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Gray returns determined to end City play-off dream.

Byline: By MARIO RISOLI Western Mail

Julian gray last night thanked Lennie Lawrence for handing him a football lifeline last year - and then said he plans on wrecking the Cardiff City boss' play-off dream.

Crystal Palace winger Gray returns to the Welsh capital tomorrow for a Division One fixture that is crucial for both clubs.

And the 24-year-old spoke of the debt he owes Lawrence after the City manager rescued him from his Selhurst Park nightmare earlier this season.

Gray had been frozen out of the Selhurst Park side after saying he wanted to play for a Premier League club.

But last October, when City were desperate for a left-sided midfielder, Lawrence brought the man from Lewisham to South Wales on loan.

'I'm very grateful to Lennie for the opportunity he gave me at Cardiff and I really enjoyed my time there,' said the former Arsenal man.

'All I wanted to do was to get back playing football again and Lennie made that happen by taking me to Cardiff.

'He wanted to sign me on a permanent basis and, yes, I would like to have stayed.

'But it was out of my hands and it didn't happen. I ended up going back to Crystal Palace. I can't look back, I can only look forward.'

Gray made nine outings for the Bluebirds - four from the bench - before returning to SE25 after City's 3-2 win at Stoke on December 6.

Lawrence wanted to keep Gray for a third month but Palace refused, saying he had to buy the winger outright.

But City said Palace's reputed pounds 200,000 asking price was too much for a player who will be a free agent in the summer.

Gray, however, has not ruled out signing for the Bluebirds this summer.

'Palace have offered me a new contract, but I'm going to wait and see what happens,' he said. 'Going back to Cardiff could happen, you never know. They did show an interest in me this season.

'When this season finishes I will see what's on the table and weigh up any offers I get.'

For now Gray is intent on inflicting a fatal wound to City's play-off hopes by helping the Eagles to take three points from tomorrow's showdown.

Ominously for Lawrence and his charges, Palace have an excellent record at Ninian Park.

The last time they lost on the Bluebirds' home turf was back in August 1967 when goals from Barrie Jones, Bobby Brown, Ronnie Bird and Peter King gave Jimmy Scoular's men a 4-2 win.

'All I'm thinking about is doing the best I can for Crystal Palace. I'm not thinking about what might happen in the summer,' continued Gray.

'We are trying to finish the season on a high and that means we want to win on Saturday.

'I'm just thinking about helping the team win as many games as we can between now and the end of the season.'

With the Eagles sliding towards the danger zone, the winger was drafted back into the side after his loan spell at Cardiff had ended.

Iain Dowie, who replaced the sacked Steve Kember in the hot-seat just before Christmas, has made Gray a mainstay of his Palace side.

The former Oldham manager has transformed the Londoners from relegation candidates into a side hovering just outside the play-offs.

Under Dowie, Palace have won 10, drawn two and lost four of their last 16 league matches.

Gray has played a big role in the resurgence, netting three goals in 17 appearances.

'The manager has come in and changed the way we do things and we are moving in the right direction,' explained Gray. 'I enjoy working under him. He's a great manager.'
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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Date:Apr 9, 2004
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