If a point per game is going to be what it takes to stay in the English Premier League this season, then Norwich dug another one out of south London this afternoon with a 1-1 draw at Crystal Palace.
Bradley Johnson’s second goal of the season had actually put Chris Hughton’s men ahead – for five minutes before Leroy Fer’s rush of blood to the head deep in the Canary box conceded a penalty which Jason Puncheon converted.
Fer would see red before the afternoon was out, leaving a ten-man City to cling on for the game’s final 15 minutes. Credit to them, they survived and of the two managers Chris Hughton will be the more pleased – for Tony Pulis that will defintely be two points dropped. A small psychological ‘victory’ for the visitors on a day when the pressure continued to mount elsewhere.
Sunderland’s recent revival was nipped in the bud with a 1-0 win for visiting Aston Villa; West Ham’s woes mounted with a 2-1 defeat at Fulham.
It is all going to be that way until the end of the season – nip, tuck and nerves a-shredding for the seven or eight clubs that will come to fight for their survival.
Changes from the narrow, weekend defeat to champions Manchester United came at the back where Michael Turner and Steven Whittaker returned for Ryan Bennett and club skipper Russell Martin respectively.
Whether the ugly, blustery conditions – let alone Pulis’ style of football – would be tailor-made for Wesley Hoolahan ahead of a Johan Elmander would be one to watch; it wasn’t an afternoon for a beautiful game.
Gary Hooper did start – his late withdrawal whilst chasing a way back into that United game had, it seemed, paid off in terms of the ‘precautionary’ nature of his exit. It was, of course, a substitution that attracted more than its fair share of criticism from an uneasy faithful as Norwich continued to flirt all-too dangerously with the drop zone.
The game lived up to the conditions – scrappy, untidy and lacking any real rhythm or flow.
The chances – such as they were – came from set-piece plays that could take full advantage of the swirling wind. None, however, overly tested either keeper. It was all looking set to be a long and unappealing afternoon entertainment-wise.
Fer would hit a gentle, scruffy bobbler at the Palace goal in the 34th minute before his day took a nose-dive. At the other end, Cameron Jerome shanked one wide of the left upright. Not too much to write home about.
Norwich were, at least, starting to make inroads into the final third. As ever, however, the required cutting edge wasn’t readily evident. Certainly few would have expected much to change on that front when a combination of Whittaker, Hoolahan and Hooper worked the ball down the Palace left and teed up Johnson on the edge of the box in the 38th minute.
Ping, a curl in off the post and Norwich were ahead.
Given their respective fortunes of late – not to mention their respective positions in the league – that was a huge strike. And one Norwich would need to defend with their lives if all three points were to be hauled back to Norfolk come five o’clock.
In the event, City’s defence of that precious lead was all-too zealous as Fer leant all-too heavily into Mile Jedinak and the referee Mike Dean pointed to the spot. Dean had not endeared himself to Norfolk moments earlier when he let Marouane Chamakh off with a yellow when an arm was clearly raised. The spot-kick decision summed up how swiftly Norwich’s afternoon had turned sour.
Puncheon’s execution from the penalty was, of course, spot-on and a loss of discipline – ‘Do nothing stupid now before half-time… ‘ – had cost the Canaries their hard-earned advantage. Palace were back in the contest within five minutes of Johnson’s strike. More importantly, the wind was back in their sails – and slipping out of Norwich’s.
After the break and the pattern continued as Palace continued to enjoy the better of both the possession and the chances.
Come the 65th minute mark and the decision re Hoolahan and Elmander was made; the Dubliner’s afternoon was over in a squally, south London as the Canary chief decided that going long and direct might be the better way of coping with the conditions. Whether the travelling faithful agreed would – one suspects – depend on how events unfolded over the next 25 minutes.
It was back into Fulham-like territory of one mistake being fatal. The conditions under-foot only adding to the fraught nature of the contest.
Nine minutes from time and Fer’s afternoon was complete when he picked up a second yellow and his first red – and disappeared from proceedings.
Ironically, it would ensure that a point now – in such circumstances – would be something of a result. If not the one that Norwich looked capable of with 39 minutes gone.
It was a point. And each and every one may well count come May.