Football / Premier League: Armstrong's weak finishing

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The Independent Online
Leeds United. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .0

Crystal Palace. . . . . . . . . . . . . . .0

TWO sides too close to the relegation squabble for comfort and not close enough to panic, eked out a servicable point apiece yet subjected a 27,545 crowd to 90 minutes of unrelenting tedium.

You have to remind yourself that 12 months ago Leeds were summoning their triumphal charge to the championship. Yesterday's side was hugely different, of course, not only in personnel but also in terms of performances.

The midfield creators of last year, Gordon Strachan and Gary McAllister, were almost anonymous. McAllister was withdrawn just before the finish, throwing his captain's armband to the new boy, Kevin Sharp. The 18-year-old, like his friend Jamie Forrester, joined Leeds from the FA School of Excellence via Auxerre and he emerged with as much credit as anyone in his first appearance for the senior team.

Palace might have welcomed a draw before the match, though they will lament a number of wasted opportunities. Chris Armstrong was particularly menacing, and equally profligate.

Palace's extravagance was evident from the sixth minute, when Chris Coleman's pass eluded Leeds' back line and ran perfectly for the alert Geoff Thomas. The midfield player, however, was less positive in his execution and the deflected shot found the outside of the side-netting.

Strachan's inswinging corner forced Eric Young into a desperate header and the central defender turned away in relief as the ball struck his own crossbar and went over. Forrester's swerving shot then tested Nigel Martyn's reflexes as Leeds enjoyed their most assertive spell of the first half. The momentum was broken when Armstrong sprinted free of Leeds' defenders and confronted John Lukic. His pace and enthusiasm were not matched by the accuracy of his finish, the striker hoisting the ball high over the bar.

Leeds' uncertainty almost cost them just before half-time. David Wetherall was the culprit this time and Coleman vented his frustration as he seized on the chance only for his shot to be blocked.

Chapman was deeply embarrassed when he galloped into Palace's area early in the second half. He elected to go for goal rather than picking out Forrester, and was perhaps a little over-ambitious with his attempt off the outside of his right foot. The ball was dispatched high into the crowd. Sharp was more convincing with an audacious 25-yard strike in the 59th minute which Martyn settled for a fingertip flick over.

Armstrong almost found a way through at the end with an impudent back-heel, but a goal to either side then would have been more than they, or this match, deserved.

Leeds United: J Lukic; D Kerslake, K Sharp, J Forrester, D Wetherall, J Newsome, G Strachan, Rod Wallace, L Chapman, G McAllister (M Tinkler, 89 min) G Speed. Subs not used: C Whyte, M Day (gk). Manager: H Wilkinson.

Crystal Palace: N Martyn; R Shaw, G Southgate, C Coleman, E Young, A Thorn, J Humphrey, G Thomas, C Armstrong, S Rodger (S Osborn, 50 min), E McGoldrick. Subs not used: P Williams, A Woodman (gk). Manager: S Coppell.

Referee: R Hart (Darlington).