Football: Palace lifted by wiles of Williams

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The Independent Online
Tranmere Rovers. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .0

Crystal Palace. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1

WHAT would have been the most unusual (and painful) goal he will ever score eluded Chris Malkin in stoppage time yesterday. The ball flew inches wide of goal when a desperate clearance by Chris Coleman smacked Malkin in the face. So instead of salvaging a point to stay on top, it was Palace who nosed into top position in the First Division by a five-goal margin.

Malkin's misfortunes summed up Rovers in difficult conditions with gale gusts whipping across the Wirral from the Irish Sea.

Paul Williams's winning goal could have been an incidental statistic had Rovers, especially Malkin, finished with the poise of the build-ups while the going was greasy.

The pitch dried up but the chances never did and in the end Palace richly deserved their fifth away win. Alan Smith labelled the win as the 'best result' since he succeeded Steve Coppell last summer. 'We weathered the storm - in the Premiership those chances would have been buried,' Smith said. 'We played like men rather than boys.'

Williams's winner in the 64th minute (his seventh goal of the season) was a classic finish to a sprint of probably 60 yards by Chris Armstrong, who travelled from deep in his own half before laying the ball into Williams's path.

Maybe the pace of today's game is behind the anxious snatches at chances like the one by Armstrong that flew over the Cowshed into Prenton Road West.

Malkin's early miscues and a header by John Aldridge scrambled off the line by Young did nothing to diminish Palace confidence.

Both goalkeepers used their legs to save goals, Martyn from Malkin in the first half and Nixon from Williams in the second.

Armstrong headed against the bar after a double save by Nixon from Southgate and Williams as Tranmere launched their desperate salvage operation.

Newman wasted probably the best chance in the 78th minute and Coleman scrambled a header by Aldridge off the line seconds before giving Malkin his 'facelift'.

With eyes on Everton, the Tranmere chairman, Peter Johnson, would probably find the takeover route less painful than another promotion run with Rovers. But as Pat Nevin pointed out: 'Palace have a Premier League pedigree.'

Tranmere Rovers (4-3-3): Nixon; Brannan, Higgins, Garnett, Nolan; Proctor (Mungall, 76), Irons, Nevin; Morrissey (Branch, 76), Aldridge, Malkin. Substitute not used: Coyne (gk).

Crystal Palace (4-4-2): Martyn; Shaw, Young, Coleman, Gordon; Bowry, Southgate, Newman, Salako (Rogers, 78). Substitutes not used: Osborn, Woodman (gk).

Referee: D Allison (Lancaster).