Crystal Palace 1 v 2 Luton Town

ON PAPER this was a match Crystal Palace would be expected to win but sadly for Eagles fans football is played on grass, not paper.

Mike Newell's Luton Town side arrived at Selhurst Park having run away with the Division Two title last year and it was clear from the outset they would not be the whipping boys pundits expected.

Palace started the match briskly and after just 10 seconds Michael Hughes was cautioned for leaving his mark on visiting captain Kevin Nicholls.

New signing Jobi McAnuff then cut inside and fired in a shot from the edge of the box but it was blocked by an outstretched Luton boot.

However, for much of the opening 10 minutes the Palace back-line was the busier as Luton seemed determined to prove they were in the Championship on merit.

Gradually Palace began to play some of the football which so nearly saw them beat the drop last season, with Andy Johnson the main threat.

A defensive mix-up almost gifted the England international an opening goal but Curtis Davies was on hand to deny the 24-year-old.

The vocal visiting support was nearly silenced on 13 minutes when Mark Hudson stole in at the far post from Gary Borrowdale's inswinging corner but his header sailed narrowly wide of the post.

Then out of nothing the visitors were awarded a penalty after Hudson pulled Nicholls back in the box.

The Hatters' skipper dusted himself off and stepped up to the spot himself but he never looked comfortable and Palace's Hungarian stopper Gabor Kiraly pulled off a fine save low to his left.

Buoyed by the reprieve the Eagles went on the attack again but neither Tom Soares nor Hughes were able to add the finishing touch.

Instead it looked as though the task would again fall to Johnson but the hitman's right-foot volley in the 30th minute found the side-netting.

Two minutes later Palace had a penalty appeal of their own when McAnuff was bundled to the ground by Marcus Heikkinen but referee Phil Dowd waved appeals away.

On 38 minutes another Palace penalty shout was turned down after some penalty box pin-ball appeared to end with the ball striking a Luton arm.

On the stroke of half-time Steve Howard handed the visitors a shock lead from Nicholls' free-kick.

Luton would have made it two in first-half stoppage time had it not been for the late and decisive intervention of former Hatter Emerson Boyce.

It was the visitors who started the second period the brighter with Brkovic weaving his way into the box before firing a left-footed shot wide of Kiraly's goal.

A jinking run from McAnuff at the other end was halted when he was impeded on the edge of the box presenting Johnson with the chance to draw the home side level from the resulting free-kick.

But Brill dived low to his left to make a stunning one-handed save.

However the 19-year-old was powerless to prevent Johnson from making it second time lucky as the hotshot headed home from close range after the Luton defence had failed to deal with Watson's corner.

A Hudson foul on Warren Feeney in the 80th minute gave Luton another chance to mount an attack and they took full advantage when Brkovic smuggled Nicholls' free-kick home from close range.

As stoppage time approached Dowie prowled the touch-line like a wounded animal but he was ultimately powerless to prevent Palace from slipping to their first defeat of the season.

For a full report on the Eagles' trip to Wolves at Moulinex visit

Palace (4-4-2): Kiraly; Boyce; Hudson (Ward 83); Hall; Borrowdale; Soares (Kolkka 63); Watson; Hughes; McAnuff; Macken (Andrews 82); Johnson.

Goals: Johnson (55).

Booked: Hughes, Hudson.

Att: 21,166