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Palace coup at Liverpool

One half of Merseyside awakes this morning bemused, baffled and beaten. A delirious pocket of South London will not have slept at all. Any hopes Liverpool had of emulating their cup treble of 2001 died an inglorious death, though few who witnessed this game will comprehend how. Having peppered the visitors' goal through the first half, then seen First Division opponents reduced to 10 men with 20 minutes to go, Liverpool lost.

Memories of an equally unlikely FA Cup semi-final defeat to these opponents 13 years ago abound. Where Palace once worshipped Alan Pardew, the matchwinner that day, now they will elevate Julian Gray to hero status. The former Arsenal trainee's stunning opener sent shockwaves through the Kop, and his run to the byline and cross 11 minutes from time prompted a befuddled Stéphane Henchoz to bundle into his own net.

The Tannoy announcer had made a point of pleading "God, please no extra-time this evening", presumably with the shot-shy stalemate at Selhurst Park 10 days earlier in mind. By the interval that danger remained despite Liverpool's fluid approach play. For 45 minutes, this was a slaughter disguised by an implausible scoreline with Palace only spared humiliation by the home side's profligacy. The Londoners were tentative, their caution laid bare in a five-man rearguard which floundered through the early skirmishes. Liverpool monopolised possession and wreaked havoc. That they did not score may have been a legacy of recent local anxieties. Gérard Houllier's side had won only once here since early November, and that unconvincingly against First Division opponents in Sheffield United, and their strikers' collective radar was too awry again last night.

El Hadji Diouf's slipped pass 70 seconds in for John Arne Riise to gather, centre and watch Bruno Cheyrou fluff set a tone which, by the interval, had become monotonous. Danny Murphy's resultant corner by-passed dawdling defenders for Sami Hyypia to nod wide of the far post, with the Kop howling in incredulous rage moments later as Danny Murphy squared and Michael Owen sliced wide.

Palace would have expected an onslaught, though the venomous crosses spat into the box from either flank left them perplexed. Even with a single defeat to show from their previous eight fixtures, the visitors' build-up to this match had hardly been ideal.

Their Latvian goalkeeper Aleksandrs Kolinko walked out on Saturday - apparently infuriated by an unpaid expenses claim though, in reality, livid that he had not been granted a free transfer. This was an ominous stage for Cédric Berthelin to make only his fourth appearance for the club. But the Frenchman, formerly with Lens, initially excelled. A neat exchange between Cheyrou and the rejuvenated Emile Heskey sent Owen scurrying through the centre, but Berthelin's presence forced the striker to drift his shot wide.

Cheyrou was then denied by his compatriot at full stretch, with Darren Powell retreating to stifle Owen's attempt at a tap-in. The 23-year-old forward has personified the uncertainty surrounding Liverpool, with only two club goals since Houllier's side sat on the Premiership summit in November. True to shaky form, he snatched at his best chance in the first half, lifting his head and blazing over the bar after Diouf had barged his way beyond Danny Granville. The interval brought Palace respite, though the restart brought the unlikeliest of rewards. The introduction of Dougie Freedman, adding much needed bite to a gummy attack, had hinted at greater ambition, a flurry of visiting attacks bucking the trend but where Liverpool had fluffed their lines, Palace were clinical.

Freedman's dribble and pass found Danny Butterfield whose cross was flicked on by Dele Adebola, and Gray emerged from the confusion to hammer a volley beyond Jerzy Dudek. The home side were shell-shocked, still baffled perhaps by Heskey's meek attempt straight at Berthelin having charged from the edge of his own area. The striker had simply had too long in which to contemplate his shot.

Copyright - The Guardian

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