Cowans masterminds a robbery

BY TREVOR HAYLETT

Crystal Palace 1

Wolverhampton Wanderers 1

It had been stop-start all afternoon, one more blast of Gary Willard's whistle producing another in the lengthy toll of set-piece football, so it was somehow fitting that even when the tie finally stopped it was only in the knowledge that it must start all over again at Molineux in nine days' time.

This quarter-final between sides who could yet swap League places at the end of the season was an uneasy game to view, because at no time was it able to flow and because there were just too many strange and unexplained things going on.

Take the Wolves equaliser for example. A wonderfully shaped finish by the enduring Gordon Cowans, caressed and guided beyond Nigel Martyn's outstretched hand. But surely there was a push and a pull on Damian Matthew to enable the 36-year-old, who has never gone past this stage of the competition, to apply his master finish, And was not Mr Willard within smelling distance of the offence?

For his part Cowans came clean. "Yes, I might have nudged him in the back. Yes, I was a little bit surprised the referee did not blow for a foul, but you play to the whistle don't you?"

Then there was the disturbing proliferation of handling misdemeanours. Brian Law took the law into his own hands not once but twice in the Wolves penalty area and got away with it each time, while Iain Dowie had a bizarre spell midway through the first-half when anything played above head height appeared to be an excuse to raise his fists.

Thankfully for Palace, he kept them out of harm's way as he shot them ahead eight minutes into the second half from Chris Coleman's header via a free-kick (you just knew that had to be the starting-point), having stolen away from his marker.

Dowie celebrated in the manner of one who knows he should get more goals than he does. This was his third for his new club and only Palace's second in eight games. Deprived of Chris Armstrong's razor-sharp pace, the attack - with John Salako a notable exception - is all bustle and brute force.

Alan Smith, the Palace manager, hopes to have permission from the Football Association to restore Armstrong, who in January tested positive for cannabis, for the side that tomorrow faces Sheffield Wednesday, the struggle for Premiership survival having assumed far greater significance than the prize at stake here.

Wolves, who on Wednesday at local rivals West Bromwich will renew their search for the automatic promotion place, will feel more confident about the replay. Just as against Mansfield and Sheffield Wednesday (twice), they were forced to take a heavy blow to the chin before calling on their reserves of character to pull through.

Steve Bull and Don Goodman give the all-gold a strength and a purpose, and David Kelly's pickpocket instincts are up there with the best. For all that, Eric Young and Chris Coleman were in control for the most part, which was why the Palace defence were so aggrieved when the television replay showed Matthew was unfairly dispossessed.

Goals: Dowie (54) 1-0; Cowans (67) 1-1.

Crystal Palace (4-4-2): Martyn; Southgate, Shaw, Young, Coleman; Matthew (Humphrey, 75), Pitcher, Newman, Preece; Dowie (Dyer, 82), Salako. Substitute not used: Wilmot (gk).

Wolverhampton Wanderers (4-4-2): Stowell; Smith, Shirtliff, Law, Thompson; Goodman, Rankine, Cowans, Dennison (Emblen, 61); Kelly, Bull. Substitutes not used: Bennett, Jones (gk).

Referee: G Willard (Worthing).

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