ELEVEN visits to Selhurst Park had brought Sunderland only one win against Crystal Palace, but in spite of missing two penalties - they have now missed seven out of eight - yesterday they managed to improve that record in a curious match that Palace's goalkeeper, Nigel Martyn, will want to forget.
Every Palace game these days is like a car-boot sale. At present they have about pounds 6m worth of players for whom they are prepared to listen to offers. Chris Coleman, Richard Shaw, Dean Gordon and Martyn himself are among them and they started yesterday's match obviously wanting to give a better impression than they did.
Meanwhile, Palace think they have discovered someone who may one day command a bigger fee in Leon McKenzie, the boxer Clinton McKenzie's son, who scored on his debut in mid-week in the Coca-Cola Cup - a competition in which Liverpool showed Sunderland what perils could be in store if they manage to reach the Premiership.
Missing a penalty in the first minute seemed no way for Sunderland to restore confidence. A powerful run by Dariusz Kubicki ended with a bristling shot that Martyn failed to hold. As the ball rebounded, the goalkeeper felled Phil Gray. Martin Scott's undisputed penalty thumped against the foot of the post.
Palace immediately pulled themselves together only to spurn several clear chances. In particular, Dougie Freedman ruined a fine crossfield ball from Gareth Taylor by drawing Alec Chamberlain out of goal but losing sight of the target with his shot.
Martyn's early errors continued to haunt him, threatening Palace's security. When, after 35 minutes, Sunderland created one of several neatly worked moves that usually culminated in threatening centres from Michael Gray, David Kelly hit a shot that again Martyn fumbled alarmingly.
The first penalty miss and the failure to punish Martyn for his indiscretions suggested that Sunderland would eventually count the cost. They relied greatly on the keeping of Chamberlain, who would have been comprehensively beaten early in the second half had Freedman not sliced a shot that should have been a striker's bread and butter.
Although the second-half arrival of McKenzie enlivened Palace's attack, Sunderland managed to do what had earlier seemed unlikely, accepting an obvious opportunity. Kevin Ball's strong shot was well parried by Martyn but the ball went out to Michael Gray who turned it back across goal for Kelly to sidefoot in off the post. It was a strike for which Sunderland were all the more grateful when, after Gordon brought down Craig Russell, Paul Bracewell missed their second penalty.Reuse content