IT TOOK adversity to bring the best out of Crystal Palace at Selhurst Park last night, but it is Arsenal who can look forward to an FA Cup quarter- final at home to West Ham thanks to a fast start and a strong finish from their under-strength side in this fifth-round replay.
In between, Palace struggled manfully to overcome the handicap of losing Dean Gordon, sent off midway through the first half for a professional foul on Nicolas Anelka, and falling two goals behind immediately thereafter. If this game does prove to be Steve Coppell's swan-song as manager of Crystal Palace, he will be proud of the way his players responded in the second half.
Tony Adams was back at the heart of the Arsenal defence after spending the day reiterating his desire to stay at the club, but it was Dennis Bergkamp, the other change from Saturday's 1-0 win over Palace at Highbury, who made an immediate impact.
With barely a minute gone he found Anelka on the edge of the Palace area with a clever lob over Hermann Hreidarsson. Anelka lifted the ball goalwards over the advancing Kevin Miller and followed in to head the dropping ball over the line.
Suitably stunned, Palace were bereft of ideas in attack. Lee Dixon grazed their bar with a shot from 30 yards, while the pace of Anelka and Luis Boa Morte caused havoc in their defence.
With 25 minutes gone Anelka burst through the inside-left channel again and now only Gordon stood between the Frenchman and Miller in the Palace goal. Gordon seemed to attempt to play the ball in bringing Anelka down, but the letter of the law was applied and Palace were reduced to 10 men.
"The timing was critical with, Dermot Gallagher being censored by the Premier League," a rueful Coppell said later. "I think prior to that Martin Bodenham, of all referees, might have let us off but it was a goal-scoring opportunity so we can't complain."
To compound their misery Bergkamp clipped the free-kick past Miller with the help of a sizeable deflection to leave Palace apparently without a prayer. But they responded well and were rewarded when Bruce Dyer bundled Simon Rodger's corner over the line 10 minutes before half-time.
Inspired by the muscular Dyer operating as a lone striker, Palace played out of their skins for 25 minutes after the break but rarely threatened Alex Manninger's goal. Marc Overmars, back just in time from the Dutch training camp in Florida to take a seat on the Arsenal bench, came on for a hobbling Bergkamp and had two good chances to put the tie beyond Palace, before hitting the outside of the post in injury time.
Crystal Palace: (4-4-2) Miller; Edworthy, Ismael, Hreidarsson, Gordon; Smith (McKenzie, 66), Roberts (Linighan, 80), Fullarton, Rodger; Brolin, (Emblen, 80), Dyer. Substitutes not used: Nash (gk), Ginty.
Arsenal: (4-3-3) Manninger; Dixon, Keown, Adams, Upson (Crowe, 80); Platt, Vieira, Hughes; Anelka, Bergkamp, (Overmars, 66), Boa Morte. Substitutes not used: Lukic (gk), Rankin, Vernazza.
Referee: M Bodenham (East Looe).