Football: Palace win on the hoof

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The Independent Online
Stoke City. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .0

Crystal Palace. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .2

Gordon pen 56, Williams 69

Attendance: 18,071

CRYSTAL PALACE continue to lead a charmed life at the top of the First Division. As is becoming their habit, they picked up three points against Stoke City with a gritty but unimaginative display and lead the promotion pack by eight points.

The scoreline was not flattering, it was obsequious. Hoof, charge, hoof, charge - both sides offered up one-touch football of the most unwatchable kind. Only Palace's Paul Williams, an early substitute for the injured Chris Armstrong, conjured a decent first-half chance.

A game whose tempo was set by clattering challenges and the whistle was turned by a dreadful decision by the referee Terry Holbrook in the 56th minute. Paul Stewart, in space with his back to goal on the edge of the area, received a pass over his shoulder. His pace never looked likely to take him beyond the intercepting defender and when John Clark challenged, Stewart predictably collapsed in a heap. The referee, 25 yards behind the play, gave the penalty immediately. Dean Gordon buried it violently into the roof of the net.

'I genuinely didn't see it,' said Alan Smith, the Palace manager, afterwards. He genuinely must be joking. 'We've had more blatant ones than that and never got them,' he added tellingly.

'I'm biased but I thought it was a marvellous tackle,' said his opposite number, Joe Jordan.

The injustice of the goal bred the conviction in Stoke's play that had been lacking up to then. Wayne Biggins, who had already seen a right-footed first-time volley from 18 yards go just wide, broke into the Palace area but again was a foot off the mark with a low shot.

Just as an equaliser seemed within Stoke's grasp, Palace snatched an excellent second. In the 69th minute, Simon Rodger found space on the left, carried the ball to the bye-line and pulled it back, missing out Stewart at the near post for Williams to shoot low and hard from five yards.

Palace gritted their teeth, battened down the hatches and Stoke could not get past. A Clark shot was tipped superbly past the post by Nigel Martyn, and the substitute, Dave Regis, slid in unchallenged at the far post but contrived to direct the ball straight at the keeper.

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