Johnson repays Dowie's business sense with interest

Birmingham City 0 - Crystal Palace 1
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The tables do not lie and Birmingham City's big problem is there for all to see. In 11 Premiership matches this season Steve Bruce's men have found the net just seven times. Saturday's setback at St Andrew's, which followed defeat by the same score at home to Fulham in the League Cup three days earlier, was the third Premiership match in a row in which Birmingham have failed to score.

The tables do not lie and Birmingham City's big problem is there for all to see. In 11 Premiership matches this season Steve Bruce's men have found the net just seven times. Saturday's setback at St Andrew's, which followed defeat by the same score at home to Fulham in the League Cup three days earlier, was the third Premiership match in a row in which Birmingham have failed to score.

How Bruce is ruing the knee injury which will keep Mikael Forssell out for the rest of the season. Forssell scored 17 Premiership goals last season - 13 more than any other Birmingham player - and he would surely have relished the service Jesper Gronkjaer is providing. The Dane tormented Palace's full-backs and provided a string of penetrating crosses, but Birmingham rarely looked capable of converting possession into points.

Bruce no doubt hoped his signings of Emile Heskey and Dwight Yorke - who arrived in a summer shopping spree along with Gronkjaer, Muzzy Izzet, Darren Anderton, Julian Gray and Mario Melchiot - would give him sufficient attacking cover in the event of injuries, but you would never have guessed that they were a striking partnership with 200 Premiership goals under their belt. Heskey looked slow and leaden-footed, while Yorke showed nothing of the verve which used to characterise his game.

"It's hugely frustrating and disappointing for everyone concerned," Bruce said. "We've had 70 per cent of the possession and a lot of opportunities, but the simple fact is if you don't score a goal then you do have a big problem on your hands. I'm not talking just about the strikers. I am talking about the entire team. It is everyone's responsibility but we are finding it difficult at the moment."

What a contrast with Andy Johnson, who was sold by Bruce to Palace for just £750,000 two years ago. His winning goal here took his season's tally to eight, one more than the entire Birmingham team have scored and only one fewer than the Premiership's top marksman, Thierry Henry. It will be no surprise if he is called up by England for the friendly against Spain later this month, particularly as Aston Villa's Darius Vassell is out with a long-term injury.

Johnson had few chances to make his mark, but took his goal with the confidence of a man at the top of his game. Released by Wayne Routledge as Palace launched a rare breakaway four minutes before the interval, Johnson outstripped the retreating Birmingham defence before shooting past Maik Taylor into the far corner.

Johnson's subdued goal celebration also showed maturity, the striker no doubt aware of the tensions between the two clubs since Bruce's defection to St Andrew's from Selhurst Park three years ago.

The five-year contract which Johnson has signed could be the best piece of business Palace will do this season as Iain Dowie believes his 23-year-old forward can only get better. "You'd want him as your son," the Palace manager said after the match. "He would do anything for you. He loves his football. He's a player who will develop and improve. The best has yet to come from Andy."

After a shaky start in which they lost five games in a row, Palace have now taken 10 points from their last five matches. They never got their passing game together here, but chased every ball and defended stoutly in the face of persistent Birmingham pressure. Fitz Hall, Tony Popovic and Gonzalo Sorondo rarely looked in trouble at the centre of the defence, while Gabor Kiraly, the goalkeeper, played with an assurance that must have given confidence to those in front of him. And when you have a goalscorer of Johnson's ability in the team, you know that anything is possible.

Goal: A Johnson (41) 0-1.

Birmingham City (4-4-2): Maik Taylor; Melchiot, Cunningham (Clapham, 82), Upson, Lazaridis (Anderton, 60); Gronkjaer, D Johnson (Clemence, 85), Savage, Gray; Yorke, Heskey. Substitutes not used: Vaesen (gk), Tebily.

Crystal Palace (4-5-1): Kiraly; Boyce, Hall, Popovic (Sorondo, 47), Granville; Routledge, Riihilahti, Hughes (Derry, 90), Watson, Kolkka (Freedman, 88); Johnson. Substitutes not used: Speroni (gk), Andrews.

Referee: D Gallagher (Oxfordshire).

Booked: Birmingham: Upson. Crystal Palace: Riihilahti.

Man of the match: Gronkjaer.

Attendance: 28,916.

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