Football: Armstrong takes giant leap for leaders

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Crystal Palace. 4

Bristol City. .1

CRYSTAL PALACE'S attempts to regain their Premier League place at the first time of asking gained further momentum at Selhurst Park last night. Unbeaten in six matches, Palace moved six points clear of their closest First Division rivals and are looking increasingly likely to make amends for their despairing end to last season's campaign.

Not that Alan Smith's team are making life easy for their supporters. Despite their current form, Palace have looked far from convincing in recent weeks and have developed an alarming tendency to give their opponents a head start.

Palace went behind last night for the fourth home match in succession - games which eventually produced three wins and a draw - and for an hour they struggled to impose their authority on the game. Yet, in a storming finish, they overwhelmed City with an inspired display of attacking football.

Smith said after the game that Palace had gone behind in 16 of their 31 League games this season. 'We are the best team in the League and our second-half performance proves that, but we play in phases,' he said. 'We have fantastic half- hours.'

Before last night's fantastic half- hour, Palace had looked ragged and bereft of attacking ideas. City, however, fielding a five-man defence and a one-man attack, hardly looked likely to take advantage, despite going ahead after 20 minutes with their first attack of note. Mark Shail scored from close range after Nigel Martyn, under pressure from Wayne Allison, had failed to gather Martin Scott's fiercely curling cross from the left.

City's lead lasted only five minutes, Dean Gordon scoring from the penalty spot after a handball offence, but it took a remarkable goal by the fleet-footed John Salako to turn the match after 59 minutes.

Keith Welch, the City goalkeeper, rushed out of his penalty area in an attempt to cut out a through-ball to Paul Stewart only for the Palace striker to beat him to it. The ball ran through to Salako, who chipped it into the empty net from 40 yards, with Shail only able to help it on its way as he attempted to clear.

Palace then went on the rampage, Chris Armstrong taking his season's tally to 20 with a magnificent header into the top corner from Stewart's inviting cross and a simple close-range effort after David Whyte had set him up with his first touch after coming on as substitute.

Armstrong, Whyte and Gareth Southgate all should have added to the score in the closing minutes, although Russell Osman, the City manager, was unimpressed by Palace's performance. 'We gave them three goals and for about 70 minutes we looked like holding them,' he said.

Crystal Palace (4-4-2): Martyn; Humphrey, Young, Coleman, Gordon; Matthew, Shaw, Southgate, Salako; Armstrong, Stewart (Whyte, 83). Substitutes not used: Newman, Woodman (gk).

Bristol City (5-4-1): Welch; Harriott (Brown, 83), Bryant, Munro, Shail, Scott; Robinson, Martin, Tinnion, Edwards; Allison. Substitutes not used: Pennyfather, Leaning (gk).

Referee: G S Willard (Worthing, Sussex).