Football: Digby lapse lifts Palace

Swindon Town 0 Crystal Palace 2 Shipperley 44, 89 Attendance:1 0,447
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With Swindon on what their player-manager Steve McMahon disarmingly calls the "crest of a slump," Palace's need for three points towards their Grail of a promotion play-off place was more urgent than their hosts' quest to restore some pride in a season that started dribbling into the sand once 1997 arrived.

This win could turn Port Vale's visit to Selhurst Park for the last game into a play-off for the play-offs.

Swindon's risible scoring rate - three goals in their last nine league games and a failure to hit their own County Ground net since 15 March - made the selection of the goalkeeper Fraser Digby as Player of the Year more or less a certainty. Unfortunately, Digby's lapse seconds before half-time turned the game in Palace's favour. Neither keeper had anything approaching a save to make until Bruce Dyer chased a loose ball to the line and hammered a fierce shot-cum-cross at the near post. Digby let it squirm under his body, and it ran the length of the goalline to Neil Shipperley, who casually stuck it in the Swindon net.

Digby made some amends immediately after the restart with an athletic leap to beat out Shipperley's shot and was called upon for further heroics to deny substitute Doug Freedman and Shipperley again in the last 10 minutes. He had no chance in the last minute when Freedman placed his cross at Shipperley's feet for the striker to sweep in his second goal.

Swindon had enjoyed something of a renaissance when Alex Smith seemed on the verge of bringing some coherence to their hit-and-miss approach play and this encouraged Jason Drysdale to try his luck with a 20-yarder that whistled inches over Carlo Nash's crossbar. Smith himself missed the target by a greater margin when he tried a quick return of Nash's poor clearance with a 40-yard lob. But the Swindon effort ran out of steam and Palace almost put the game beyond recall when substitute Freedman careered past three defenders and hit the base of Digby's left hand post.

It had been a surprise when Freedman replaced Dyer in the 63rd minute but his presence energised the Palace attack to its best spell of the game.