Palace's amazing change

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The Independent Online
Charlton Athletic 1 Crystal Palace 2

The transformation was astounding. Crystal Palace, outplayed in the first half yesterday, riddled by nerves and a goal down inside 55 seconds, dominated the first leg of their Endsleigh League First Division play- off thereafter to establish themselves as favourites for a place at Wembley on 27 May.

Yet Palace will do well not to gloat for Charlton's formidable away record, second only to Palace's own best in the Division, indicates that Wednesday's second leg will be anything but a formality.

Charlton, who have not won at home for almost two months, took an early lead after Palace's Norwegian defender Leif Andersen had got his angles horribly wrong. Diving with the intention, presumably, of heading Matt Jackson's cross behind for a corner, Andersen instead clubbed it straight at Nigel Martyn. The ball bounced off the startled goalkeeper to Shaun Newton who rammed it gleefully into the net.

Palace stirred themselves sufficiently to go close when George Ndah forced a fine save from Andy Petterson but they were patently second best until half-time.

Charlton, with their passing game in better order and Lee Bowyer displaying some deft touches in midfield, looked a sounder proposition for Wembley. But for Martyn's agility, Newton might even have scored again following a dreadful pass out of defence from David Tuttle, straight to Mark Robson.

The tie had simmered uncomfortably close to boiling point in the first half but on the resumption Palace found a measure of composure. This hardened not by the refusal of a penalty after Chris Whyte had appeared to handle, Palace kept pushing forward with Dougie Freedman, previously static, now stretching Charlton from the flanks. It was no coincidence that both Palace goals followed shots from the Scot.

Served by Ndah's header from an Andy Roberts free kick, Freedman's 65th- minute volley brought an instinctive save from Petterson who could not prevent Kenny Brown following up to score with another, even fiercer, volley. Six minutes later Jackson's clearing header from a Roberts' corner only went as far as Ndah who responded with an overhead kick.

Carl Veart, facing his fellow Australian Petterson, was in no mood to say, "After you, Bruce" and with a downwards nod sent the ball into the net with a gloriously timed first goal for his club.

The Palace fans went delirious but Dave Bassett was quick to remind them later that the job is only half done.

Doing nothing to conceal his sarcasm, the Palace manager then explained his side's improvement. "We told them at half-time that they might be slightly more successful if they did what we asked them to," he said.

Goals: Newton (1) 1-0; Brown (65) 1-1; Veart (71) 1-2.

Charlton Athletic (4-4-2): Petterson; Jackson, Rufus, Newton, C Whyte; Robson (D Whyte, 72), Bowyer, Robinson, Newton; Allen (Nelson, 60), Leaburn. Substitute not used: Brown.

Bookings: Charlton Athletic: Newton, Leaburn. Crystal Palace: Andersen.

Crystal Palace (4-3-3): Martyn; Tuttle, Roberts, Andersen (Quinn, 83), Edworthy; Houghton, Pitcher, Brown; Veart, Freedman, Ndah. Substitutes not used: Rodger, Dyer.

Referee: J Kirkby (Sheffield).

Bookings: Charlton Athletic: Newton, Leaburn. Crystal Palace: Andersen.

Man of the match: Freeman.

Attendance: 14,618.