Football: Lombardo saves Palace's face

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Torquay United 1 Crystal Palace 1

SKY TELEVISION sent their cameras along to Plainmoor last night, hoping no doubt for the kind of upset that has been Crystal Palace's plight all too often over the years in the League Cup, and they nearly got their wish.

Attilio Lombardo, who can rarely have graced such a humble arena let alone have attracted a crowd as sparse as 3,042, spared Palace some embarrassment with the goal that sends them into next Wednesday's second leg all square. But neither the Italian's goal nor Palace's performance was anything for Terry Venables to crow about.

"We were caught napping," the Palace manager admitted when asked about his team's dreadful start, which left them fortunate to be only a goal down.

"The one thing you can't afford to do in these games is concede an early goal." Was he surprised, then, that Palace had done just that, falling behind in the fourth minute? "Not really," Venables replied, which said little for the faith he had in his defence, which failed to deal with a Gary Clayton corner that was eventually driven past Kevin Miller by Tony Bedeau.

Brian McGorry, who spent last season in the Conference with Hereford, was the player to cause Palace most problems. He was wrestled out of one chance and was denied later by Miller's excellent reflex save following two lapses by Dean Austin.

Torquay, much changed since their Wembley play-off defeat by Colchester last May and under a different manager in Wes Saunders, were far too enterprising for Palace's comfort. Another elementary mistake by Paul Warhurst, caught in possession by Kevin Hill, led to Austin redeeming himself with a goal- line clearance.

By then, very much against the run of play, Palace had equalised. From Sasa Curcic's corner Herman Hreidarsson had a header saved by Mathew Gregg, who then kept out Bruce Dyer's follow up. The goalkeeper could not, however, prevent Lombardo tucking away the loose ball.

With a thunderous header reminiscent of his FA Cup winner for Arsenal in 1993, the Palace substitute Andy Linighan nearly won the game for his club. The ball richocheted down from the bar, seemingly over the line, but the referee allowed Torquay the benefit of the doubt.

Torquay United (3-4-1-2): Gregg; Watson, Thomas, Robinson; Gurney, Clayton, Hill, Herrera; McGorry; Bedeau, Partridge. Substitutes not used: Hapgood, Veysey (gk), Tully, Newell, Jermyn.

Crystal Palace (3-5-2): Miller; Austin, Warhurst, Tuttle (Linighan, h- t); Smith, Lombardo, Mullins, Curcic (Edworthy, 67), Hreidarsson; Dyer (Morrison, 66), Jansen. Substitutes not used: Digby (gk), Burton.

Referee: R Styles (Waterlooville).