Football: Southgate drives Palace up

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The Independent Online
Watford . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .1

Crystal Palace. . . . . . . . . . . . . .3

FOR the first hour at Vicarage Road yesterday it was hard to say which was the more numbing, the weather or the football. But once Palace warmed to their task, they were good value for their win which hoisted them above Southend into third place and, with a game in hand over Charlton, the pacemakers, kept them on course to regain the First Division leadership.

This, in the view of Alan Smith, their manager, was more like the Palace of old this season: 'passing and moving'. They arrived at the match having gone through a poor spell of three wins in nine games. However, managers, as is their wont, read the statistics differently, and after the match, Smith took heart from a second win in three 'difficult' away games.

'At the moment we have the best form to go up,' he said. 'I think the teams who are promoted from this division will be the ones who win the most away games.'

Leading them to this one by example was Gareth Southgate, their captain in the absence of Andy Thorn, who scored a fine second goal. It was from his shot in the 39th minute that Palace took the lead, the ball breaking to Paul Williams who turned to fire home his sixth of the season.

Otherwise, this had not been a game overburdened with excitement. Watford were lacking two of their better players, Paul Furlong and Andy Hessenthaler; both were serving suspensions and their absence showed. They might have snatched an equaliser had the substitute, Lee Nogan, managed to get more purchase on a cross from Gerard Lavin, but it would probably have been only delaying the inevitable.

Southgate was beginning to dictate matters to the point where, on the hour, he actually signalled to Chris Armstrong and Simon Osborn where he wanted the ball at the end of a run, and when the latter obliged he ripped home a low shot from the corner of the penalty box to record Palace's second.

After 76 minutes, Watford's poor goals-against tally for the last six games reached 16. Mark Watson's headed clearance under pressure merely set up Simon Rodger and though Perry Suckling was able to defy his former team-mates with a parrying save, it left him at the mercy of John Salako.

Belatedly, Nogan got his goal with two minutes remaining when he pickpocketed Eric Young. Graham Taylor's old club will need a few more artful dodgers to pick a point or two if they are to survive what looks like being a long hard winter.

Watford (4-4-2): Suckling; Lavin, Watson, Holdsworth, Dublin (McCarthy, 69); Dyer, Johnson, Soloman, Porter; Charlery (Nogan, 53), Willis. Substitute not used: Shepherd (gk).

Crystal Palace (4-4-2): Martyn; Shaw, Young, Coleman, Gordon; Osborn, Southgate, Rodger, Salako; Armstrong, Williams. Substitutes not used: White, Barry, Woodman (gk).

Referee: G Singh (Wolverhampton).

Tony Agana took his goal tally to three in four matches as Notts County extended their unbeaten home run to eight matches with a 2-1 win over Oxford United yesterday. Denis Smith's rejuvenated side went ahead through Matt Elliott but Paul Devlin and Agana settled the First Division match.