Stoke City 1 Crystal Palace 2: Fonte spoils Stoke's shot at the top

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The Independent Football

Topsy-turvy as ever, the Championship promotion race took another unexpected turn last night to leave Crystal Palace, rather than Stoke City, celebrating a major breakthrough.

An evening generously hyped as Stoke City's chance to regain the leadership ended instead with Palace hoisting themselves into the top six via a victory that shortens the odds against their manager Neil Warnock winning a seventh promotion.

Tom Soares provided the opener mid-way through the first half, then on-loan Benfica defender Jose Fonte magnificently struck his first goal in English football.

But the centre-half, clad in white boots his manager jokingly called "a disgrace", had to work over-time as Stoke applied enormous second-half pressure that was climaxed by a stunning late volley from Glenn Whelan.

"Boy, did we have to defend!" Warnock said. "It's a great win, probably the best since I came here ... a typical gritty Neil Warnock performance. We have Watford and Hull away to come yet and I wouldn't want to play us in the play-offs."

By extending their unbeaten run to four wins and four draws and denying Stoke the point they needed to go top, Palace climbed four places.

At times, it was a siege and luck was on their side, notably when Mamady Sidibe's early header to Rory Delap's long throw hit the foot of the post.

Palace were bright on the ball, though, and struck in the 23rd minute, Scott Sinclair weaving his way into the area on the right and crossing for Soares to head in well at the far post for his fourth goal of the season.

Stoke have now won only once in eight matches and their mission became much tougher in first-half stoppage-time when Fonte crashed in a stunning shot from 20 yards following Shaun Derry's pass.

Amid a pin-ball onslaught at the other end from then on, Julian Speroni saved from substitute Ricardo Fuller and Shola Ameobi missed badly before Whelan's 25-yarder flew in spectacularly from Jay Bothroyd's half-cleared corner.

"I'm desperately disappointed to have lost but not with the performance," said Stoke's manager, Tony Pulis. "We had enough chances to win from 2-0 down."

Stoke City (4-4-2): Nash; Griffin, Cort, Riggott, Pugh; Cresswell, Delap, Whelan, Pearson (Bothroyd, 76); Sidibe (Fuller, 56), Ameobi. Substitutes not used: Simonsen (gk), Shawcross, Dickinson.

Crystal Palace (4-5-1): Speroni; Lawrence, Fonte, Hudson, Hill; Sinclair (Fletcher, 88), Soares (Scannell, 88), Derry, Watson, Moses (Reid, 56); Morrison. Substitutes not used: Robinson, Butterfield.

Referee: M Clattenburg (Tyne & Wear).