Football: Coca-Cola Cup: Palace's young guard rise to the occasion: Chelsea swept away at Selhurst Park - Arsenal advance to last eight - Cambridge surrender their advantage

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The Independent Online
Crystal Palace. .3

Chelsea. . . . . 1

OUT they stepped from the Palace nursery last night, into the swamp of Selhurst Park and onwards to Cup glory. This was a splendid achievement for Steve Coppell's young team, who were challenged to overcome atrocious conditions, a skilful and committed Chelsea, and emerged with a place in the semi- finals of the Coca-Cola competition for the first time.

Undoubtedly, the happiest mudlarks at the finish were George Ndah, 17, and Grant Watts, an old hand by comparison at 19. The teenage terrors, who previously could muster just four appearances between them, supplied the winning goals just as Chelsea appeared to have built themselves a bridgehead to progress.

It was a triumph for youth and a triumph for the English game on a pitch made treacherous by incessant rain. So bad was it that the tie was only cleared to go ahead 30 minutes before the start.

The downpour never relented: it was a lousy night for football. And considering the difficulties, the football was marvellous. The London neighbours were willing to slug it out from end to end, and never mind the mud around your boots holding you back.

Victory was imperative for Palace if their season was not suddenly about to evaporate into a struggle solely to remain in the Premier League in the space of five days. Stricken further by injury and the ineligibility of their leading scorer Chris Armstrong, they displayed tremendous heart to put behind them the savage disappointment of Saturday's FA Cup departure at Hartlepool, and now face either Arsenal or Nottingham Forest to decide who goes to Wembley on 18 April.

'We combine with Coke a bit like Bacardi at the moment,' Coppell said. 'It brings out the best in us in so many ways. The kids have surpassed themselves and have done better than we could have expected. It was Grant's first game for us since the Liverpool tie and his goal was just the cushion we needed at the end, when the ball was flying around in front of our goal.'

Nigel Martyn was called upon to demonstrate a safe pair of hands as Chelsea marooned Palace in their own half late on. Steve Clarke thought he had scored, only to see Eric Young scoop the ball off the line, while David Lee could not find the shot to match his mazy run.

Chelsea had left themselves too much to do and in truth had only themselves to blame. Twice in the first half they were let down by a defence whose effectiveness had been a plank in their recent successful run in which they had lost only once in 15 games.

By the fourth minute, Frank Sinclair had forgotten all he had just been told in the dressing- room of the dangers underfoot. His intended back-pass stuck in the mud and Chris Coleman steamed in to slide a shot under goalkeeper Kevin Hitchcock.

It was a woeful start for the visitors, but to their credit they were moving the ball swiftly and with accuracy and Andy Townsend brought them parity in the 18th minute with a handsome and typical strike from his left foot, having outpaced three trailing opponents.

His team looked capable of going on to take the honours, but in the 34th minute they were again undone at the back. Young's header from a free-kick appeared to be running out, and David Lee assumed as much, but Andy Thorn was not giving up, straining to pull the ball back across the goal, and was rewarded when Ndah steered it home.

Three minutes into the second half, Palace took an irresistible lead when Watts, who had scored in the defeat of Liverpool in the previous round, took advantage at the far post after Simon Rodger had fed the ball back in from the left.

Crystal Palace: Martyn; Humphrey, Bowry, Coleman, Young, Thorn, Ndah, Thomas, Watts (Gordon, 78), Rodger, McGoldrick. Substitute not used: Newman.

Chelsea: Hitchcock; Clarke, Sinclair, Townsend, Lee, Donaghy, Stuart, Fleck (Spencer, 74), Harford, Newton, Myers (Le Saux, 54).

Referee: G Ashby (Worcester).

(Photograph omitted)

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