Football: Palace party ends in defeat

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THE Premiership promotion and play-off places were already decided, but there was not the slightest hint of an end-of-term procession for the six clubs at the top of the First Division yesterday. More of limp, in fact, as not one managed a win and Crystal Palace, the division's champions, saw their celebrations - parachutists, prize-giving, a capacity crowd - go awry with a 2-0 defeat by Watford at Selhurst Park.

Watford's surprise win did not match the pattern of play, however, as Palace had dominated proceedings until the 58th minute when Andy Hessenthaler scored from 30 yards out. Palace came straight back, but had two efforts stopped on the line before Paul Furlong played Tom Mooney through to score, three minutes from time, and put beyond dispute Palace's third home defeat of the season.

Nottingham Forest, who finished second, looked to be faring somewhat better against Sunderland thanks to a Stuart Pearce penalty and then a popular 25th goal of the season from Stan Collymore. But 2-0 up with eight minutes to go proved to be no insurance policy and Sunderland capitalised on a defence whose minds were already in the bar. First Don Goodman lobbed Mark Crossley and, four minutes from time, Craig Russell hit the equaliser.

Among the play-off contenders, draws for Millwall and Leicester and defeats for Tranmere and Derby mean that there is no change in their positions in the table, so the first round of matches, on Saturday, will see the Rams play the Lions at the Baseball Ground and Tranmere entertain Leicester. Most worried of the four may well be Derby, whose defensive shortcomings were repeatedly exposed by Southend, who triumphed in a seven-goal thriller, 4-3. Leicester shared a rousing end-of-season send-off at Molineux where Graham Taylor received warm applause from Wolves fans when he went on the field at the final whistle.

John McGinlay matched Bolton's record for most League goals in a season depite ending on the losing side. Bolton were beaten 3-2 at home by Barnsley and though McGinlay's strike matched Nat Lofthouse and Andy Walker's 33 goals, he will be kicking himself for missing the chance to break the record as he missed a sitter eight minutes from time. One man on rather sharper goalscoring form was John Hendrie, who yesterday grabbed a hat-trick in Middlesbrough's 5-2 win over Charlton.

West Ham's Tony Gale collected an estimated pounds 50,000 from his testimonial match - 4-2 at Upton Park against a Republic of Ireland XI yesterday. The match will probably be his last for West Ham as he discovered shortly afterwards that he has been given a free transfer.