response was to drop Nebbeling and Aylott, bringing in Stebbing and Finnigan in their places, but he knew that the main problem was a weakness in midfield caused by Peter Nicholas' acrimonious departure to Luton. Henry Hughton was a versatile player, having played in midfield, as centre back, right and left back, and even in goal when George Wood was injured against Shrewsbury, but he wasn't the answer to this particular problem. To fill the gap, Coppell spotted another bargain, and signed the undervalued Kevin Taylor From Derby. His inclusion in the team alongside Murphy restored the familiar symmetry to
The most satisfying result for the few remaining fans was the 2-1 victory over Portsmouth which helped ruin the chances of Billy Gilbert and Vince Hilaire returning to Division One, and at the same time made Palace's own position fairly safe. By the end of the season they had climbed to 15th. in a 22-team division, well clear of relegation, and Coppell had started to lay the foundations for a successful future despite home crowds of frequently less than 5,000.
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