Football / Coca-Cola Cup: Liverpool fall to the extra touch of Thorn

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Crystal Palace. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .2

Liverpool . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .1

(aet; score at 90 min 1-1)

THREADBARE Palace, who were without half their team, produced a courageous performance in the very best traditions of knockout football to overcome Liverpool in extra time last night and earned the right to meet Chelsea at home in the quarter- finals of the Coca-Cola Cup.

Palace had lost 5-0 at Anfield little more than a fortnight ago, and must have feared the worst when a roll call found no fewer than 13 players, including six regulars, unavailable here. Such fears were groundless. The young Eagles rose to the occasion, exceeding all expectations to claim their place in the last eight courtesy of Andy Thorn's 100th-minute winner.

First among equals on a night not short of heroes was their other scorer, 19-year-old Grant Watts, who will still be pinching himself in disbelief this morning after celebrating his first appearance in the starting line-up with a goal against the most celebrated opponents of all.

Down to the bare bones, Palace dug deep and conjured the spirit of their epic FA Cup semi-final victory over Liverpool in 1990.

That year, they defeated Liverpool 4-3 at Villa Park, having lost 9-0 at Anfield earlier the same season, and their manager, Steve Coppell, spoke last night of that old deja vu feeling. 'We had to press-gang a few to play, but each and every one of them more than earned his money,' he said.

Graeme Souness, the Liverpool manager, had accused Palace of an excessively physical approach to the 1-1 draw which necessitated the replay, but there were no excuses on that score here. The winners had commitment in abundance, but their aggression was both legitimate and commendable.

Liverpool had arrived with five wins and a draw in their previous seven games, their price as favourites shortened by Sunday's impressive 2-1 victory at home to Blackburn Rovers, but while they started confidently enough, they were required to retrieve the sort of goal which has long been their Achilles' heel.

Just 14 minutes had elapsed when Steve Nicol cleared a Gareth Southgate cross over his own crossbar and they were betrayed by that familiar fallibility at set-pieces.

Attendant defenders were conspicuous by their absence as Thorn was allowed to flick on Simon Rodger's corner, enabling Watts to head in at the far post, past Mike Marsh's attempt at a goal-line clearance.

Liverpool were staggered but hit back hard, a 26th-minute penalty bringing them equality, when Thorn barged into Paul Stewart and Marsh made short work of beating Nigel Martyn from 12 yards.

Mark Walters volleyed against the crossbar from eight yards, then saw another shot repelled by Martyn as Liverpool stamped hard on the accelerator.

Palace, though, were breaking with vim and vigour from their compact 5-4-1 formation, and were within an inch or so of regaining the lead after 51 minutes with what would have been an identical goal to their first.

Again Rodger took the corner, again Thorn met it at the near post, again Watts supplied a strong header on the far side. The key difference this time was that Marsh's goal-line intervention was successful, diverting the ball on to the crossbar and out.

Southgate should have scored with seven minutes left, when he headed over, unchallenged from six yards. Simon Osborn might have scored even later, but volleyed over with Mike Hooper stranded off his line.

The extra period found Palace doubly determined, their clenched- fist spirit finally had its reward when Nicol miskicked in attempting to clear John Humphrey's long ball into the left-side channel and Thorn charged in to score at close range. A Thorn in every sense. The lean, loping centre-half was a member of the Wimbledon team who beat Liverpool in the 1988 Cup Final, helped to see them a second time at Villa Park two years ago, and was their bete noir again here.

Some hat-trick. Some finish.

Crystal Palace: Martyn; Humphrey, Shaw, Southgate, Young, Thorn, Osborn, Bowry, Rodger, Watts (Ndah, 92; Sinnott, 119), McGoldrick.

Liverpool: Hooper; Marsh, R Jones (Tanner, 110), Nicol, Piechnik, Stewart, McManaman (Rosenthal, 51), Redknapp, Rush, Barnes, Walters.

Referee: P Foakes (Clacton-on-Sea).

(Photograph omitted)

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