Watford 1 Crystal Palace 2: Johnson aims to prove lucky omen

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The Independent Online

Almost exactly two years ago, Crystal Palace were lying 18th in the table when they won 5-1 at Watford. Andrew Johnson scored a penalty at the start of a sequence in which he hit nine goals in five games as Palace won 13 of their last 19 matches to earn promotion to the Premiership via the play-offs.

While neither the manner nor the margin of victory were as convincing at Vicarage Road on Saturday, Johnson's performance, including a match-winning penalty, will give Iain Dowie, Palace's manager, renewed hope. His team have nine points out of nine from the holiday programme so far and are fifth in the Championship.

It has been a frustrating season for Johnson, whose chances of securing his place in England's World Cup squad looked bright after six goals in Palace's first seven games. However, a knee injury in September kept him on the sidelines for nearly three months and it has taken time for the 24-year-old to rediscover his sharpness.

There were times here when Johnson still seemed short of the single-minded confidence that brought him 21 goals in the Premiership last season, but there could be no faulting his link-up play and he has lost none of his electrifying pace.

The free kick that led to Palace's first goal - scored from close range by Darren Ward - was won after Johnson was too quick for Lloyd Doyley, while the striker's clever pass set up a chance from which McAnuff should have given Palace a 2-0 lead. If Johnson can keep improving - and if Palace can ward off any predators during the transfer window - Dowie will maintain belief that Palace might yet secure automatic promotion.

Eleven of Johnson's goals last season came from penalties, many of which he earned himself, but the decisive moment here came when Phil Dowd pointed to the spot after ruling that Clarke Carlisle had pulled back Clinton Morrison. Dowie backed the decision, but Adrian Boothroyd, his Watford counterpart, said: "I have seen it again, and it was never a penalty. Clarke made a fair challenge."

Having made little impact in the first half, Watford had a good 20-minute spell as Darius Henderson equal-ised after being sent clear by Marlon King. However, Palace had identified the flanks as the source of Watford's best work and Emmerson Boyce and Fitz Hall generally managed to cut off their supply line, while Dowie's men always looked dangerous on the break.

Watford are still fourth, but with only one win in their last eight matches their season is in danger of running out of steam. A trip to Luton today will provide a strong test of their resilience.

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