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FOOTBALL: COP STEP AND JUMP INTO THE PREMIER LEAGUE.

There were just 24 seconds left on the clock when David Hopkin sent Palace's Eagles into orbit.

The tough, gap-toothed Scot, barbed-wire tattoo on his right arm, struck a goal of stunning beauty to airlift them back into the Premiership.

There was just enough time for Sheffield to realise the horror of what had happened before the tears began.

Palace danced their way round the pitch after a dramatic First Division play-off.

Chairman Ron Noades raced on to join the sing-song as South London opened the beer kegs for a party to remember, and as the sun shone down, so a huge shadow was removed from Palace's recent history.

Just 12 months ago, on a similar sun-washed day, they suffered as Leicester inflicted pain with a late, late goal to win the play-off for a Premier League place.

But that savage blow only acted to galvanise Palace, and few would deny them their right to feed off the millions of pounds now available for those in English football's elite.

Palace's only Wembley win before yesterday was in the ZDS Cup against Everton - where present Blades boss Howard Kendall and Steve Coppell were opposite managers on that day also.

There were long periods yesterday when Premiership managers must have been watching with a smile.

But, for Palace, it is the result that is all-important.

Kendall loked edgy and, at the end, as sick as his outrageous lime-green shirt.

Palace's acting manager Coppell, in contrast, sat calm and still beneath a long peaked cap as if knowing victory would be his.

It was only as the final whistle went that he allowed the emotion of a roller-coaster season to finally explode. He punched the air and did a delighted skip before rushing on to shake the hand of every Palace player. Only a few months ago he was out of work after sensationally quitting Manchester City after just 33 days because of the strain.

Lured back by his friend, Palace chairman Ron Noades, he re-charged his batteries as Palace's refreshing blend of youth and experience began to climb the table.

The emotional scenes at the end were far removed from the edgy first minutes, but Palace slowly took the higher ground. The magnificent Hopkin, targeted by a cluster of top clubs, prompted a wave of attacks.

Palace's powerful striker Bruce Dyer forced United keeper Simon Tracey to clutch low by the far post after 15 minutes.

United held firm, particularly the defiant David Holdsworth, keen to join his brother Dean of Wimbledon in the Premiership.

The Yorkshiremen were forced to regroup when the lively Don Hutchinson was stretchered off almost on half-time with a suspected broken collar- bone.

United, after winning just two first half corners, returned with new appetite and within 20 minutes were into double figures with set-pieces.

And it was here that they were most dangerous, with Jan Aage Fjortoft winning the flick-ons.

Palace skipper Hopkin was never far from the action, and was superbly supported by Kevin Muscat, Simon Rodger and Andy Roberts.

In attack, Dyer was always probing down the flanks, his powerful running often setting United's alarm bells ringing. But just as it seemed United were winning on points, Palace suddenly found new life.

As the seconds clicked away, they forced a corner. Rodger pushed it short to Roberts, whose cross was touched out only for Hopkin to seize on to the loose ball and, from the edge of the penalty area, flight home a shot that completely deceived Tracey.

The time: 89 minutes and 36 seconds. Palace were up.

Match

analysis

CRYSTAL PALACE

Carlo Nash: Moment's hesitation early in the second half almost proved fatal and cost him a boot on the elbow from Gareth Taylor......6

Kevin Muscat: Caught out United's defence with a pinpoint cross that was perfect for Dyer and should have broken the deadlock.........6

David Tuttle: Saved the day with a crunching, decisive challenge that prevented Taylor converting a low Fjortoft cross..................8

Andy Linighan: As ever, a tower of strength. His aerial dominance forced United into an early tactical switch....................................7

Mark Edworthy: Looked a class act, whether organising Palace's back line or breaking forward to set up attacks................................7

Dean Gordon: White tested him out early on but, typically, he never flinched. Strong and sure............................................................7

Andy Roberts: Strong and influential. Made sure Palace bossed midfield by forming an impressive alliance with Hopkin..................8

David Hopkin: Took Palace into the Premiership. He was heading there, anyway. And you could see why. Powerhouse performer....................................................9

Simon Rodger: Booked for late challenge that sent the luckless Hutchison flying in the 40th minute. Did well down left..........................7

Neil Shipperley: Should have buried a six-yard header in the 25th minute and put another chance wide in the second half..................6

Bruce Dyer: Dire's the word for his finishing after squandering two gilt- edged chances. Otherwise lively...........................................6

SHEFFIELD UNITED

Simon Tracey: Distraught, utterly inconsolable after last minute misjudgment allowed Hopkin's curler into top corner....................5

Mitch Ward: Pushed into midfield after Hutchison went off. Made little impact........6

David Holdsworth: Dream of facing twin brother Dean in the Premiership turned into nightmare, despite another assured display. 6

Carl Tiler: Stood up well to Shipperley's familiar battering-ram approach. Dominant figure....7

Roger Nilsen: Summed up United's day with a hopeful 35-yard effort that flew yards over. Otherwise composed on left of defence.....6

David White: Saw little of the ball down the right flank and made little impact...............5

Nigel Spackman: Surprise choice. Calming figure, but always went for safe option.......6

(Sub: Andy Walker, 90 minutes)

Don Hutchison: Unlucky isn't the word. Pole-axed by a Roberts volley, then stretchered off after falling awkwardly.................................6

(Sub: Lee Sandford, 45 minutes 6)

Dane Whitehouse: Local lad was desperate to help take his boyhood idols up. Tried hard but made little impression..........................5

Petr Katchouro: Sacrificed once Howard Kendall realised he needed more impact in the air against Linighan. Never into his stride....6

(Sub: Gareth Taylor, 26 minutes 6)

Jan Fjortoft: Not one of his better days, though he was unlucky with a volley on the turn that flashed wide in the second half..................6

Compiled by JOHN EDWARDS
COPYRIGHT 1997 MGN LTD
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1997 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

 
Article Details
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Title Annotation:Sport
Author:Stenson, Tony
Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:May 27, 1997
Words:1036
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