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Reds storm Palace

Six-hitters Liverpool ruthlessly punished suicidal defending by a shell-shocked Crystal Palace side slaughtered on their Premiership return.

Alan Smith's first division champions will clearly face a struggle to establish themselves in the top flight if they continue to produce horror shows like this.

As Liverpool's goals flew in, Palace fans feared a repeat of the club's worst nightmare - the nine-goal defeat by Liverpool at Anfield five years ago.

It was a desperate day for Palace's three summer signings.

Former Stockport County striker Andy Preece was taken to hospital with back trouble after 24 minutes. Former England captain Ray Wilkins was booked and limped off eight minutes early and uncertain Darren Pitcher, signed from Charlton, presented Liverpool with their crucial third goal.

The goals timetable went like this :

Twelve minutes : Jan Molby, back in the first team for the first time since last December, fired Liverpool ahead from the penalty spot after Simon Rodger bundled over Rob Jones.

Fourteen minutes : Steve McManaman grabbed the second from the edge of the Liverpool penalty area to beat Nigel Martyn.

Forty-four minutes : Robbie Fowler side-footed the third after Pitcher miskicked into his path.

Forty-nine minutes : Chris Armstrong headed Palace briefly back into the game by connecting with a Dean Gordon cross.

Sixty minutes : Ian Rush headed in a Stig Bjornebye cross with the Palace defence absent.

Seventy minutes : McManaman tapped in his second and Liverpool's fifth from a Jamie Redknapp pass.

Seventy-four minutes : Rush again took advantage of sloppy defending by heading the sixth after John Barnes nodded on a Redknapp corner.

Manager Alan Smith ordered his Palace team to report on Sunday so they can watch a horror video of themselves in action.

Unhappy Smith refused to slate his players in the dressing room afterwards but will analyse their failings after watching the video with them.

"Our defending was horrific," snapped Smith. "The goals were going in at will. It was a painful lesson for us and I have told the chaps to come in tomorrow and watch a video of it. I think they must have been listening to Terry Venables talk about his Christmas tree plan. We had the tree with all the presents on it. It wasn't naivety - just bad play. I can't really talk my way out of it. Liverpool scored some great goals and their goalkeeper made marvellous saves when he had to. But it was not a freak result. We just defended so poorly. It is going to be a bloody hard season for us. This was a rude awakening and I hope we have got it out of our system now."

Amazingly, Liverpool boss Roy Evans admitted to a tinge of disappointment over the result.

Perfectionist Evans was unhappy that Liverpool had conceded a goal to 6 million pound Everton target Chris Armstrong.

He said: "I'm a bit disappointed we lost a goal but obviously I'm pleased with such a convincing scoreline on the first day - we are capable of beating teams heavily if we keep our consistency. But we started the second half badly, allowed Palace to get back into it and it wasn't until we started passing the ball around that I began to feel happier."

Evans is planning to bring in at least two new players but claims he is still waiting to hear from Coventry about his bid for Republic Of Ireland defender Phil Babb.

WILKINS REFLECTS ON LOSS

Ray Wilkins left Selhurst Park on Saturday bruised, battered but mainly bewildered by Liverpool's treatment from the critics.

Crystal Palace's new midfield general eagerly praised a Liverpool team stung by their dismissal as title candidates into handing out a 6-1 opening day hiding.

"Liverpool deserve all the credit they can get after a performance like that," said Wilkins. "They scored some marvellous goals and are still a force to be reckoned with."

But didn't Palace contribute hugely to their own downfall with suicidal defending?

"There was probably a bit of nerves and tension on our part," added Wilkins diplomatically.

Palace's Premiership return became a nightmare instead of the celebration they had planned.

Liverpool ruthlessly exploited a catalogue of errors to top the Premiership by virtue of the greatest victory margin.

It was a painful debut for former England captain Wilkins. The sight of him weaving unsteadily on crutches to his car afterwards somehow summed up Palace's torrid afternoon. "This hasn't been the best of starts for me," he said.

Wilkins, 38 next month, struggled to fit in with a young Palace side who frequently bypassed midfield on their way to the First Division championship last season.

Instead, it was Jan Molby, looking considerably heavier than Wilkins, who ran this six-goal show. Delighted Liverpool boss Roy Evans said: "There is a determination among the lads to prove people wrong."

Copyright - British Soccer Week


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