Football: Palace poised: First Division promotion race: Armstrong rises to the occasion while Lee leaves Charlton behind

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The Independent Online
Crystal Palace. .1

Armstrong 62

Millwall. . . . .0

Attendance: 23,142

CRYSTAL PALACE are within five points of the Premiership. Once again they competently dispatched a rival without ever dominating, and a couple of home wins against Barnsley and Watford from their remaining four games will see them through.

'You've got to be a football person rather than a mathematician in these situations,' Alan Smith, the Crystal Palace manager, said. 'We learnt that last year. But we are a better team than in the last two years. We used to put people on pedestals here, and those individuals got up and left with their pedestals. Now we are a team.'

The painful lesson of 1993, when Palace celebrated survival only to be relegated a week later by Oldham's unlikely heroics, should ensure that the champagne remains uncorked for the moment at least.

Once again Palace owed their progress to solid defence and the finishing of Chris Armstrong. Palace's former Millwall striker had started brightly, his early pace threatening to leave Neil Emblen and Pat Van den Hauwe, at the heart of the Millwall defence, choking on his exhaust fumes. But then he disappeared. Paul Stewart continued to win a fascinating aerial duel with Van den Hauwe, but Armstrong could not make any of the second balls stick.

Millwall looked sound in defence, and despite a few half- chances a stalemate seemed likely. 'I didn't think anyone was going to score today,' Mick McCarthy, the Millwall manager, said. 'Then Chris Armstrong gets one chance and in it goes.' His rueful look spoke volumes for his annoyance at having to sell the player in September 1992.

With half an hour to go, Dean Gordon, Palace's left- back, crossed from 20 yards inside the Millwall half, and at the far post there was Armstrong, unmarked for the first time in the afternoon, able to pick his spot and head an inch inside Kasey Keller's left-hand post - 21 of Palace's 68 goals have come from headers.

Palace had also to be grateful for a sensible referee, Allan Gunn. At 0-0 Nigel Martyn, Palace's goalkeeper, charged out of the right side of his area to intercept Dave Mitchell's chase. He was never going to get there and barged the Millwall striker over. Result (correctly): a yellow card and a relieved Palace bench. 'My hand was in my mouth,' Smith said. 'On a bad day he would have been off.' Happily for Palace, this was not a bad day.

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