Football: City sealed off

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The Independent Online
Crystal Palace 0

Birmingham City 1

Grainger 40

Attendance: 16,331

This has to go down as the one that got away from Palace, the loss of three points they can ill afford as the last lap for those vital promotion play-off positions looms. Even when Birmingham were reduced to 10 men for the last half hour, they could find no way through a City defence that had very definitely shut up shop.

The visitors were already ahead by the game's only goal by the 58th minute when Martin O'Connor flailed an arm in Kevin Muscat's face right under the referee's nose. The inevitable red card was brandished and a flurry of substitutions immediately followed as City sought to tighten their defence and Palace threw on all three subs in what was to be a vain attempt to save the day.

The midfield scrapping and grappling which was most of the first half rarely produced anything approaching a real scoring chance. Birmingham eventually got the better of it when Martin Grainger got his head to Paul Devlin's right-wing cross to head the visitors into a 40th-minute lead.

An aberration by Carlo Nash in the Palace goal, when he handled a pass- back earlier, didn't help his fellow defenders' nerves, although the free kick was successfully blocked. The keeper made some amends when he got a finger to Devlin's shot to divert it for a fruitless corner.

With Bruce Dyer neutralised by Michael Johnson's tenacious man marking, Palace's leading scorer was securely manacled for the entire game. It was only when Neil Shipperley emerged in that flurry of substitutions that an attacking option appeared and from Marc Edworthy's persistent forays the striker almost brought reward when he rose to meet the wing back's inviting cross, but the header flashed inches the wrong side of the post.

Palace became more and more frenetic as the minutes ticked away and, ironically, it was Ray Houghton, who had done so much to freshen Palace's efforts after a dismal first half, who had the miss of the match. Four yards from goal he contrived to scoop his shot over Ian Bennett's crossbar when it seemed simpler to stroke home the goal that could have saved Palace a point.

It would appear that Palace had played into Trevor Francis's hands when they abandoned - or simply lost - whatever pattern and shape they had after Grainger scored the game's only goal.

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