Norwich City 1, Crystal Palace 0
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Norwich City ground out a priceless 1-0 Premier League win over Crystal Palace to edge the Canaries further away from the bottom three after a tense afternoon at Carrow Road.
Gary Hooper pounced in the 30th minute from Wes Hoolahan’s clever cut back to seal the points but Chris Hughton’s men were indebted to two excellent saving blocks from Martin Olsson in the first period and a collective will to resist when Palace pounded away in the closing stages before inflicting a maiden defeat on new Eagles’ boss Tony Pulis.
Hughton made two changes to the starting line up that lost 2-1 at Newcastle. Captain Sebastien Bassong returned in place of Michael Turner to partner Ryan Bennett with Hoolahan given the chance to stake his claim in the absence of three injured wide midfielders. The Irishman was nominally deployed on the left-hand side at the outset with Nathan Redmond operating on the opposite flank and Johan Elmander chief support to Hooper.
The recalled Bassong was immediately into the action, but the defender was unable to direct Redmond’s corner on target under pressure six yards out. Jonny Howson then advanced with an air of menace 25 yards out but his powerful shot struck Eagles’ captain Mile Jedanik. Barry Bannan picked out Cameron Jerome’s angled run who fed Jason Puncheon with a clever reverse pass but the strike lacked the power to test John Ruddy. Bennett’s raking crossfield ball dropped at Redmond’s feet who switched the play instantly to Hoolahan in a sign of the hosts’ growing confidence, but Palace cleared their lines with City firmly on the front foot in the opening skirmishes. Elmander came within a coat of paint of breaking the deadlock in the 10th minute when he acrobatically diverted Redmond’s free kick against the underside of the bar before Palace scrambled it away with Leroy Fer in close attendance.
Referee Foy made it abundantly clear to both sets of players and fans the ball had not crossed the line after receiving a signal to his wrist watch utilising the goal line technology now installed at every Premier League ground. Redmond cut inside Dean Moxey but Julian Speroni pushed his angled strike up and over at his near post. Palace were carrying a sporadic threat on the counter at this stage but Bassong and Bennett were keeping a tight rein on Jerome and Marouane Chamakh.
Fer produced a trademark surge after robbing Jedinak before serving the ever-willing Redmond who lined up Moxey only to see his low cross hacked behind at the near post for a corner that failed to reap dividends. Swedish international Olsson superbly hisensed the impending danger in the 27th minute when he threw himself in front of Puncheon’s goalbound hit after Jerome cleverly nut-megged Russell Martin. Puncheon continued to be a productive attacking outlet for the Eagles with one drifting run taking him away from Fer only for Jerome to glance his intended header off-target.
City forced the breakthrough their opening 30 minute burst fully deserved when Hooper tucked away seven yards out from Hoolahan’s cool square pass after Redmond’s initial run and pass was shovelled on by the falling Elmander. Palace responded in ferocious fashion and the Canaries were indebted to Olsson who yet again saved his side with a clearing header against the underside of his own bar from Bannan’s goalbound 16-yard hit after Ruddy parried Jerome’s initial angled strike. Bannan’s protests the ball had crossed the line were again ended with a wave of Foy’s wrist watch. Martin’s overlapping run and link-up with Howson produced a cross that Hoolahan was barely a yard from connecting with after Elmander had provided a near post decoy run.
City managed to re-gain their early composure in the final moments of the opening period with an off-balance Elmander scuffing his shot at the near post after a patient bout of possession that spanned the width of the field triggered by Olsson and Fer.
Hooper brought Howson’s skied clearance under his spell before back-heeling in Elmander who switched the play to Redmond but the young man clubbed his strike from the edge of the area well over in a positive resumption from the hosts after the interval.
Palace were keen to up the ante with a smooth interplay down the right involving Puncheon and Joel Ward forcing Ruddy to gather under intense pressure from Chamakh. Bannan’s probing free kick was cleared with a hint of desperation as Jerome sensed another opportunity.
City earned some respite when Olsson set Redmond free before the youngster curled a cross to the far post that evaded everyone including a momentarily anxious Speroni.
Howson’s burst the centre of the pitch brought the home crowd into life before Hoolahan spun away from Hooper’s wall pass to drag at Speroni from 25 yards. City survived a major scare in the 64th minute with Bassong’s sliding clearance from under his own bar four yards out somehow cleared Ruddy’s bar in a desperate attempt to divert Moxey’s low cross. Damien Delaney headed the corner over from inside the Norwich six yard box after legally climbing above the grounded Ruddy. City were now the ones operating on the counter with Hooper powering away from Danny Gabbidon before rolling in Redmond who again failed to trouble Speroni. A clearly-tiring Hoolahan made way for Bradley Johnson in the 78th minute but the Irishman’s standing ovation was topped by the response that greeted Luciano Becchio’s introduction for Elmander two minutes later, following the Argentine’s public criticism at his lack of first team opportunities during the build-up. Pulis followed suit with a trio of second half arrivals and it was Jimmy Kebe who forced Ruddy into a precautionary dive to watch a swivelling strike brush the England keeper’s side netting. Becchio’s first meaningful contribution came inside his own six-yard box with a vital flicked clearance to divert Jonathan Williams free kick which was trvelling towards Jerome. Ruddy gratefully dropped on Jerome’s miscue in the 87 minute after the former Stoke striker attempted to re-direct Kebe’s initial scuffed strike. Steven Whittaker was then adjudged to have fouled Bannan deep into four minutes of stoppage time to present Palace with a free kick 30 yards out but City again threw their bodies on the line to hack the bouncing ball clear to huge relief from the home fans.
• Norwich: Ruddy Martin, Bassong, Bennett, Olsson, Redmond, Fer, Howson, Hoolahan (Johnson 78), Elmander (Becchio 80), Hooper (Whittaker 90). Subs (not used): Nash, Turner, Garrido, Josh Murphy.
• Booking: Martin (foul on Jedinak, 82)
• Goal: Hooper (30)
• Crystal Palace: Speroni, Ward, Dikgacoi, Puncheon (Kebe 76), Jedinak, Gabbidon, Moxey, Delaney, Chamakh (Gayle 80), Jerome, Bannan (Williams 73). Subs (not used): Price, Mariappa, Phillips, O’Keefe.
• Bookings: Jedinak (foul on Olsson, 63), Gayle (dissent 86)
• Added on time: 1 minute / 4 minutes
• Referee: Chris Foy (Merseyside)
• Attendance: 26,851