Football: Cowans hits the replay button

Crystal Palace 1 Dowie 53 Wolves 1 Cowans 66 Attendance: 14,604
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The Independent Online
TRADITION has it that the sixth round provides the FA Cup's last opportunity for displays of careless rapture. No such entertaining thoughts crossed the minds of these two teams, for whom relegation and promotion offer more pressing imperatives. Second-half goals by Iain Dowie for Palace and the 36-year-old Gordon Cowans for Wolves produced the stalemate that will take them back to Molineux for a replay on Wednesday week.

The first half was a particularly wretched affair, completely devoid of the thoughtful application of skill. A delayed kick-off raised the possibility of last-minute mass drug-testing in the dressing-rooms, and a sleepy opening suggested that the drug in question might indeed have been the healing herb of Jah Rastafari which has brought such trouble to Chris Armstrong, Palace's leading scorer. There was no real sign of activity until the sixth minute, when the Palace midfielder Damian Matthew fired a 20-yard snap-shot into the arms of the Wolves goalkeeper, Mike Stowell. The visitors replied with a right-wing corner, swung in to the far post by Cowans and headed firmly over the bar by Steve Bull, but the stimulation was not to last long.

Palace had the best chance of an incoherent half when Dowie beat Stowell to Ricky Newman's hanging corner kick, and the veteran Cowans was in position to hack the downward header off the line. Two minutes later, Coleman headed narrowly wide from Newman's long diagonal cross.

When these clubs confronted each other in the FA Cup just more than a year ago, David Kelly scored the only goal for Wolves in a third-round victory at Molineux. The first and practically the last sign of Kelly yesterday came after 34 minutes, when Nigel Martyn deflected his left- footed cross-shot away from the lurking Bull.

Palace came out for the second half looking marginally more energetic. When Dowie, returning to lead the attack after Alan Smith's unsuccessful experiment with Chris Coleman against Liverpool in midweek, took Salako's cut-back, turned his marker, and shot over the bar in the 51st minute, it looked as though the visitors were missing their inspirational Dutchman, John De Wolf, in defence. Two minutes later, Dowie underlined the impression by giving Palace the lead, shooting home from close range after Coleman had headed down Richard Shaw's free-kick.

Cowans's 67th-minute equaliser came when he spotted Matthew loitering in possession on the edge of the area, robbed him with a pickpocket's slickness, advanced a couple of paces, noted Martyn's position, and simply passed the ball with the side of his foot into the corner of the net. His first goal for the club, it was a piece of skill and sang-froid plucked from another sphere entirely: from the career, in fact, of a man with a European Cup winner's medal in his trophy cabinet, and three years in Italy on his c.v.

The referee took the names of Matthew, Dowie and Coleman of Palace, and Wolves' Peter Shirtliff and Mark Rankine. As the tension mounted in the final minutes, Jamie Smith cleared Coleman's effort off the Wolves goal- line and Shaw blocked Bull's close-range shot after the big centre-forward had pushed the ball between Eric Young's legs. But the draw was just, and Wolves will fancy the replay in front of a packed Molineux.

After he had finished praising Cowans' contribution to the performance, and especially his imperishable enthusiasm, Graham Taylor emphasised the importance of his club's drive for promotion. It would indeed be nice to see Cowans back for a final season at the top, but the game's technical mediocrity suggested that once this affair is concluded, the next meeting of these clubs will take place where it belongs, in the Endsleigh League.