Football: Armstrong aims Palace upwards

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The Independent Online
Crystal Palace. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .1

Chelsea . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .1

PALACE'S painful crawl towards Premier League security continues. An important point, secured by Chris Armstrong's diving header after Graham Stuart had put Chelsea ahead last night, was their ninth in six games, the sort of form that should see Steve Coppell's young side survive. Palace, still fifth from bottom, are simply paying now for a woeful start to the season which produced just one win in 17 games.

'We can definitely survive', Geoff Thomas, the Palace captain, said afterwards, 'but we don't want to leave it to the last two games.' With a 10-match run- in that includes trips to Sheffield United, also desperately seeking points, and Arsenal, plus the visit of Manchester United among others, Palace have a scrap on their hands, starting at Bramall Lane on Saturday.

'It will be just like a cup match up there,' Thomas said, adding the warning, 'and you saw what they did to Tottenham.'

At Selhurst Park last night Chelsea briefly threatened to do the same to Palace, who could have been hung and drawn in the first quarter of an hour. Stuart set the ball rolling after four minutes following a typical link-up with John Spencer, Robert Fleck's more than able deputy. Spencer kept possession until Stuart's run took him through Palace's square defence. When Stuart was almost clear, Spencer released the perfect pass for Stuart to accelerate into the box and drive the ball low under Nigel Martyn's right hand.

The Eagles' keeper, who will have been disappointed not to make a firmer contact, made amends with two fine reflex saves as Chelsea took control. He first saved Spencer's firm, low shot at one post before palming away Mal Donaghy's smart volley at his other upright.

Palace's dishevelled defence soon needed a reshuffle. John Humphrey departed to hospital on a stretcher clutching his right knee following an inoccuous-looking challenge from Darren Barnard. Humphrey was later diagnosed to have a cracked kneecap and he will be out for the remainder of the season. Richard Shaw came on, tightened up the back line and suddenly, out of adversity, Palace found parity.

The creator of Palace's 41st- minute equaliser was Gareth Southgate, whose curling cross around the back of Chelsea's defence was missed by Frank Sinclair but not by Armstrong. His header flashed past Dave Beasant before the Chelsea keeper could move.

Beasant then produced the save of the match only a few seconds from the interval, stretching his 6ft 4in frame to finger away Dean Gordon's powerfully-struck volley.

The second half failed to live up to the promise of the first, Stuart going closest with a volley that whistled into Martyn's midriff. A final flourish, as Palace strove for their third win in six games, saw McGoldrick, who had moved up from defence, and Armstrong shoot over.

'We've got to win these home games,' Coppell said. 'Full marks for honest endeavour, but we were without a great deal of finesse. But I'm positive that we should stay up.'

Crystal Palace: Martyn; Humphrey (Shaw, 34), Southgate, Coleman (Ndah, 73), Young, Gordon, Osborn, Thomas, Armstrong, Rodger, McGoldrick. Substitute not used: Woodman (gk).

Chelsea: Beasant; Clarke, Sinclair, Townsend, Johnsen, Donaghy, Stuart, Spencer, Cascarino, Newton, Barnard. Substitutes not used: Harford, Lee, Hitchcock (gk).

Referee: K Cooper (Pontypridd).

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