Football: Palace's bitter downfall

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Arsenal . . . . .3

Crystal Palace. .0

IAN WRIGHT, coming back after injury, needed goals. His England place was at risk and sympathy for his old club was obviously the last thing on his mind. Crystal Palace succumbed to his early strike and although they struggled manfully to recover, their Premier League status was lost mainly because they had never really replaced him.

Steve Coppell, the Palace manager, said: 'You can't expect favours from anybody. In the last week or so it seemed like fate had conspired against us but we are going down because we are not good enough.' Exactly.

Most of the portents had urged Palace supporters to prepare for the worst. Their team had lost eight of nine matches played between the clubs over four seasons, and at Highbury Arsenal had often knocked in goals against them.

Having elected to play a full- strength side, much depended on Arsenal's attitude only a week before the FA Cup final. It was far from lethargic when, in the opening minutes, they had Paul Merson hungrily seeking out the sort of defensive flaws that had helped put Palace in so much trouble. His feeding offered Wright and Kevin Campbell almost instant openings which were scorned before, after only nine minutes, Wright struck.

Merson's long passing this season has often brought respectability to that maligned art. He has the ability to be accurate as well, which distinguishes him from many others. Here there was a perfect example when from within his own half he half-volleyed a defence-piercing pass forward to Wright who neatly and, somewhat unusually, controlled the ball first time and shot authoritatively beyond Nigel Martyn.

Palace fans always had their interest torn between the affairs in view and the game at Oldham. No sooner had Eddie McGoldrick sliced wide from not more than seven yards than news came that their rivals for safety were ahead. Then, a huge cheer as Southampton scored. The seen and unseen created a curious, unreal backdrop but Palace knew there was no future in anything but retrieving the only situation that was in their own hands.

As Oldham went ahead again elsewhere, here Merson headed on to his own crossbar and Ray Parlour hastily cleared. At least Palace had managed to break Arsenal's domination of midfield, though maintaining pressure was proving difficult.

Their commitment was beyond dispute, their resources limited. Having thrown themselves forward, they were always exposed to Arsenal's quick breakaways. Merson waited to draw them on before rebounding with a series of splendid passes to release Parlour and Wright. Palace scuffled back haphazardly. Geoff Thomas tried to organise things in the middle, but increasingly the need was for all-or-nothing charges.

Arsenal's breakaways became the predominant feature. Even so, Palace still needed only one goal to retain their Premier League status. Obtaining it was enormously problematic. Dean Gordon was brought on in an attempt to add some new ideas and width. Eric Young powered up into the attack, narrowly failing to meet a free kick, but it was David Seaman who came within inches of allowing Palace their reward.

Gareth Southgate was given some space midway into the Arsenal half and flighted a powerful ground-level shot seemingly disappointingly straight at Seaman who nevertheless fumbled. The ball ran across the face of the goal before Seaman recovered to clear.

Young continued to gamble on leaving his own defence, once skimming the crossbar, while Chris Armstrong then wasted Palace's most obvious opportunity when clear with only Seaman to beat. Armstrong allowed the ball to run too far ahead and Seaman snuffed out the danger.

Finally, Palace suffered the consequences of their own commitment when Young chased back trying to stop Wright again breaking clear. His weak back-pass was regained by Wright who found the young substitute Paul Dickov and he turned freshly and slotted in his shot. The Eagles finally came to earth when in the final minute Campbell almost walked past weary tackles before sliding in Arsenal's third.

Arsenal: D Seaman; L Dixon, N Winterburn, P Davis, A Linighan, T Adams, J Carter (P Dickov, 67 min), I Wright (D O'Leary, 89 min), K Campbell, P Merson, R Parlour. Sub not used: A Miller (gk). Manager: G Graham.

Crystal Palace: N Martyn, R Shaw (D Gordon, 61 min), G Southgate, P Williams, E Young, A Thorn, J Humphrey, G Thomas, C Armstrong, S Rodger, E McGoldrick. Subs not used: S Osborn, A Woodman (gk), Manager: S Coppell.

Referee: W K Burge (Tonypandy).

Goals: Wright (1-0, 9 min); Dickov (2-0, 83 min); Campbell (3-0, 90 min).