Football: Palace's gratitude to Thorn of plenty

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The Independent Online
Crystal Palace. .1

Leeds United. . .0

THE young set are claiming the glory but it is the wise and experienced heads who are proving the difference for Crystal Palace. They have acquired the winning habit and cannot shake it off, the League champions following the FA Cup holders to defeat at Selhurst Park in the last five days.

Just as he did against Liverpool it was Andy Thorn's forehead that pointed the way to a fourth successive victory which helps Palace to climb out of the bottom three for the first time in two months. No longer does their new year promise to ring in rising fears of relegation.

For Leeds the mantle of champions is proving as weighty a burden as Santa's sack. Ever forward came the white shirts in determined pursuit of a second-half equaliser but away from home they have mislaid their route to goal.

Last season they were stars on Sunday for the live television cameras, pouring 10 goals past Aston Villa and Sheffield Wednesday in glorious confirmation of their emergence as title contenders. Now on two London winter Sundays they have forfeited the points, enjoying here as they had done at Chelsea territorial supremacy but unable to translate that into worthwhile opportunities.

Confidence is at a premium and inspiration in short supply. Gary Speed has a new and savage haircut but their problems have not altered. They are not competing well enough in the penalty areas and how they could have done yesterday with the kind of goal Eric Cantona scored to launch his Manchester United career and help put more distance between them and his former club.

Injuries have forced the Palace manager Steve Coppell to chop and change and to blood more of his talented youngsters. He has also hit on an effective system that employs Eddie McGoldrick as the spare man at the back and leaves Chris Armstrong free to rampage alone up front.

Coppell believes it brings out the best in his pounds 1m man and Chris Whyte would not raise a voice in dissent.

The Leeds defender found Armstrong a constant handful. Booked for a first-half foul, he was spoken to at length by the referee Allan Gunn for another indiscretion on the same player and shortly after removed by his manager Howard Wilkinson to save him from further punishment.

There were many fouls and countless free-kicks and from one on the half hour Palace went in front. Geoff Thomas, back for the first time since September, rose at the far post to meet Simon Rodger's delivery and sent the ball across the area to where Thorn squeezed his header home between the reach of John Lukic and the underside of the bar.

Soon after Armstrong twisted to meet John Humphrey's cross and again saw Lukic at full stretch.

'The worst thing that could have happened was to concede a goal to a team already defending a 0-0 draw,' Wilkinson said. 'Palace have fallen on this method to get themselves out of their predicament and it gives you problems all over the pitch because everyone is marked man-for-man.'

The ball never ran kindly for the visitors but credit to Palace for allowing them few openings. Eric Young and Thorn were at their most Scrooge-like and when Tony Dorigo blasted a 79th-minute free-kick through the defensive wall Nigel Martyn showed a clean pair of hands.

Coppell said: 'The youngsters have given us bite, enthusiasm and a bit more direction while my senior players are not making the kind of mistakes that proved our downfall earlier in the season. We have had a lot of sad times up to now and I just hope Christmas hasn't come too early for us.'

Crystal Palace: Martyn; Humphrey, Shaw, Southgate (Bowry, 80), Young, Thorn, Osborn, Thomas, Armstrong, Rodger, McGoldrick. Substitutes not used: Watts, Woodman (gk).

Leeds United: Lukic; Newsome, Dorigo, Rocastle, Fairclough, Whyte (Hodge, 63), Strachan, Wallace (Varadi, 74), Chapman, McAllister, Speed. Substitute not used: Day (gk).

Referee: A Gunn (Sussex).

Reports and results, pages 24 and 25

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