Luton 2 Crystal Palace 0: Palace upstaged by Newell's cut-price kings

Click to follow
The Independent Football

An increasingly desperate Crystal Palace finished Saturday's Championship match at Kenilworth Road with five forwards on the pitch whose combined transfer fees over the years total nearly £15m.

Luton's starting strike force consisted of Enoch Showunmi, who was recruited from parks football, and Rowan Vine, a £125,000 signing from Portsmouth. Warren Feeney (£175,000 from Stockport County) and Steve Howard (£50,000 from Northampton Town), the club's two leading scorers this season, came off the bench in the final minutes.

The only surprise, however, was that Luton did not complete the double over Palace by a more convincing margin. As Iain Dowie, the visiting manager, readily admitted after the match, Luton were the better side from start to finish in every department.

The performance of Mike Newell's team is developing into one of the stories of the season. After winning the League One title by 12 points, the manager promised to give his men the chance to prove themselves at a higher level, although Luton's finances are such that he was never going to match the division's bigger spenders anyway.

The players have repaid his faith as impressive displays have lifted the club to fifth place. They have also shown resilience in bouncing back from four successive defeats to rediscover their early-season form.

Saturday's victory was down to basic virtues of good organisation, intelligent teamwork and sheer endeavour. Luton ran Palace ragged, denying their opponents time on the ball, supporting colleagues in possession and attacking with pace and passion. The contest was effectively over within 21 minutes, Markus Heikkinen heading in Dean Morgan's cross and Vine accelerating past Fitz Hall to smash an unstoppable shot into the roof of the net.

"We dominated a team that is pretty much the same as the one that played in the Premiership last season, and has added a £1m player [Clinton Morrison]," Newell said. "When we have a full squad we are as good as any team in the league."

Dowie, who gave his team a piece of his mind after what he described as Palace's worst performance of the season, was right to exempt only Emmerson Boyce, returning to his former club, from criticism. "There wasn't enough drive and hard work," he said.

Goals: Heikkinen (11) 1-0; Vine (21) 2-0.

Luton Town (4-4-2): Beresford; Foley, Heikkinen, Coyne (Perrett, 52), Underwood; Edwards, Robinson, Holmes, Morgan (Howard, 88); Vine (Feeney, 88), Showunmi. Substitutes not used: Brill (gk), Brkovic.

Crystal Palace (4-4-2): Kiraly; Boyce, Hall, Ward, Borrowdale (Andrews, 62); McAnuff (Macken, 68), Watson (Johnson, 68), Soares, Hughes; Freedman, Morrison. Substitutes not used: Speroni (gk), Leigertwood.

Referee: M Messias (S Yorkshire).

Booked: Luton Town Robinson, Holmes; Crystal Palace Soares, Boyce.

Man of the match: Vine.

Attendance: 10,248.