Palace reach Wembley

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The Independent Online
Crystal Palace 1 Charlton Athletic 0 (Palace win 3-1 on aggregate)

One moment of Cantona-like composure from Ray Houghton on a night of frantic and often unfocused activity assured Crystal Palace of a place in the First Division play-off final on 27 May.

The other Wembley qualifiers, Leicester City, will have their work cut out to halt the impetus of a side which has risen from 16th place since the advent of Dave Bassett as manager, winning 14 of its last 22 games.

Afterwards, Bassett paid tribute to his 34-year-old former Liverpool and Ireland midfielder, whose perfectly struck goal in the fourth minute established a 3-1 aggregate lead in this semi-final which was safely, if edgily maintained in front of a sell-out crowd of 22,880.

"When you have done it all, seen it all and been through it all then your influence is vital," Bassett said. "Ray was probably the only feller out there who could have scored that goal."

Bassett, who has been to Wembley once as a player and once as a manager, is now seeking his seventh promotion as a manager. But he is taking nothing for granted. "That's part one done," he said. "Part two comes in 12 days' time."

The pre-match statistics had been suitably hard to divine. Despite their home defeat in Sunday's first leg, Charlton had suffered only five defeats in 23 away games, a club record.

But the figures soon became an irrelevance as the south London atmosphere took hold. The announcer lost all pretence at impartiality as he signed off with the words: "Come on guys! Let's do it!"

The guys responded with a goal almost as early as that which Charlton had managed in the first leg. After a dogged dribble through the centre by George Ndah was halted by a challenge from Charlton's England Under- 21 defender Richard Rufus, the loose ball ran to Houghton. He weighed his options before driving the ball over three straining defenders and into the far corner of the net with the outside of his right foot.

That turned out to be the high point of Palace's activities on the night as a Charlton side which has been cruelly depleted by injury on the final run-in to the season strove to reduce their deficit.

Twice before half-time Carl Leaburn was denied by Nigel Martyn and then David Tuttle, who cleared his header off the line. Tuttle headed another off the line in the 71st minute but in the final analysis Charlton made less of an impact than the bald, bulky and tattooed streaker who crossed the pitch at the start of the second half before being escorted away by the police. Judging by the smile on his face, he had to be a Palace supporter.

Crystal Palace (3-5-2): Martyn; Tuttle, Roberts, Quinn; Edworthy, Veart, Houghton, Pitcher, K Brown; Freedman (Dyer, 79), Ndah. Substitutes not used: Rodger, Boxall.

Charlton Athletic: (4-4-2): Petterson; Jackson (Allen, 76), Rufus, Balmer, C Whyte (Stuart, 51); Newton, S Brown, Bowyer, Robinson; Leaburn, Nelson (D Whyte, 51).

Referee: T Heilbron (Newton Aycliffe).

Photograph, Play-off reports, Results, page 31