Gordon's fine finish gives Palace the perfect pick-up

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The Independent Online
Port Vale 1 Crystal Palace 2

A fiercely struck goal by Dean Gordon, which makes the full-back his club's joint top scorer with a grand total of three, lifted Crystal Palace to the dizzy heights of 18th in the First Division yesterday at the expense of a Port Vale side who remain rooted in the relegation zone.

With 12 minutes of an error-strewn contest remaining, Gordon swung his left foot at a pass from Damien Matthew 25 yards from goal. The shot seemed to be driven straight at Arjan van Heusden, but the goalkeeper was beaten for pace and could only flap retrospectively as it swerved past him.

Van Heusden, recruited from Dutch amateur football, may also have cause for rueful reflection on Palace's first goal, by Dougie Freedman, which looped over him from similar range. Vale soon drew level through Lee Glover, but could muster no response to Gordon's winner.

Palace, making their first visit to Vale Park since the days when Terry Venables was manager and George Graham strolled in midfield, marginally deserved their victory. Yet they were merely the better of two ordinary teams, and will need to show further improvement to make the anticipated challenge for promotion.

The multi-million pound turnover in personnel has not, on this evidence, left Palace with a squad capable of emulating the immediate return to the Premiership they made after going down in 1993. Moreover, six players, including Gordon, want to leave Selhurst Park, although there was no disputing the dissidents' commitment here.

After a soporific opening period, enlivened only by headers from Freedman and Vale's Ray Walker which flashed over the respective crossbars, football broke out shortly after half-time when Palace took a 54th-minute lead. A massive throw-in by David Hopkin was flicked by Gareth Taylor into the path of Freedman. As defenders stood off, the Scot's volley beat Van Heusden from 20 yards.

Vale, whose passing game was as predictable as it was commendable, pinned their hopes on two wingers, Jon McCarthy and Steve Guppy. Neither had the pace or strength to beat his marker with consistency, and it was unsurprising that the equaliser should stem from a set-piece.

A corner by Walker on the hour found Palace in disarray, with both home centre-backs able to put a head on the ball before Lee Glover swivelled to strike from six yards.

Vale briefly scented a first home victory, only for Gordon to leave them facing a long, hard winter. John Rudge, their manager, could not even dart up the tunnel to avoid disgruntled fans, having snapped a tendon in his right knee in training.

One of Palace's managerial triumvirate, Peter Nicholas, claimed vindication for the tactical ploy of using Freedman, a prolific striker with Barnet, just behind the front two. "We tried a new way of playing and just plugged away with it," he said. "They were two excellent goals."

Steve Coppell, who these days goes by the pretentious title of Director of Football, laughed off the idea that it had been a relegation battle. "We won't be going down - I can guarantee that," he said. "We've got too many good players, and we're looking towards the other end of the table."

Port Vale (4-4-2): Van Heusden; Hill, Griffiths, D Glover, Stokes; McCarthy (Talbot, 66), Porter, Walker, Guppy; Mills (Naylor, 76), L Glover. Substitute not used: Bogie.

Crystal Palace (4-3-1-2): Martyn; Hopkin, Shaw, Coleman, Gordon; Houghton, Roberts, Rodger (Matthew, 66); Freedman; Dyer, Taylor. Substitutes not used: Vincent, Edworthy.

Referee: W Burns (Scarborough).