Football: Even Lawrence sees no escape

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The Independent Online
Crystal Palace. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .4

Middlesbrough . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .1

ON THE basis that it is better to go out with a bang than a whimper, Middlesbrough at least achieved something yesterday. With a performance as bad defensively as the score would indicate, they suggested their supporters can abandon their calculators and permutations for survival.

While Palace edged closer to safety, Boro fell as far as it is possible to fall and only await the inevitable call to return to the First Division. Even that celebrated author of the Great Escape, Lennie Lawrence, said so.

'We needed a result today so that makes it virtually impossible for us,' the Boro manager said. 'For half a season we looked good enough to stay up and I have never witnessed anything so savage or comprehensive as our decline.'

Just past the hour, Lawrence symbolically signalled the end of the fight when, from his standing touchline position urging more from his men, he slumped dejectedly into the dug-out.

By then he knew the game was a microcosm of Boro's sad season. At the interval they were comfortably on equal terms then, inexplicably, the second half brought about a disintegration of the defence. It helped Palace to their biggest win of the season.

The visitors have made an art form of conceding goals from set pieces, and the first two yesterday came from that source. Nicky Mohan's 54th-minute foul on Chris Coleman was unnecessary: worse was to follow as Simon Rodger's free-kick was deflected on its way to the net.

Seven minutes later McGoldrick's corner found Chris Armstrong free at the far post and his header across goal was turned in by Eric Young. Like Armstrong, Young had missed the Good Friday debacle against Wimbledon, and their value was the revelation of this performance. Armstrong hit a third goal that deserved a far loftier setting than this, outstripping Mohan and Jimmy Phillips before unleashing an unstoppable shot.

Paul Williams, a Lawrence discovery at Charlton, worsened his former manager's plight by setting up the fourth. Paul Wilkinson grabbed a late reply but in Middlesbrough's situation there are no consolations - only commiserations.

Crystal Palace: Martyn; Shaw, Southgate, Coleman, Young (Sinnott, 83), Thorn, Humphrey, G Thomas, Armstrong (Williams, 83), Rodger, McGoldrick. Substitute not used: M Thomas (gk).

Middlesbrough: Pears; Fleming, Phillips, Hignett, Kernaghan, Mohan, Hendrie, Pollock, Wilkinson, Peake, Kavanagh. Substitutes not used: Whyte, Moore, Ironside (gk).

Referee: M Bodenham (Cornwall).