Jordan plan left in ruins by upstarts

Crystal Palace 1 Luton Town 2
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The Independent Football

Oh dear. Johnson did score, but it was not enough. Nowhere near enough, and Jordan's boast suddenly appears not only flash but foolish. Johnson's goal only cancelled out the effort of another striker, another 22-goal man last season, and another player constantly linked with a summer move. But Luton Town's Steven Howard - a 29-year-old journeyman through Tow Law Town, Hartlepool and Northampton before pitching up at Luton four years ago - cost two weeks of Johnson's wages, and probably now earns about a tenth of them himself.

That delicious irony only added extra satisfaction to the newly elevated club's afternoon and added misery to that of promotion favourites Palace, who eventually lost to a scruffy toe-poke from Ahmed Brkovic.

Before the match, the Palace manager, Iain Dowie, referred to Johnson as the club's "favourite son". There has indeed been something very personal in the desire to keep him. His signing was clearly the most significant of the summer, and was seen as a message of intent to the rest of the division as well as a sign of the cussed determination of Jordan.

That spilled over within a dozen seconds of this match with Michael Hughes booked for tangling with the Luton captain, Kevin Nicholls. The incident seemed to discomfit Palace. They struggled to find their stride and conceded early corners to a lively Luton side.

They should also have conceded a goal. On 22 minutes Luton's Steve Robinson wriggled free only to be tugged back by Gary Borrowdale, who simply panicked. The midfielder still got his shot away - screwing it wide - but the referee, Phil Dowd, waited and gave the penalty. Nicholls' side-footed effort was weak and easily read by the goalkeeper, Gabor Kiraly, who dived low to his left.

The home relief was palpable and, towards the half-hour, Johnson got his first shot away - volleying into the side-netting from Ben Watson's through-ball. Palace had partnered him with their new signing Jon Macken, and the former Manchester City striker released Johnson and then Watson for half-chances, while Mark Hudson wasted free headers from corners.

Palace's best hopes lay with the indecision in the Luton defence. In one incident the 19-year-old goalkeeper Dean Brill - in for the injured Marlon Beresford - cannoned the ball off his own defender and straight to Johnson, whose own effort struck a Luton player. It summed up the paucity of the game. Yet Luton should, again, have taken the lead when Brkovic was sent through by Nicholls' header. Once more the side-footed effort lacked any conviction.

On half-time Luton got their reward. From a Nicholls free-kick, the striker Howard was left, startlingly unmarked, to head powerfully past Kiraly with the Palace players stranded. It was maddening defending. The interval whistle was met with boos.

Two minutes after the restart and Brkovic was, again, profligate. He twisted, turned, delayed, created half a yard, then another half, only to drag his shot wide eventually. Palace finally stirred. From a free-kick, won through Jobi McAnuff's trickery, Johnson spun and forced a diving save from Brill. The corner came in, Hudson flicked the ball on and Johnson's header guided it in for the equaliser.

Unbowed, Luton continued to push on, but they were almost caught by another McAnuff break. He set Hughes away and, as he shaped to shoot, Nicholls threw himself in the way. McAnuff then dug out a shot from the corner only for it to drift past the far post.

McAnuff then came even closer, but his back-post header was smartly held by Brill. As Palace pressed, Markus Heikkinen challenged Johnson, who went down. Palace's intense penalty claims were brushed aside. The woeful Hudson then conceded another free-kick. When it came in there was an almighty scramble. The ball eventually fell to Brkovic, who pushed it over the line for Luton's deserved win.

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