Bolton Wanderers . . . . . . . . . . . . . .1
MUCH is being made of the quality of First Division football this season. But at Selhurst Park yesterday the team who head the division and the one whose FA Cup exploits have made them its greatest ambassadors produced a disappointing game, the outcome of which was one of the few things right about it.
Of the wrongs, none, in Crystal Palace's eyes at any rate, could match the decision by the linesman-turned-referee, Steve Tomlin, which deprived them of an injury-time winner. Chris Armstrong appeared to head in legitimately, but Mr Tomlin, who had replaced the injured Paul Vanes early in the second half, penalised him for a push.
'I think he was probably the only one who saw it,' Alan Smith, the Palace manager, said. 'A good, correct, strong decision,' was the view of his opposite number, Bruce Rioch. You had to have a little sympathy for Smith, but no more than that because Palace, after taking an early lead, might have pressed home their advantage better and in the end allowed Bolton to equalise 18 minutes from time.
With Charlton winning, Palace's lead at the top of the table was cut to four points, still a surprisingly wide margin for a team whose form has fluctuated throughout the season. It is perhaps more of a surprise that Bolton, for whom Premiership teams present no problem, are not higher up the table. But since their Cup run began they have picked up only 10 points from seven games.
It had all started promisingly for Palace, with John Salako a lively presence on the left wing and Chris Armstrong exuding confidence up front. And in the 15th minute, Palace were ahead.
The goal was a bad one from Bolton's point of view, or more specifically that of goalkeeper Aidan Davison, who had little excuse for dropping Simon Rodger's corner. The ball fell to Eric Young, who missed his shot completely, before Gareth Southgate knocked it in amid an air of vague embarrassment.
Bolton had to absorb a good deal more pressure, though nothing really threatening, before they started to get back into the game. Alan Kelly was having a bigger say in midfield as the FA Cup quarter-finalists showed glimpses of the crisp passing and neat patterns that have become their hallmark.
But chances at either end were a rarity. A few more shots at goal were called for, something Paul Stewart seemed to feel when a difficult angle did not stop him aiming powerfully at Davison's top left-hand corner, where the goalkeeper did well to make the save.
Bolton's goal was almost as scrappy as the one they had conceded. It came after Mark Patterson saw his corner cleared but then got the ball back from David Lee. His cross caused more consternation in the Palace defence than it should have done, and the ball reached Owen Coyle, who forced it in.
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