Football: Peacock struts

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Crystal Palace. . . .0

Chelsea . . . . . . .1

Furlong 51

Attendance: 16,030

CROYDON on a grey Saturday afternoon has all the atmosphere of Pluto. Over at the town's football club, the drabness is settling in for the winter.

It is hard to imagine anything other than relegation for Crystal Palace. The fans sense it and, disturbingly, the team seem to have let the doubts creep in. They have yet to win and only Everton's failure to beat Leicester keeps Palace off bottom place.

In a first half controlled by Chelsea, authentic chances were mighty scarce. Palace took 38 minutes to get anywhere near goal, a tame Chris Armstrong header plopping over the crossbar. Chelsea occupied Palace territory with easy assurance: a Paul Furlong header was flashing into the corner until Nigel Martyn dived to his left to hold it; Furlong's attacking partner, John Spencer, wriggled into a scoring position but failed to control the bouncing ball.

Chelsea's creative midfielders caught the eye, especially Gavin Peacock, who has the ability to receive the ball and then chip it over back-pedalling defenders in one stride. Peacock himself burst clear and hit a rising shot just over. Frank Sinclair had earlier been allowed to run 30 yards but could not steady himself for the shot.

Chelsea took their deserved lead with a well-worked goal after 51 minutes. Spencer, shielding the ball, pulled defenders away from the area, turned and slid a perfect pass to Furlong, who side-footed past Martyn from 15 yards. Palace roused themselves at last, but lacked the guile to create real opportunities, though Gareth Southgate went close with a 35-yard piledriver.

Still, they stretched the solid Chelsea and Glenn Hoddle's men were indebted to Nigel Spackman, who frequently dropped back to save the back line from embarrassment.

Furlong should have scored a second when Peacock, after an exquisite drag-back that lit up an average game, rolled the ball along the six-yard line for him.

Chelsea are essentially a counter-attacking side and at times they looked bemused at how much possession they were given. Maybe the home side's first 50 minutes of passive resistance was a cunning Alan Smith plan.