Football: Stewart's renaissance revives memories: Cult of the loan star at vibrant Palace

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Crystal Palace . . . . . . . . . . . . . .2

Charlton Athletic. . . . . . . . . . . . .0

AFTER YEARS of grudging appreciation at Tottenham and muted support at Liverpool, the ovation Crystal Palace fans gave Paul Stewart yesterday must have revived memories of his teenage days as the darling of Blackpool's Broomfield Road.

A lot has happened to Stewart since, not much of it living up to the promise of his youth, but he may have found his niche at last. Since his arrival in January, Palace have lost once in 11 games and his strength, experience and awareness has provided the impetus for a run that has taken them to the brink of the Premier League.

No one has benefited more than Chris Armstrong, who opened yesterday's scoring with his 21st goal of the season five minutes before half- time. Stewart added the second as a vibrant Palace sent Charlton to their fourth successive defeat.

When Stewart left the pitch 11 minutes from time with a slight groin strain, he was accorded a standing ovation by the Palace fans with whom, the manager, Alan Smith, said afterwards: 'He has become a cult figure.'

Armstrong, who rose the highest of half a dozen players to head in Simon Rodger's corner for his goal, said: 'He has helped the whole team. He has added a touch of steel that we didn't have before.'

He is not even a Palace player. Stewart's loan period from Liverpool expires in three matches' time and Smith insists he will not make a decision on a permanent deal until promotion is secured. Given the dent Stewart's current wages would make on Palace's pay structure, it is by no means certain he will buy him then.

Armstrong must also make a decision: Nigeria or England? The World Cup finalists have, Smith said, 'been pestering him, but I have told him he will one day play for England and asked Terry Venables to give him a quiet word of encouragement.'

Armstrong's power and pace troubled Charlton throughout as the division's most potent attack laid siege to its tightest defence. Stewart had twice shot over and John Salako, after a long, mazy Armstrong run, fired wide before Charlton stirred, Colin Walsh's volley bringing a fine reaction save from Nigel Martyn.

Then Armstrong scored and Stewart, on 69 minutes, headed a second, supplying Salako on the left then meeting his cross in style, and Palace were secure. For Charlton, the sight of the pounds 1.1m teenager, Bruce Dyer, coming on for Palace merely emphasised the lack of resources that is likely to deny them promotion.

Crystal Palace (4-4-2): Martyn; Humphrey, Young, Coleman, Gordon; Bowry, Southgate, Rodger, Salako; Stewart, Armstrong (Dyer, 79). Substitutes not used: Shaw, Woodman (gk).

Charlton Athletic (4-4-2): Vaughan; Brown, McLeary, Balmer, Minto (Chapple, 80); Robson, Pitcher, Pardew, Walsh; Leaburn, Nelson (Grant, 77). Substitutes not used: Bolder (gk).

Referee: J Rushton (Stoke-on-Trent).