DAVID THOMPSON'S first-ever goal for Liverpool ensured that the dregs of Crystal Palace's Premiership existence continued to drain away.
The paradox yesterday however, was that, even as they sank with little trace, Palace and their supporters were the more buoyant for much of the afternoon at Anfield.
Armed with the knowledge that it would need some unlikely victories and not merely the odd poached draw to provide them with an escape route, Palace played with three up front and went about their task with some intermittent gusto.
When Marcus Bent chipped an equaliser over Brad Friedel in the 72nd minute, it seemed they would get away from Anfield with a point - not enough to make any difference to their forlorn fight, but a fair commentary on Liverpool's own shortcomings.
But, with six minutes left, Steve McManaman, who had been through one of his less effective matches, pulled the ball across from the right and the diminutive substitute Thompson, brought in immediately after the equaliser, lunged in for the winner.
Roy Evans, the Liverpool manager, said afterwards: "I suppose that's an inspired substitution. I took off Danny Murphy because he was feeling the pace of two tough games over the holiday weekend, having played so well for us at Manchester United.
"We needed fresh legs and a bouncy character, and David certainly fits the bill. He did brilliantly for the goal."
One thing that could be said for Palace in this particular performance is that they await their impending fate with relatively good humour.
Apart from the positive outlook of yesterday's team, the corner of Anfield reserved for travelling supporters had its moments, particularly when the announcement of "Operation Anfield Exercise" triggered an impromptu display of physical jerks.
The crowd's safety theme had a more sombre aspect, with a minute's silence and a choreographed tableau in memory of the 96 who died at Hillsbrough nine years ago. There was little uplifting about the current team's efforts thereafter.
Palace, in fact, made the early running, Friedel having to push a good angled drive from Bent around his post before Liverpool began to exert some measure of control.
Their opening goal, when it came in the 29th minute, was a messy one. Danny Murphy, the other half of a lightweight striking partnership with Michael Owen, put over a corner that Palace could not clear adequately in several attempts and, when Steve Harkness put it back into the area, Oyvind Leonhardsen fired in from close range.
Although Murphy and Owen showed some sporadically nice touches and Paul Ince put a header wide from a promising position early in the second half, there was little drive or urgency about Liverpool's tempo with Jamie Redknapp having a notably unimpressive game.
All the same, it was worse retribution for a lacklustre display than anyone at Anfield expected when Palace came back at them, their substitute Dean Gordon battling away down the left and Simon Rodger's cross being met and converted by Bent despite the narrow angle.
Even after Thompson's goal, Palace could still have salvaged a point, Friedel saving acrobatically from another substitute, Sasa Curcic. It would have made little difference to their long term prospects, but they deserved something from this match every bit as much as Liverpool.
Liverpool (4-4-2): Friedel; Jones, Matteo, Babb, Harkness (Kvarme, 62); McManaman, Ince, Redknapp, Leonhardsen; Owen, Murphy (Thompson, 72). Substitutes not used: James (Gk), Berger, Carragher.
Crystal Palace (3-4-3): Miller; Edworthy, Warhurst, Hreirdarsson; Lombardo, Brolin (Curcic, 75), Fullarton (Gordon, 62), Rodger; Jansen, Shipperley, Bent. Substitutes not used: Nash (Gk), Padovano, Ismail.
Referee: G Barber (Kingston).
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