JAMES VAUGHAN delivered the telling blow against one of his former clubs as Mark Lillis waved the caretaker manager’s magic wand to conjure a much-needed three-point haul against Crystal Palace.
Town downed the high-flying Eagles with a mixture of energy, enthusiasm and sheer will to end the winless run which cost Simon Grayson his job – Vaughan’s 65th-minute strike bringing a first victory in 13 Championship games.
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It was exciting and nail-biting in equal measure – and just the lift the club needed as the search continues for the Grayson’s replacement, and the man who can ensure second-tier survival then take the club forward.
There were scouts from 12 of the 20 Premier League clubs in the stand as Town made one change from the side who drew 1-1 with Leicester in the FA Cup on Saturday.
Former Palace favourite Neil Danns, on loan from Leicester and ineligible against his parent club, came in for teenage midfielder Jordan Sinnott, who was on the bench.
Danns’ fellow Leicester loanee Jermaine Beckford was also among the substitutes as Town, playing a rare Wednesday night home match, kept faith with James Vaughan and Lee Novak.
Palace, with only one win in eight league games and eager to re-ignite their promotion challenge, fielded star winger Wilfried Zaha for the first time since he was sold to Manchester United for a potential £15m and loaned back for the rest of the season.
Danns was soon involved, claiming possession and playing in Jack Hunt, whose run down the right had Palace scrambling to deal with the early danger.
Town were working hard to try to contain Zaha and his fellow winger Yannick Bolasie, but when the latter was fouled and he free-kick swung in, keeper Alex Smithies had to be alert as skipper Peter Clarke’s headed back pass was caught by the strong wind swirling around the stadium.
Scott Arfield’s speculative shot from distance was comfortably held by Julian Speroni before Bolasie drilled in a low effort which Smithies pushed to safety.
Referee Carl Boyeson’s eagerness to let the gamer flow was frustrating the home fans, who felt Town should have had a couple of free-kicks, but it was certainly end to end action.
Town were playing some decent football, and a fluent move involving Arfield, Novak, Vaughan and Hunt finally broke down but brought applause from the crowd.
Oliver Norwood's 24th-minute foul on Bolasie brought the Town midfielder a booking and gave Palace the chance to pump in another set-piece, but it was well dealt with.
Town had their best chance yet on 28 minutes, when Danns made a crunching challenge on Brazilian midfielder Andre Moritz, picked up the pass which followed and pumped in a fierce effort which Speroni could only parry for a corner.
Norwood came agonisingly close to scoring direct from the flag kick as it crossed the face of the goal and went narrowly wide before Danns fired in a volley which Speroni smothered.
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Palace were looking most dangerous from free-kicks, and Adam Clayton’s foul on Jacob Butterfield gave Moritz the opportunity to shoot from 25 yards, but Smithies got down well.
Town, playing with plenty of energy and tempo, were back on the attack before the break, but two corners failed to bear fruit before Arfield shot across the face of goal and wide.
Norwood's misplaced pass let in Jonathan Williams early in the second half, but skipper Peter Clarke did well to shepherd the substitute, on for the injured Moritz, away from the danger area.
As play switched to the opposite end, Danns flashed in another shot which Speroni could only parry, before teammate Vaughan was booked for a late tackle on Mile Jedinak.
Butterfield's rising shot was a little too close for comfort, but as the hour mark passed, Town were defending strongly and pushing forward whenever the opportunity arose.
The breakthrough the fans were craving, and Town deserved, finally came in the 65th minute, when Vaughan made the most of a low through ball to steer his fifth goal of the season past the helpless Speroni.
It was a real tonic for Town, but Palace remained dangerous, with Bolasie driving another free-kick narrowly wide before visiting boss Ian Holloway made a double substitution in the 74th minute, bringing on attack-minded duo Aaron Wilbraham and Jermaine Easter.
Town replaced Norwood with former Palace man Sean Scannell in a bid to pep up their flagging forward play, with the winger soon sent flying by Damien Delaney, who was shown a yellow card.