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Crystal Palace and Man City: An entwined history

STYLE: Malcolm Allison was a visionary

STYLE: Malcolm Allison was a visionary

With Pep Guardiola's bandwagon rolling into Selhurst Park on Saturday, the link between City and Palace and tactical innovation shines brightly, writes Simon Curtis.

In November 1979, with Malcolm Allison's second coming at Maine Road in full unbridled flow, he took his experimental side to face that of his old Palace protégé Terry Venables. 

City's season had begun in the August sunshine of Maine Road against Palace in an exhilarating game that was a fine advert for the football philosophies of the maverick Allison and a young, tactically astute Venables. Suddenly firing in October, Allison's precocious young side took champions Nottingham Forest to the cleaners.

By the time City got to Selhurst Park, people had stopped aiming brickbats at Allison and had begun to believe again. In South East London a match to put the full-toned gloss back into any dull day ensued.

Venables, set to be a future Barcelona boss and one of England's more innovative coaches when taking the national team to the 1996 Euro semi-finals, had already served his managerial apprenticeship under Allison and was now blossoming into a well-regarded coach in his own right.

"There is still hope for the Grand Old Game," wrote James Mossop in the Sunday Express, "as long as men such as Malcolm Allison and Terry Venables produce teams prepared to play with the kind of enthusiasm, skill and sportsmanship, which delighted 30,000 at Selhurst Park." 

Allison stated that "you couldn't get annoyed losing a game like that," and, much as his latter-day successor Pep Guardiola might insist, pronounced himself proud of the beautiful football his team had produced. 

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By the end of the season, after a desperate struggle to get over the finishing line before any of the bottom three of Bolton, Derby County or Bristol City could overtake them, Allison's master plan had been reduced to a threadbare state.

A continuation of this slump accompanied the Blues into the following season and, by November, Allison had been removed from the City payroll for a second and final time. 

His replacement John Bond, one of his many protégés from his West Ham playing days, had taken over the City reigns, immediately galvanizing the club.

Almost a year after the ballet in the drizzle at Selhurst, City returned with a side packed with pragmatic players. Gone was the balletic posturing of Allison's side, the brittle defending of Paul Futcher replaced by the thrusting Bobby McDonald; Michael Robinson's sluggish front-running replaced by the sprightly Kevin Reeves. Steve Daley and Barry Silkman gone from midfield, with the leggy Tommy Hutchison instilling real menace on the flank. Suddenly City had real bite, with the pugnacious Gow in midfield a one man threshing machine. 

The 3-2 win may not have been as beautiful on the eye as the year before, but City had successfully added steel and stamina to their repertoire and were well worth the points in a powerful and energetic display.

Times, however, were changing. The crowd of 16,000 was just under half that from a year before. Palace - the much heralded Team of the 80s - were headed towards the 2nd division and City, rising from the ashes of Allison's fatal squad tinkering, were on course for the Centenary Cup Final. For the two innovative tactical thinkers, their football fortunes were also changing. Allison's last success in England was behind him, while Venables' time in the sun was yet to come.

City are once again in the hands of one of the game's most innovative coaches. Guardiola would have appreciated the foresight of Big Mal and El Tel. They may well be separated by two generations, but they are certainly kindred spirits in the entwined history of Palace and City.

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