Crystal Palace v Derby County, 3pm

icon zahapalace17 November ~ It was just over three weeks ago that manager Dougie Freedman left Crystal Palace for Bolton Wanderers but it seems a lot longer. Fans have seen the club take top spot in the Championship, the arrival of Ian Holloway as Freedman's replacement and a high-profile twist in the Wilfried Zaha saga, with the striker's England debut, as a substitute, during the midweek friendly against Sweden. Freedman's departure was a blow. Not yet 40, he could be a decent manager and seemed happy taking charge of a team for which he made 368 appearances.

It was the first real test for the Palace owners, still enjoying an extended honeymoon after the traumas of 2010 when the club came close to bankruptcy. A media-friendly "big personality", Holloway is also a very capable coach at this level, even if his actual tactical philosophy remains slightly fuzzy.

As for Zaha, most supporters have long been resigned to him leaving. Transfer fee notwithstanding, whether the 20-year-old ends up at Real Madrid or Reading is pretty much immaterial; keeping hold of him until the end of the season, as opposed to the end of the year, is much more of a concern.

Happily, Palace aren't a one-man team. Players such as Welsh teenager Jonathan Williams, on his way back from injury, and Yannick Bolasie, the French winger, have tended to be rather lost in Zaha's shadow. When everybody's on song, the midfield has a lovely balance and the width and attacking options offered by two quick wingers can create plenty of problems for opposing defenders.

Expectations are higher now among the club's support base than they have been for some time. However, Championship teams have a habit of briefly shining before burning out at the business end of the season: Palace fans won't enjoy the parallel with Brighton but, potentially, it's there to be made.

Today's game against Derby, who are making their second visit to south London in a week following last Saturday's 2-1 defeat at Millwall, is the first of a string of tough-looking fixtures – including Blackpool at Selhurst Park, on December 8 – in the run-up to the transfer window. Come out the other side of all that relatively intact, hopefully with Zaha still in the team, and we'll all know a lot more about whether Palace's current status as promotion contenders is a false one, or if the Eagles deserve that position on top of the table. Matthew Barker

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