Football: Palace moving into contention

Oldham Athletic 0 Crystal Palace 1
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While Bolton Wanderers are on the verge of securing their return to the Premiership, the question of who else goes up from the First Division remains as open as ever.

Crystal Palace's hard-earned victory at Boundary Park yesterday strengthened their claim for a play-off place and even put them in contention for automatic promotion. Steve Coppell's team have games in hand on most of their rivals and six of their last nine games are at home, including one against Barnsley, the side currently best placed to fill the second automatic promotion berth.

Palace have found some consistency since Coppell's return as manager, and while their victory was less than decisive it was due reward for a committed and resilient performance. Oldham, who desperately need points to escape from the relegation zone, might have taken something from the game if their finishing had matched their approach play.

It was a match of three distinct phases. Palace scored after two minutes and for the next quarter of an hour the pace, power and trickery of Bruce Dyer and Leon McKenzie looked certain to produce more goals.

Oldham, however, fought their way back and enjoyed the majority of the possession in the 20 minutes before and after the interval, although Palace finished the match on top and should have increased their advantage.

Palace's 35-year-old captain, Ray Houghton, returned after injury to make his first full appearance for three months, but they owed their victory to a player barely half his age, the 18-year-old McKenzie, who scored on his first full appearance of the season last week.

Dyer ran on to Andy Linighan's perceptive pass and McKenzie got in front of Craig Fleming to head home.

However, the early threat from Dyer and McKenzie soon faded and the intelligent midfield play of Lee Richardson prompted an Oldham revival.

Richardson himself was twice denied by flying saves from Carlo Nash, but the home side were usually too tentative in the penalty area and failed to take advantage of a number of half chances.

Palace changed their strikeforce after an hour, Dougie Freedman and Neil Shipperley replacing Dyer and McKenzie, and they swiftly resumed control. Indeed, Freedman might have scored twice but he was denied by Gary Kelly.

Goal: McKenzie (2) 0-1

Oldham (3-5-2): Kelly; Fleming, Snodin, Hodgson (Duxbury, h-t); Beresford (Ritchie, 85), Graham (Orlygsson, h-t), Richardson, Rickers, Serrant; McCarthy, Barlow.

Crystal Palace (5-3-2): Nash; Muscat, Edworthy, Roberts, Linighan, Gordon; Veart, Houghton, Rodger; Dyer (Freedman, 62), McKenzie (Shipperley, 62). Substitute not used: Cyrus.

Referee: R Furnandiz (Doncaster).

Man of the match: Richardson. Attendance: 5,282.