TWO second half goals by substitute Manny Omoyimni - the second of them in injury time - may not have been enough at Selhurst Park last night to revive West Ham's flagging hopes of European football next season.
The Hammers required a win to overtake Aston Villa and put themselves well and truly in among the Uefa Cup hopefuls. A point has left them not only needing to beat Leicester at Upton Park on Sunday in their final game, but also dependent on the results of others.
When John Hartson began a five-match suspension, it was thought that the Welshman's indiscipline could cost West Ham dearly. As it has turned out, it is indiscipline in defence which has been their undoing. When Attilio Lombardo scored to put Crystal Palace 3-1 ahead after 62 minutes, it was the 12th goal that Harry Redknapp's side have conceded in three games.
It was the absence of Rio Ferdinand with a neck injury, which may yet keep him out of the climax to the season, that helped to prevent West Ham winning last night, even though they got off to a flyer after four minutes. By the end their defence looked as brittle as Palace's and David Unsworth's dismissal in the 90th minute was symptomatic of their inability to deal with players who ran at them. Particularly players of the quality of Lombardo.
Palace fans could hardly believe their eyes as their side scored three times without reply and round about the hour mark, they were giving it the "ole, ole". The early setback had been, comically, more typical of their side as Frank Lampard seized on a through ball by Eyal Berkovic which exploited a square defence. In attempting to retrieve the situation Sasa Curcic succeeded only in toe-poking the ball past his own goalkeeper.
Marcus Bent equalised two minutes before half-time with a delightful chip, although Palace by then ought to have been dead and buried. Two minutes after the interval, they audaciously went ahead through Simon Rodger before Lombardo added a third.
Omoyimni, a former England schoolboy of Nigerian extraction who has yet to start a game for the Hammers, reduced the deficit with a well-taken goal after some deft footwork. Then, with Palace's defence creaking under the pressure - Lampard had hit the bar, he scored again from a cross by Steve Lomas.
Redknapp remained upbeat about his side's chances of ending their 18- year absence from Europe. "If we beat Leicester and Aston Villa don't beat Arsenal, we'll finish seventh, possibly sixth," he said. "Chelsea will beat Stuttgart in the final of the Cup-Winners' Cup - probably 2- 0 - and I have had a good tip that Israel will win the Eurovision Song Contest."
Crystal Palace (3-5-2): Miller; Ismael (Smith, 36), Warhurst, Hreidarsson; Edworthy, Curcic (Fullarton, 75), Lombardo, Rodger, Gordon; Bent, Shipperley. Substitutes not used: McKenzie, Folan, Nash (gk).
West Ham United (3-5-2): Lama; Lomas, Pearce, Unsworth; Impey, Berkovic, Lampard, Sinclair, Lazaridis; Abou (Omoyimni, 58), Kitson. Substitutes not used: Mean, Berthe, Coyne, Forrest (gk).
Referee: G Poll (Tring).