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Thursday, January 13, 2011

Big Match Preview

Swansea City vs. Crystal Palace
Saturday February 15, 12:45, Liberty Stadium

Fourth top meet third bottom in South Wales on Saturday lunchtime as high-flying Swansea City entertain a Crystal Palace side battling for their very Championship existence in the relegation zone.

The Swans are enjoying a fine campaign as they seek to return to England's top flight for the first time in 28 years. Palace, on the other hand, will be glad to see the back of a miserable 2010 where they have been battling for survival both on and off the pitch.

The visitors go into the match under the permanent charge of Dougie Freedman for the first time. The former Palace player made over 300 appearances as a striker and has now been handed the task of keeping the Eagles up.

It had seemed as though Bournemouth's Eddie Howe was destined for the hot seat, but he opted to stay on the South Coast rather than move to South London - giving Freedman his chance.

He took charge of their 1-0 win over relegation rivals Preston following the sacking of George Burley, and Palace's 2-1 loss at Coventry last weekend in the FA Cup.

One of the Scot's primary aims will be turn around his side's away form - comfortably the worst in the Championship.

Palace have recorded just one away win, at Norwich, so far, and have gained draws at Bristol City and Cardiff. However, ten of their 13 trips have ended in defeat, conceding 31 goals along the way.

Top scorer for the Eagles this term is wide man Neil Danns, with six, although creative midfielder Darren Ambrose is always an integral man going forwards, particularly with his set piece delivery.

Brendan Rodgers has Swansea competing for a Premier League place

They travel to a Swansea team who boast one of the Championship's most formidable home records. Indeed, City have conceded just five goals in 13 games at the Liberty this term, the tightest home defensive record in the division.

Eight of those 13 games have ended in victory, with Reading, Barnsley, Middlesbrough, Preston, Leicester, Burnley, Coventry, and Scunthorpe all being seen off.

However, they have seen both Portsmouth and Bristol City leave with maximum spoils, so will be wary of Palace - despite a convincing 3-0 at Selhurst Park when the two teams met earlier in the campaign.

Boss Brendan Rodgers, who succeeded Paulo Sousa during the summer, has kept faith with the long-ingrained style of attractive, passing football that has seen the Welsh club knocking on the door of the Championship's top six in the last couple of years.

He has also helped cure the chronic shortage of goals which put paid to their play-off hopes last term, with summer signing Scott Sinclair bagging 14 goals in all competitions. Midfielder Darren Pratley, recently linked with top flight clubs, has been another key figure with six strikes to his name.

However, Rodgers was dealt a blow when captain and defender Gary Monk was ruled out for three months with a knee injury after last weekend's 4-0 FA Cup win against Colchester.

It's also risky to be too confident of how a game will go in the Championship. It's a famously tight division where anyone can beat anyone else on their day.

Swansea have been in such fine form at home though, and looked so difficult to score against, that they should have enough to see off struggling Palace and maintain their promotion push.

Nobes' Prediction: Swansea City 2 Crystal Palace 0

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