Palace 6 - 3 Stoke City
Sat Feb 14 2004 - League
An Andy Johnson hat-trick helped Palace past Stoke City in a 6-3 win at Selhurst Park.
Ground: Selhurst Park (Attendance: 16715)
Palace: Berthelin, Butterfield, Hudson, Popovic, Granville, Routledge, Riihilahti (Leigertwood, 84), Hughes (Derry, 84), Gray, Johnson (Freedman, 88), Shipperley
Subs not used: Black, Borrowdale
Bookings: Hughes, Leigertwood
Goals: Johnson 5, Johnson 9 (pen), Johnson 33 (pen), Hughes 45, Shipperley 55, Routledge 90
Stoke City: de Goey, Thomas, Williams, Halls, Marcus Hall (Commons, 45), Russell, Svard, Eustace (Noel-Williams, 63), Clarke, Akinbiyi, Asaba
Subs not used: Hoekstra, Cutler, Wilson
Bookings: Clarke, Eustace
Goals: Eustace 6, Clarke 45, Asaba 83 (pen)
Referee: R Styles (Portsmouth)
This was billed the battle of the Division One heavyweights - and Palace came out with the unanimous points victory.
In-between some high-octane sparring between the First Division's top two form sides, the Eagles landed six killer blows to batter the Potters into sub-mission.
Is there a side in this division that can stop the big hitting boys from Selhurst right now? On this evidence, clearly not.
This was the Eagles' fifth win in a row - a run that has seen them rattle in 19 goals. It is that cutting edge that is making a mockery of opposition defences week in, week out.
But behind the expert finishing of Andy Johnson
& Co is a side that just refuses to lie down until the final kick of the game.
Stoke found that out to their cost. Every time they thought they had got back into this bout, they were sent reeling back into their corner with a sucker-punch Palace goal.
The first half contained the most exciting goal-mouth entertainment Selhurst Park has seen this season.
No sooner had Andy Johnson
blasted home the Eagles' opener in the fifth minute with a measured finish after some nifty chest control, than the Potters hit right back.
Within seconds John Eustace rocketed home a free-kick from the edge of the area to equalise.
We then had to wait all of three minutes for the next flurry of action. Julian Gray
was upended in the box and ref Rob Styles gave him the decision, and Johnson inevitably slammed home from the spot to make it 2-1 to Palace.
The game continued at breakneck speed and Neil Shipperley
almost scored a spectacular third goal for Palace with a smart half-volley on the turn from the edge of the box, but Stoke keeper Ed de Goey was able to gather.
Stoke were making a game of it, though, and looked sharp on the ball - even much-maligned Palace out-cast Ade Akinbiyi
showed some good attacking nous at times for the visitors.
Tony Pulis' side were proving to be organised, strong and weren't going to lie down.
And they looked like they had withstood some intense Palace pressure in the 33rd minute - until ref Styles intervened.
As Gray had his head in his hands after seeing his header cleared off the line, the eagle-eyed official pointed to the spot after spotting Johnson being tugged back.
The Palace number eight wasn't going to argue, but the Stoke players were. The protests were still in the air as Johnson beat de Goey for the second time from the spot, smacking the ball high into the middle of the net to make it 3-1.
Palace were, by now, playing some lovely stuff. It would have been more fitting if they were in their yellow 'Brazil kit' as right through the team they played what Brian Clough would call "proper football".
But in keeping with the see-saw first half, aggrieved Stoke pulled it back to 3-2 with a real beauty of a strike from Clive Clarke. The full-back picked up a clever Seb Svard pass before whacking it into the corner of Cedric Berthelin
's net from 25 yards.
The excitement in the stadium was at fever pitch seconds later as Palace, incredibly, hit back with another goal to make it a more comfortable 4-2. Michael Hughes
will not score a better goal all season.
The midfield dynamo chased a ball into the box, wriggled between two defenders and just as it looked as though de Goey was going to get their first, he lifted it over the keeper into the net. This was barnstorming entertainment - even the Palace fans in the usually comatose home stand were singing.
Half-time came and collective breaths were caught. Selhurst Park DJ Rob Fox did his bit by playing a Robbie Williams record over the tannoy. Imposing the grating strains of the portly Port Vale fan on the Stoke supporters was just rubbing it in.
But they were soon back on their feet applauding de Goey for a full-stretch save from Wayne Routledge
at the start of the second half. Akinbiyi then cut a familiar figure in front of goal by finding row Z on 51 minutes.
Palace were holding firm against a Stoke rally before Mr Styles gave them a helping hand in the 53rd minute when Tony Popovic
appeared to handle in his box. Styles waved away the Stoke protests, and any chance of getting Valentine's card from anyone in red and white.
City were seething, and Clarke let his temper get the better of him by dragging back Routledge on the wing to concede a 55th minute free-kick. From the set-piece Hughes delivered the perfect ball to Shipperley who nodded in Palace's fifth goal.
Johnson and Gray twice had chances to increase the score, before Palace fan Carl Asaba hit back for Stoke from the penalty spot after Mark Hudson
tripped Commons in the box.
The moment of sloppiness at the back was soon forgotten when Routledge scored the sixth and best goal of the game.
With a twist and a turn he showboated into the area and toe-poked into the far corner of the net to make it 6-3.
Big-hitting Palace had romped to the top of the form table - at this rate they'll be top of Division One very soon.
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