Football: Palace stunned by Hartlepool

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Hartlepool United. . .1

Crystal Palace . . . .0

THE FOG rolled in off the North Sea, a chill wind blew, and the hard, freezing surface grew more treacherous by the minute. If ever an FA Cup tie had the ingredients of an upset, this was it.

Crystal Palace had set out at the Victoria Ground yesterday with all the confidence you would expect of a Premier League side that had just won their last six matches. By the end they were a bedraggled, downcast team believing they had been robbed of a replay by a bad refereeing decision.

The match appeared to be heading for a goalless draw when Hartlepool were awarded a penalty after 82 minutes. Nicky Southall attacked the Palace penalty area on the left flank and went down under Richard Shaw's challenge. Television evidence later suggested that the decision was a harsh one. Not only did Southall appear to be outside the area, but it seemed that Shaw had barely made contact with his opponent.

Palace's protests were to no avail, however, and Andy Saville, Hartlepool's record pounds 60,000 signing from Barnsley, stepped up to shoot home the penalty, his fifth goal in the FA Cup this season.

The Palace manager, Steve Coppell, disputed the referee's decision. 'If that was a penalty then there are six or seven penalties in every match,' he said. 'It's very upsetting. I was standing 40 yards away and I couldn't believe it.

'It hurts to go out of the Cup like this, especially to a marginal decision, but I don't want this to sound like sour grapes. Good luck to Hartlepool.'

Coppell's opposite number, Alan Murray, had some sympathy for him. 'If that had been given against me I would have been upset,' he said. 'But sometimes these things go in your favour and sometimes they go against you.'

It was unfortunate that the game should end in such controversy, for this was a stirring performance by Hartlepool. The Second Division side, who had reached the fourth round of the Cup on only three previous occasions and had never advanced further, stuck to their task in difficult conditions, and by the end few neutrals could have begrudged them their victory.

These are heady days for 'The Pool', who in 72 years in the Football League have never progressed beyond the bottom two divisions. Indeed, before yesterday BBC Television's Match of the Day cameras had never been to the Victoria Ground, a distinction Hartlepool shared with seven other clubs.

This season, however, Hartlepool have realistic hopes of promotion to the First Division, their improvement in the last 12 months underlined by yesterday's result. When they met Palace in the Rumbelow's Cup last season, they lost 7-2 over two legs.

It would all have been very different if Palace had capitalised on the superiority they had established in the first half. For half an hour they looked comfortably in command and created a series of good chances. On three occasions Chris Armstrong's pace and trickery took him into dangerous positions in the penalty area, but his shots were either off-target or deflected for corners.

Hartlepool, however, kept trying to play their passing game, and by the end of the first half they were starting to match Palace in most departments. The second half was almost entirely one-way traffic. Lenny Johnrose went close with three headers from crosses from the right-wing, sending two wide of the mark and then seeing Nigel Martyn making a desperate save at the foot of a post.

By the time of the controversial penalty Palace were under seige, and once they had gone behind had too little time to make amends at the other end.

After a remarkable December which brought them five Premier League victories, a Coca-Cola Cup win over Liverpool and the manager of the month award for Steve Coppell, this was a harsh setback for Palace, who must pick themselves up quickly. While Hartlepool will be looking forward to today's fourth-round draw, Palace also have a cup tie on their minds: Wednesday's Coca-Cola quarter-final at home to Chelsea.

Hartlepool United: S Jones; R Cross, P Cross, P Gilchrist, J MacPhail, D Emerson, L Johnrose, P Olsson, A Saville, B Honour, N Southall. Subs not used: N Peverell, J Gallacher. Manager: A Murray.

Crystal Palace: N Martyn; J Humphrey, R Shaw, C Coleman, E Young, R Bowry, S Osborn, G Thomas, C Armstrong, S Rodger, E McGoldrick. Subs not used: L Sinnott, G Watts. Manager: S Coppell.

Referee: D Gallacher (Oxon).

Goal: Saville pen (1-0, 82 min).