Five weeks ago Crystal Palace were 16th in the First Division and going nowhere. Last night, thanks to two late goals by their substitute Bruce Dyer, they won their sixth home match in succession to consolidate third place in the table and put them within four points of Derby County in second. The once remote prospect of a play-off place has now given way to visions of automatic promotion back to the Premiership from which they were relegated last season. "I think they'll finish in the top two," Lennie Lawrence, the Luton manager, said.
Palace's transformation is certainly remarkable, but on this evidence it says more about general standards in the division, which do not seem to be very high, than any inherent qualities of their own. There was a lot of huffing and puffing before Luton Town, second from bottom but playing better than that, were finally overcome.
In a division as tight as this - and there are teams in mid-table who do not know whether to worry about going down or hope to escape the other way -a decent run can change one's outlook very quickly. Palaceonly took 13 points from their first 12 home matches of the season.
Their fans must have been reminded of those days as Palace struggled to penetrate an albeit well-organised Luton defence in a first half in which the best chance fell to their opponents. Goalscoring, though, is Luton's big problem - they have now found the net only three times in seven games - and when, in the 42nd minute, Boncho Genchev moved on to Tony Thorpe's angled pass his hoof over the bar was woeful.
Although Palace persisted in misplacing their final pass, they slowly tightened their grip, and only two superb saves by the Luton goalkeeper Ian Feuer - from Dougie Freedman and David Hopkin - kept his team level.
Dyer replaced Freedman in the 78th minute and within four minutes had brought relief to an increasingly agitated Selhurst Park, reacting first as the ball ran loose some 10 yards from goal. A minute from the end he scored at the near post from Hopkin's cross.
A pounds 1.1m signing from Watford two years ago, Dyer has never been a regular and won praise from his manager for sticking at it. "I'm really chuffed for him," Dave Bassett said. "It was difficult for us to get a rhythm going," he added. "But in the second half I felt we dominated.''
Crystal Palace (4-4-2): Martyn; Tuttle, Roberts, Andersen (Veart, 78), Vincent; Houghton, Pitcher, Edworthy, Ndah; Hopkin, Freedman (Dyer, 78). Substitute not used: Rodger.
Luton Town (4-4-2): Feuer; James, Davis, Patterson, Thomas; Genchev (Hughes, 72), Oldfield, Waddock, Oakes; Thorpe, Taylor (Linton, 81). Substitute not used: Harvey.
Referee: P Taylor (Cheshunt, Herts).
- More about:
- Conference National (football Conference)
- Crystal Palace FC
- Luton Town (football)
- Watford Fc