Absent friends cost the Canaries dear at Carrow Road this evening as visitors Crystal Palace disappeared back to London with three points in the bag courtesy of two, soft second-half goals and a 2-1 victory.
Minus both Adam Drury and Elliott Ward from that normally obdurate back four, Grant Holt’s 41st minute opener counted for little as first Julian Bennett and then Anthony Gardner found the time and the opportunity in and around the Canary six-yard box to head Palace ahead – and leave Eagles’ boss George Burley in good autumnal cheer.
As for City chief Paul Lambert, it left him with plenty to ponder ahead of Saturday’s Boro clash.
Come the end and Lambert had played all three of his attacking substitute cards; City were boasting four up-front and one in the hole. It all delivered little of note. Palace were the better side second-half. Simple as.
“Disappointed,” was Lambert’s reaction, even if Norwich still found themselves in fifth spot at the end of the evening. Most would have settled for that on the 1st of August.
“We can’t defend set-pieces like that and to concede those two goals from set-pieces was disappointing. But we’ve got a chance on Saturday to put it right.”
Nor was he allowing the absence of Messrs Drury and Elliott to be used as an excuse.
“The two lads that were missing for us have been colossal for us, but that’s not the reason we lost – it’s a squad game.”
Drury’s return wasn’t about to come any time soon. “It’ll be a few weeks,” said Lambert, of Drury’s calf injury.
Forced into two changes through that injury to Drury and that suspension for Ward, the Canaries were still swiftly into their stride as Jackson slammed a glorious seventh minute drive against the bar.
Once again it was Hoolahan setting the City striker clear through that inside left channel. After that, however, it was all his own work as the blossoming Canadian international continued to stake his claim to a starting berth ahead of Chrissy Martin.
He was once more on the bench – alongside 17-year-old Academy starlet Matt Ball.
With Oli Johnson and Anthony McNamee also tucked up Lambert’s sleeve, the Canary chief was hardly short of attacking options should the home side find themselves firing blanks. Or, indeed, a goal behind for the last 25 minutes.
Needless to say, Palace hefty contingent of ex-Town stars was met with the usual, warm chorus of disapproval from the home faithful.
Not that it was all one-way traffic; before the 20-minute mark had passed Wilfred Zaha had eased into space behind Jens Berthel Askou and flashed a shot across the face of John Ruddy’s goal.
With the teeming rain adding a suitably autumnal touch to proceedings, City continued to play the breezier football without ever really testing Julian Speroni unduly.
As for Edgar Davids, he kind of looked the wandering gun-for-hire that you half expected; ‘played within himself’ would be the polite expression.
He did at least find himself in the right position in the 40th minute to hack Lappin’s well-controlled drive off the goal-line. It was as close as the Canaries had come to breaking the deadlock.
Lappin’s would not be denied, however. Two minutes from the break and it was his perfect – albeit deflected – cross that enabled Holt to side-foot home the opener from some six yards out.
It was the delivery wot won it… a nightmare for covering defenders; heaven-sent for lurking, old fashioned centre-forwards.
The game had already developed something of a tense, tetchy air before Palace’s leveller arrived on 56 minutes.
Owen Garvan delivered the deep, far post cross; for once Leon Barnett was found wanting as Bennett sneaked up behind him and forced a powerful, downward header beyond Ruddy.
Palace sensed a second.They had less than ten minutes to wait as Gardner poached an all-too easy near-post header from a 64th minute near-post corner. City were all-too frail defensively and all-too lightweight going forward – dents in Palace’s rearguard armour were all-too few and far between.
Inspiration off the bench arrived in the shape of first Martin and then McNamee – the latter drifting inside and seeing a decent dipper float just over in the 80th minute.
But with Burley proving his usual wily self on the touchline, so Palace rolled down the clock and saw the game out. Job done.