City teed themselves up for yet another huge home game this weekend by following an all-too familiar script at Selhurst Park this afternoon. Almost to the line.
For the 758 travelling Canary fans who ventured out into South Norwood on a Boxing Day lunchtime, Gary Doherty's 18th minute leveller offered a rare moment of joy; Leroy Lita should have added a second before the interval – only to somehow hit a post from six-yards out.
Otherwise, it was all too predictable – the game was only six minutes old before Jose Fonte opened the scoring with a soft free header from yet another, ill-defended set-play.
He would a second as the Canaries switched off to a quick, set-piece play; Danny Butterfield added a little-needed third a minute from time as the Canaries scratched about for a leveller with little or no success in a non-event of a second-half.
All eyes now on Nottingham Forest at home this Sunday; another 'Don't lose…' occasion for Glenn Roeder's struggling troops.
“The amount of possession that we had, it's ridiculous that we've lost for a second time against Palace,” said Roeder afterwards.
“But the goals that we gave away – especially the first two – just make it that much more difficult to get something out of the game,” added the City chief, left with another clutch of 'If onlys…'
“If Leroy [Lita] had stuck that chance away from inside the six-yard box to make it 2-2 before half-time it would have made it much more interesting, but even in the second-half I thought we were on top for much of the time.
“The third goal just gives it a completely false scoreline.”
Roeder confirmed that Lee Croft had been laid low with an illness and didn't even travel. The hope was that he would be off his sick bed in time for that Forest game as the Canaries remained entrenched in that bottom group.
“He's been playing very well lately so he'd have hardly have been not been playing at all,” said Roeder. “He's had sickness and we didn't even bring him because we couldn't afford for him to pass anything on to the rest of the players.
“Because all our fit, senior players were used today and we couldn't afford Crofty to bring a bug or some sort of virus onto the coach.”
If the hardy, travelling Canary faithful thought that events might, perhaps, take an unexpected turn in SE25 that hope lasted at least six minutes – or as long as it took for skipper Shaun Derry to heave a deep free-kick out of the sun and into the Canary box.
Paddy McCarthy one the first header, Fonte the killer second as he rose all too easily above his non-existent marker to power the game's opening goal home from little more than eight yards out.
It was all too easy; all too expected as the City supporters slumped back into their seats and wondered what other festive joys the next 84 minutes might bring.
Some 12 minutes later and Santa did, actually, have something left in his sack as David Bell slung a wonderful, free-kick delivery high towards the far post where Doherty lurked.
Timing his run to perfection, the City centre-half had all the time, space and angle he ever needed to thump an eight-yard header beyond a horribly-exposed Julian Speroni.
Normal service was, however, resumed on the half-hour mark as a quickly-taken Palace free-kick found the Canaries with pants right down by the ankles. Paul Ifil's cross was never cleared; there was Fonte to smash the bobbing ball into the roof of the net off a diving – and despairing – David Marshall.
While on the subject of normal service, Lita had a glorious opportunity to level for City four minutes before the break. Jon Otsemobor worked the space for a low cross brilliantly. Stuck to his near post, Speroni was left helpless as the ball pinged through an open six-yard box to where Lita lurked.
Opening his body out to tuck No8 away into an all-but empty net, the 24-year-old merely managed to scuff the ball up against the keeper's right upright. Not for the first time of late, a big, big moment came and went.
Alas the second-half didn't come and go as quickly as most would have liked. Butterfield and Clint Hill almost poked a comedy own-goal home on City's behalf; Shaun Derry pulled out a big block to thwart a Wes Hoolahan drive. Otherwise, it was all very bitty and, basically, eminently forgettable.
A minute from time and Butterfield pulled out a rare moment of quality when he drilled a 22-yarder up and away from Marshall; the City keeper could only help the ball into the top corner.
Coming when it did, many a City fan had already started for home – the traditional festive trip to SE25 living right down to expectations. Forest at home on Sunday remains another of those must-win games.
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