Smith resigned to his fate

Crystal Palace1West Ham United0
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The Independent Online
Too little, too late. And for all his fighting talk after this do or die effort one sensed that Alan Smith knows it. The manager may be prepared to slug it out until he, or rather Palace, drop but he appears already to be resigned to defeat in his personal battle for survival with the chairman, Ron Noades.

With rumours that Noades is to assume responsibility for team affairs in the summer, Smith delivered what sounded like a valedictory speech, heavily laden with emotion, following Palace's last home game of the season. The crowd, it seemed, had already anticipated it, judging by the reception it gave him.

Rarely have supporters given their backing so unreservedly to a manager who, when all is said and done, is poised to lead them into relegation. However intolerable the interference experienced by Smith from his chairman, the fact remains that the decision of whom to sell, if not always of whom to buy, has been Smith's. He must, therefore, rue the day he refused Newcastle's £4.5m offer for Armstrong.

Had he not done so he probably would have been able to scrounge the few thousand it cost to buy Ray Houghton and Iain Dowie, about whom he said: "If I'd signed them six months ago I wouldn't be sitting in the position I am now."

As luck would have it, the less-than-prolific Armstrong may have come up with the goal on Saturday that saves Palace's neck. But I doubt it. His commitment to the club remains open to question.

At least Palace, largely through the competitive spirit of Houghton and Dowie, played with some spunk which should serve them well in their desperately difficult two remaining away games against Leeds tomorrow and Newcastle on judgement day next Saturday. It was never more evident than when the former Liverpool midfielder doggedly stuck to his task after Dicks, not for the last time in the match, appeared to get his arm in the way of a shot. The partial save Houghton eventually drew from Ludek Miklosko presented Armstrong with a chance even he couldn't refuse.

It proved enough to beat an introverted West Ham, whose unbeaten run of eight games came to an end much like that of the favourite in sky blue and maroon at Newmarket. Unlike Celtic Swing the Hammers never looked like getting their noses in front once Stephen Lodge had disallowed a "goal" by Jeroen Boere in the third minute.

In the absence of Tony Cottee they lack sufficient pace to play a counter- attacking game but with an extra point in the bag and two home games to come, the first on Wednesday against a Liverpool side mentally Awol no one, least of all Smith, was about to argue with Harry Redknapp when he claimed the Palace manager would "rather be in my shoes".

Goal: Armstrong (50) 1-0.

Crystal Palace (4-4-2): Martyn; Humphrey, Young, Shaw, Gordon; Houghton, Pitcher, Southgate, Salako; Armstrong, Dowie. Substitutes not used: Dyer, Cox, Wilmot (gk).

West Ham United (4-4-2): Miklosko; Breacker, Potts, Rieper, Dicks; Allen (Webster, 76), Moncur, Bishop, Holmes; Boere, Hutchison (Morley, 60). Substitute not used: Sealey (gk).

Referee: S Lodge (Barnsley).