Trevor Francis has hit out at the way the English disciplinary system suspends players who pick up five yellow cards, no matter how many games they have played.

With Palace facing a month which will be crucial to their promotion chances, Francis is disappointed he will lose players to unnecessary one match bans, on top of the Selhurst Park injury crisis.

Injuries to key defenders limited Francis's options on Thursday, but it is the one match suspensions that will keep Aki Riihilahti out of the Sheffield United game next Saturday, that irritates the manager.

He said: "Injuries are part of football, but I think that the football league could look at the disciplinary procedure. It's wrong that players who are one short of their fifth yellow card, having played something like 35 games, could be suspended. I don't they should be punished in mid-February for totting up five cards in what is probably the most competitive league in world football."

"It's far too late in the season. Players who have only got four by now should be awarded rather than punished. How can a defender expect not to pick up five yellows by the end of February, it's practically impossible."

The break for internationals this week will not particularly help Francis, although Jamie Smith may be fit to face Wimbledon next Saturday.

"I think undoubtedly recent injuries and suspensions have been a bit restrictive for us. I've had to bring players in and look at playing in a different system to accommodate the players that are actually fit. When you are still trying to build a squad you can ill afford to be without three defenders like Popovic Symons and Jamie Smith."

Australian loan-signing Shaun Murphy has filled the central defensive berth recently, but he is ineligible to play against his club Sheffield United on Saturday, February 23, while Danny Granville misses his second game of three, and Riihilahti is suspended.

Francis said: "I would like to think that Popovic (groin) will be back for the Sheffield Utd game but Kit Symons (groin) is some way off."

Francis will have to shuffle his pack successfully if Palace are to win games against Wimbledon, Sheffield United and Barnsley, and relaunch their promotion bid.

He said: "I think that if we were to get into the playoffs it would be a very good achievement for the club considering how we have progressed from last season. But the number two spot is looking difficult now, but we'll keep trying."

On the transfer front, Akinbiyi's arrival has ended Palace's search for a striker, but a Palace are thought to be in the market for a creative midfielder, after inquiring about Sheffield United's Michael Brown last month.