Football: Humphrey's strike saves tired Palace: Wolves dominate to belie lowly position

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The Independent Online
Crystal Palace. . . . . . . 1

Wolverhampton Wanderers. . .1

IT WAS fortunate for Crystal Palace that John Humphrey chose to mark his 150th appearance for them with his second goal in their colours. Without their right-back's unexpected moment of enterprise and accuracy from 35 yards just before the break they would have been utterly lost, having gone behind to an early strike by David Kelly.

The home side never looked likely to achieve the victory which would have put them top of the First Division. They were reduced to hopeful punts and plenty of scuffling against a team shored up by three strong central defenders and with Robbie Dennison and Paul Cook outstanding in midfield.

The obvious, and puzzling, question was: how could Palace be so high in the table, and Wolves - who began the game in 20th place - so low? As far as the Black Country side are concerned it is a clear case of unfulfilled potential.

With a stadium plushly remodelled on three sides, and pounds 2.5m spent in the close season on the likes of Kelly, Peter Shirtliff, Cyrille Regis and Kevin Keen, the team - and in particular the manager, Graham Turner - have been under intense pressure to live up to their position as promotion favourites.

Perhaps it was the dreaded vote of confidence in Turner proposed by the club's owner, Sir Jack Hayward, on Friday, that galvanised the players. They dominated the game from the start, and might have scored twice before Kelly actually did the deed after seven minutes.

A poor defensive clearance was headed back to Regis, whose shot on the turn was parried across the six-yard box by Nigel Martyn. Kelly reacted first to run the ball over an unguarded line.

Palace, who had not played since 2 October, had little in response. There were half-hearted claims for a penalty after 26 minutes when the ball flew up against Robin Kelly's arm. There were corners. There were free-kicks. And then, gloriously, there was Humphrey.

After Andy Thorn had rescued Chris Coleman's hesitant initiative on the left, he reached the edge of the box before laying the ball back to the Palace No 2, who found Mike Stowell's top left-hand corner with the comic-book directness of Gorgeous Gus.

The second half simply faded away, although Chris Armstrong should have set up an unmerited victory 12 minutes from time when he broke clear and shot tamely rather than passing inside for either John Salako or David Whyte.

'On paper we had our best team out,' Palace's manager, Alan Smith, said. 'But we didn't perform. The lads have to realise they are not going to win every game 4-1. When a team has three centre-halves, you've got to give a bit more consideration to how to get through them.

'The players I have got should be able to provide better entertainment. If I had been a fan expecting to see Armstrong, Salako and Whyte, I would have been disappointed. It was like coming to watch Richard Burton and ending up with Charlie Drake.'

That, he added, was 'not to belittle the lads'. But the lads will have to start thinking a little more.

Crystal Palace (4-4-2): Martyn; Humphrey (Rodger, 56), Young, Thorn, Coleman; Bowry (Gordon, 80), Southgate, Shaw, Salako; Armstrong, Whyte. Substitute not used: Woodman (gk).

Wolverhampton Wanderers (5-3-2): Stowell; Simkin, Blades (Edwards, 80), Mountfield, Shirtliff, Venus: R Kelly, Cook, Dennison; D Kelly, Regis. Subsitutes not used: Mills, Jones (gk).

Referee: M Pierce (Portsmouth).