Football: Eagles take to the air with Stewart: Liverpool loan helps Palace push Leicester off First Division summit

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PAUL STEWART, the forgotten man of English football, and Chris Armstrong, one of the game's emerging talents, established such an instinctive partnership as Palace displaced Leicester at the top of the First Division that they even kept getting caught offside together.

Before Stewart arrived from Liverpool on a month's loan last week, Palace lacked what Alan Smith, their manager, termed 'physical presence'. The 29-year-old former England international provided this in abundance, dominating the air, shielding the ball imperiously as more youthful team-mates like Armstrong made runs, and introducing a touch of aggression not normally associated with the exemplary Eagles. Stewart, his Mediterranean biker looks untouched by time, even managed to cause a mini-melee, flooring Gary Mills with a nasty kick.

A yellow card was the minimum punishment although, initially, Alan Smith feared the worst. 'I thought how to explain it to the chairman if he gets sent off and we lose him for three games,' the Palace manager said. An expensive loan.

Stewart stayed on the pitch and the question now is how long he remains at Selhurst. Commuting from Blackpool will take its toll, although Stewart stressed 'if getting first-team football means going up and down the motorway, then so be it'.

Smith possesses the funds 'if the deal was structured properly' to retain Stewart and appears keen. 'He won every header and every flick. The whole of our training has been lifted by his arrival,' he said. 'Suddenly all the other players I've got want to prove how good they are.'

Armstrong - who, understandably given his youth, lacks Stewart's guile - revelled in his senior's service. 'Although he's had an exceptional start to his career there will always be times when you need a little help,' Stewart said of the 22- year-old, 'and that is probably what I'm here to do. It went well today but to judge a partnership on one game would be a bit hasty.'

Three times in the opening minutes Armstrong was released on breaks up field by Stewart's aerial prowess, only to founder against the blue wall of Leicester's defence.

Palace's bright hopes were soon dimmed. Eric Young upended his Welsh compatriot, Iwan Roberts, and Steve Thompson's drilled, 25- yard free-kick deflected in. But an under-strength Leicester could not contain Stewart and his header allowed the excellent Chris Coleman to equalise with a fine shot.

Kevin Poole, City's admirable keeper, coped contemptuously with John Salako's robust shot and powerful headers from Armstrong and Simon Rodger before Armstrong, with a close-range effort helped in by Colin Hill, secured Palace's just reward five minutes from time.

Stewart, who was cheered off the pitch, has certainly timed his arrival well: Palace are off to the land of Guinness and fly-fishing tomorrow for a deserved spell of R'n'R.

Goals: Thompson (9) 0-1; Coleman (40) 1-1; Armstrong (84) 2-1.

Crystal Palace (4-4-2): Martyn; Shaw, Young, Coleman, Gordon; Salako, Southgate, Newman, Rodger; Armstrong, Stewart. Substitutes not used: Bowry, Ndah, Woodman (gk).

Leicester City (4-4-2): Poole; Mills, Hill, Grayson, Whitlow; Oldfield, Coatsworth, Thompson, Gibson (Gee, 85); Lowe (Carey, 80), Roberts. Substitute not used: Ward (gk).

Referee: J Holbrook (Ludlow).

(Photograph omitted)

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