Crystal Palace 1 Cardiff City 0: Riihilahti's payback for Palace's support in injury crisis

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The Independent Online

With his new national team manager, Roy Hodgson, a keen spectator, the Finnish midfielder Aki Riihilahti made the perfect comeback from a four-month injury lay-off to score a goal that kept Crystal Palace in the hunt for the play-offs.

The 29-year-old's performance was full of invention and self-belief, as his team edged their way past a dogged Cardiff side. No doubt secretly pleased that Hodgson was there to watch, Riihilahti paid tribute to the support he had received from his club.

"The last four months were very frustrating for me but I had a lot of people around me who believed I can come back and play for Palace," he said. "They helped me a lot through that difficult time. I owe them something and hope to thank them with good performances on the pitch."

Palace thought that they had been awarded a penalty five minutes into this game when Andy Johnson tumbled under Chris Baker's challenge, but the referee waved away appeals.

The Cardiff striker Cameron Jerome, the Championship's leading scorer with 14, had a goal disallowed after 25 minutes for a foul on Fitz Hall as the Welsh side looked dangerous on the break. It was the home side, however, who took the lead after Johnson too had a finish disallowed for offside. The diminutive striker forced his way past three defenders before cutting the ball back for Riihilahti to score from close range after 70 minutes.

Hall was later sent off for an off-the-ball incident involving Cardiff's Joe Ledley, but, in truth, Dave Jones' men were beaten by then.

The Palace assistant manager Neil McDonald said: "After a disappointing performance at Preston last week, the lads have done a great job today. I'm very pleased with the performance."

Goal: Riihilahti (70) 1-0.

Crystal Palace (4-4-2): Kiraly; Boyce, Ward, Hall, Leigertwood; McAnuff (Borrowdale, 80), Hughes, Riihilahti, Reich (Watson, 85); Johnson (Morrison, 90), Freedman. Substitutes not used: Speroni (gk), Macken.

Cardiff City (4-4-1-1): Alexander; Ardley, Purse, Cox, Barker (Darlington, 89); Scimeca, Koumas, Boland (Ndumbu-Nsungu, 83), Cooper; Ledley; Jerome. Substitutes not used: Margetson (gk), Whitley, Thompson.

Referee: A Bates (Staffordshire).

Booked: Cardiff Koumas. Sent off: Crystal Palace Hall.

Man of the match: Riihilahti.

Attendance: 17,962.

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