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Gunning for glory.

Byline: By Wales on Sunday

Kit symons believes Crystal Palace have taken a leaf out of Arsenal's book in their charge towards promotion. 'Arsenal as a team seem to have a tremendous spirit. You can just see it in everything they do on the pitch and the way they deal with each other,' said Symons. 'I think we have got something similar to that here at Palace. That wasn't necessarily true before Iain Dowie took over but it certainly is now.'

The Eagles are just 90 minutes away from a place in the Premiership with West Ham standing in their way in the First Division play-off final on Saturday.

Palace have been the dark horses of the division since Dowie took charge at the end of December and timed their run into the play-off spots to perfection losing just once in their last eight league matches.

They disposed of Sunderland on penalties in the semi-finals and now player-coach Symons believes the Eagles can swoop into the top flight at the Hammers' expense thanks to that unbreakable team spirit.

'The players were all getting stick in the first part of the season when we weren't doing so well with the fans questioning their passion, desire and professionalism,' said Symons. 'That can't be questioned now and I'm delighted for the players, Iain, all the staff and myself.'

If Palace were down on their luck when manager Steve Kember was sacked in November, 33-year-old Symons must take some of the credit for putting them back on their feet before Dowie's arrival.

Symons took temporary charge for six weeks and even fancied the permanent job himself after the side sprouted the first shoots of revival.

But now, working as Dowie's trusty lieutenant, the Welsh international admits it is a partnership made, not quite in heaven, but somewhere near it. 'Originally I did want the job full-time but thinking about it now it was probably a good thing the way it panned out,' said Symons.

'I was only managing the first team basically, but then Iain came in and restructured a lot of things at the club. He is teaching me how to manage a club all the way down to the under eights.

'He has an interest in everything and wants to manage the whole club whereas all I was doing was managing the first team because that was the most important thing at the time.

'But if I'm ever going to be a manager in my own right, which I am interested in being, I want to do it properly and see the big picture, like Iain.

'Iain (inset below, left) is a real workaholic and his capacity to work is unbelievable. As his assistant I have to be in there with him, although he is always the first one in and the last one out every day at the club.'

But there is one aspect of the partnership that Symons is less keen on - his weekly run with the boss.

'Iain's a bit of a loon really and likes me to go running with him on a Friday. It's not just a plod either.

'He is a very intense person and has to do it at full tilt so we run till we drop. At the start of the run we are talking, but then I struggle a bit and have to stop chatting. I can't remember ever being this fit though.'

Symons is relishing coming up against friend and Wales teammate Andy Melville, who will be marshalling the West Ham defence at the Millennium Stadium.

But despite Symons having to settle for a likely spot in the dug-out, that friendship will go out of the window come kick-off.

'It always adds a bit of spice when you are up against people you know,' added Symons. 'Andy is one of my best mates in football and he has already told me not to phone him before the final to wind him up.

'But to be honest I couldn't really give a monkey's who we are playing in the final because not so long ago we didn't expect to be in with a shout of getting to Cardiff.

'As to whether we are prepared as a club if we win and get into the Premiership, well I think we will just have to worry about that later.'

But Melville is determined to pip his mate to the Premiership post and said: 'There are a lot of Premiership players in our dressing room who deserve to be in the top flight. We are not in the Premiership but we are 90 minutes away. We have given ourselves a chance and hopefully we will grab it with both hands.'
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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:Wales On Sunday (Cardiff, Wales)
Date:May 23, 2004
Words:784
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