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23 April 2005 (15:00) at Selhurst Park

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Johnson 33

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Rafael Benitez will demand a huge improvement from his Liverpool side if they are to overcome Chelsea in the Champions League semi-final following this defeat by relegation-threatened Crystal Palace.

Andrew Johnson's 35th-minute goal was enough to give Palace three vital points in their fight to beat the drop, but Benitez will face an inquest over his decision to rest key players Xabi Alonso, who was not even on the bench, and John Arne Riise, who came on only as a second-half substitute.

Liverpool missed the chance to close the gap on Everton - who could only draw 1-1 at home to Birmingham - in the race to qualify for next season's Champions League.

But credit must go to Palace for their excellent attitude, for their work-rate and for the superb performances of Johnson, defender Fitz Hall and midfielder Michael Hughes.

Mindful of his side's match at Stamford Bridge on Wednesday, Benitez made four changes to his starting line-up.

Skipper Steven Gerrard was brought back into the side along with Anthony Le Tallec, Mauricio Pellegrino and John Welsh.

Spaniard Luis Garcia missed out with a thigh injury, while his compatriot Alonso was rested along with Igor Biscan and Riise.

Palace boss Iain Dowie also made four changes, with Danny Granville, Tony Popovic, Aki Riihilahti and Tom Soares recalled.

Although Liverpool settled into the game better than their hosts, it was Palace who created the first chance.

Wayne Routledge swung over a free-kick from the left that was met by Popovic, whose close-range header was tipped over the bar by Jerzy Dudek in the 10th minute.

Four minutes later, Riihilahti won the ball from Fernando Morientes but unwittingly fed Milan Baros inside the Palace area. But luckily for the home side, Hall was able to dispossess the Czech Republic striker and the danger passed.

Dudek was almost made to look ridiculous in the 25th minute. The Polish goalkeeper dallied on the ball and Johnson bore down on him, but Dudek just managed to evade the England international.

Two minutes later, Hall played a superb crossfield pass to release Johnson, whose clever reverse ball found Granville, but the left-back could not find the finish to match his run and Dudek saved easily.

At the other end, Le Tallec found Baros with a clever pass, but Gonzalo Sorondo was alert to the danger and made a perfectly-timed tackle for Palace.

The home side took the lead in the 35th minute. Jamie Carragher headed Granville's cross clear, but when Routledge volleyed the ball back into the danger zone from the right it was Johnson who reacted quickest to head the ball into Dudek's bottom-right corner.

Palace began the second half as dynamically as they had ended the first, and Liverpool were lucky not to fall further behind.

Sami Hyypia and Pellegrino made a hash of Johnson's low cross from the right, but Soares - perhaps surprised that the ball had reached him - shot high and wide at the far post.

In the 47th minute, Dudek failed to claim Routledge's left-wing corner and when Riihilahti fired the ball back in from the right, Granville was unfortunate to see his effort fall straight to Dudek.

Three minutes later, Soares' right-wing cross was headed clear to the excellent Michael Hughes, whose 25-yard volley went just wide of the right post.

After Morientes' header had been saved easily by Gabor Kiraly, Reds boss Benitez sent on Riise for Pellegrino and Liverpool switched to a 4-4-2 formation.

After a quiet first half, Gerrard's influence grew as his side came forward in search of an equaliser.

The England midfielder showed his ability with a clever pass for Morientes in the 71st minute, and the Spain striker was denied only by a superb intervention from Popovic.

Eight minutes later, a raking pass from Gerrard picked out substitute Djibril Cisse on the right corner of the box, but the Frenchman's volley was saved comfortably.

Liverpool were dominating possession, but lacked a cutting edge. A minute after Dudek had to be sharp to claim the ball from Johnson at the other end, Cisse latched onto a mistake by Popovic but his shot was stopped by Kiraly once more.

Kiraly then kept his side in front with a fantastic save from Gerrard's well-struck effort from 20 yards following Morientes' knock-down.

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» Teams

Crystal Palace Kiraly, Sorondo, Hall, Popovic, Granville, Routledge, Leigertwood, Riihilahti, Hughes, Soares (Watson 90), Johnson.

Subs Not Used: Speroni, Torghelle, Ventola, Lakis.

Booked: Routledge, Granville.

Liverpool Dudek, Carragher, Hyypia, Pellegrino (Riise 54), Finnan, Welsh, Gerrard, Traore (Cisse 69), Le Tallec, Morientes, Baros (Potter 37).

Subs Not Used: Carson, Biscan.

Booked: Carragher, Morientes, Gerrard, Finnan, Riise.

Att: 26,043

Ref: D Gallagher (Oxfordshire).


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Match Report filed: 23 Apr 2005
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