Leeds United 3
Crystal Palace 1
Even an improbable victory on Sunday at Newcastle, where only Leeds have succeeded in the past 16 months, may not be enough to extend Crystal Palace's tenure in the Premiership after last night's defeat at Elland Road.
It was Palace's misfortune to run into a Leeds side in vibrant mood as they broke into the top four for the first time this season.
Worse still, they encountered Tony Yeboah in irresistible form, the Ghanaian's two goals taking his tally to 13 in 15 starts and putting Chris Armstrong's profligacy into sharp relief.
Leeds, who have accumulated 33 of the 45 points on offer since Yeboah's arrival, need only to avoid defeat at Tottenham to guarantee a Uefa Cup place. For Palace, barring an unlikely sequence of results, next season's schedule looks certain to include such high spots as Port Vale and Grimsby.
By that time, the likelihood is that Alan Smith, who led them to the First Division title a year ago, will no longer be Palace's manager. Smith's habit of disagreeing publicly with Ron Noades, the London club's hands- on chairman, has made his position as untenable as his team's now appears to be.
Things might have been different if Armstrong, sent in by Iain Dowie in the fifth minute, had not delayed his shot long enough for John Pemberton to slide the ball away. Within 40 seconds, Yeboah had spun away from Eric Young on to Carlton Palmer's pass, advanced to the angle of the six-yard area, and guided the ball round Nigel Martyn with the outside of the foot.
Both sides adopted a shoot-on-sight policy, with Brian Deane bringing the best out of Martyn and Gareth Southgate forcing a vital save from John Lukic. But when Leeds doubled their lead in the 41st minute, it was from more mundane means, David Wetherall heading in Tony Dorigo's corner.
Fourteen minutes into the second half, Yeboah seized on a loose ball 25 yards from goal. Drifting between Darren Patterson and Dean Gordon, he was deep inside Martyn's area before demonstrating the top-class striker's art of making scoring look simple.
Palace rallied bravely but briefly, Armstrong driving in his seventh Premiership goal an hour later than he ought to have done following a knock-down by Young. By then, however, barely 20 minutes remained, and although Lukic parried a Young header at point-blank range moments later, Leeds reasserted their control.
Smith appeared almost resigned to Palace's and his own fate. "Leeds looked a powerful team, mentally and physically strong," he sighed, "whereas I thought we seemed very tired."
Leeds United (4-4-2): Lukic; Kelly, Wetherall, Pemberton, Dorigo; Wallace, McAllister, Palmer, Speed; Yeboah, Deane. Substitutes not used: Sharp, Couzens, Beeney (gk).
Crystal Palace (4-4-2): Martyn; Patterson, Young, Shaw, Gordon; Houghton (Cox, 89), Southgate, Pitcher, Salako (Dyer, 55); Dowie, Armstrong. Substitute not used: Wilmot (gk).
Referee: J Worrall (Warrington).
Everton safe, page 38
P W D L F A GD Pts
Everton 41 11 16 14 44 51 -7 49
Man City 41 12 13 16 51 61 -10 49
Coventry 41 12 13 16 44 62 -18 49
Sheff Wed 41 12 12 17 45 56 -11 48
Aston Villa 41 11 14 16 50 55 -5 47
West Ham 40 12 10 18 40 47 -7 46
C Palace 41 11 12 18 32 46 -14 45
Norwich (R) 41 10 12 19 36 53 -17 42
Leicester (R) 41 6 10 25 43 78 -35 28
Ipswich (R) 41 7 6 28 35 89 -54 27
TONIGHT: West Ham v Liverpool.
SUNDAY: Coventry v Everton; Man City v QPR; Newcastle v C Palace; Norwich v A Villa; Sheffield Wed v Ipswich; Southampton v Leicester; West Ham v Man United.Reuse content