Football: Gray's goal leaves Palace in the cold

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The Independent Online
Sunderland. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .1

Crystal Palace. . . . . . . . . . . . . . .0

CRYSTAL PALACE'S confident stride towards promotion was interrupted at Ice Station Roker last night when Philip Gray's 12th goal of the season settled a scrappy game as cheerless as the Arctic weather.

Palace's disappointment will be eased by a look at the table which shows them still five points clear at the top. For Sunderland, one defeat in their last five games can only enhance Mick Buxton's chances of getting the managership on a long-term basis.

It had been snowing heavily in the North-east, and although it had not settled, the wintry conditions came as an uncomfortable shock to the 'southern softies'. Sunderland's answer to Siberia made it a test of temperament as much as skill.

Sunderland busied themselves industriously but their poor forward play demonstrated why they are averaging barely a goal a game.

Damian Matthew withdrew, lame, after 28 minutes to be replaced by Bruce Dyer, Palace's pounds 1.25m recruit from Watford. An apt introduction, this. Dire said it all about a first half which offered few chances.

Sunderland's only strike of any consequence was delayed until the 40th minute, when Richard Ord's free-kick from 25 yards extended Nigel Martyn overhead. Palace came closest when Gareth Southgate's shot, from 15 yards out, cannoned into Alec Chamberlain's legs.

The running became ever more frenetic, the passing more haphazard in the swirling wind. It was a night for the Eric Youngs rather than the John Salakos, and Young it was who provided Chamberlain's second test, demanding a close-range save with a leaping header from Simon Rodger's free-kick.

Scruffy and scrappy, it was an easy game to lose. In such a lottery a goal could have come at either end, and when it arrived, after 63 minutes, it was Sunderland who scored it. Craig Russell did the spade work, supplying Don Goodman, whose centre was swept in by Gray from near the penalty spot.

Palace were denied a penalty whe Darius Kubicki held back Salako as he raced on to Chris Armstrong's right-wing cross, but Sunderland put in the stronger finish and might have had a second goal 10 minutes from the end and there could be no quibbling with the result.

Sunderland (4-4-2): Chamberlain; Kubicki, Bennett, Melville, Ord; Atkinson, Ferguson, Ball, Russell; Goodman, Gray. Substitutes not used: Howey, Rush, Norman (gk).

Crystal Palace (4-4-2): Martyn; Humphrey, Young, Coleman, Gordon; Matthew (Dyer, 28), Southgate, Rodger, Salako; Armstrong, Stewart. Substitutes not used: Shaw, Woodman (gk).

Referee: W Burns (Scarborough).