Crystal Palace 3, Norwich 1
Chris Lakey Norwich City Christmas celebrations turned decidedly flat as they suffered capital punishment in south London.Defeat in a turkey of a match at Selhurst Park means City have lost nine times in 13 away games this season - and they really have no one to blame but themselves.
Norwich City Christmas celebrations turned decidedly flat as they suffered capital punishment in south London.
Defeat in a turkey of a match at Selhurst Park means City have lost nine times in 13 away games this season - and they really have no one to blame but themselves.
Palace's goals all came gift-wrapped from City - although the final scoreline was hardly reflective of a game in which neither team rose above the very average.
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Having gone behind after just five minutes to a free-kick routine that owed much to City's generosity in defending a free-kick, Gary Doherty scored his first goal of the season to level it.
But again, City were undone by a free-kick as they went behind a second time and this time there was no way back - although Leroy Lita's miss just before half-time will haunt manager Glenn Roeder for a long time to come.
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Had Lita not missed an easy chance from close range then City would have gone in level, their confidence on the up and better prepared to take on a Palace team who, despite their position around the play-off fringes, simply didn't look anything special.
If the first half was poor then the second half was dire, lit up only by sub Danny Butterfield's late, late goal - a pearler from 25 yards that was totally out of character with the rest of the game.
Roeder was forced to make changes, with Lee Croft missing through illness. Mark Fotheringham and Sammy Clingan were the holding midfielders, with the trio of Matty Pattison in the middle, David Bell on the left and Wes Hoolahan on the right forming a shield ahead of them, and Leroy Lita alone up front.
The other change was Ryan Bertrand, back after a toe injury replacing Adam Drury at left back.
Roeder resisted any temptation there may have been to put Carl Cort alongside Leroy Lita in attack, preferring to play Wes Hoolahan in that little hole behind the front man, with Cort's return to match fitness continuing from the subs' bench.
City won the first corner of the game, but Bell's effort wasn't the best, even though Pattison - who soon moved right allowing Hoolahan to back up Lita, managed to get something on it with his boot, before Palace cleared.
And then City committed football suicide, allowing Palace to practise a training ground move - and make it work. Shaun Derry took a free-kick after Fotheringham had fouled Nick Carle, just inside the City half on the left. It was lofted towards the centre spot where central defender Paddy McCarthy flicked it on - and his partner-in-crime at the back Jose Fonte had the simplest of tasks to nod it home from five yards.
It was criminal defending and immediately put City on the back foot.
Bertrand was fortune to get away with a tug on Sean Scannell as the Palace wide man threatened to break on 12 minutes, but City were guilty of some sloppy short passing which was giving the hosts easy possession.
Good work by Lita saw him flick a David Marshall free-kick on to Bell on the left of the area but Nathaniel Clyne did well to lock his shot and when the ball came back to the City man, Palace had closed ranks and blocked off any avenues.
McCarthy then had a mini nightmare with two miss-kicks within a matter of seconds, prompting a good spell by City. Hoolahan couldn't quite tee up a shot after good work by Bell, who was beginning to test young Clyne's credentials. Palace were rocking - and then Norwich struck, with 18 minutes on the clock.
Again it was a free-kick and again defences were to blame - but this time two of the men who had given Palace the lead helped to wipe out that advantage. It was Fonte who was penalised for a foul on Lita on the left. Bell took his time and swung it in from the left and there was Doherty lurking at the back post, getting behind the jittery McCarthy and heading home from close range.
It was little more than City deserved, having shrugged off the effects of the Palace goal to get themselves on an even keel in a match which, in the early stages at least, had failed to reach any particularly dizzy heights.
Palace did liven it all up a little on 28 minutes with Fonte having time to get in a shot which was blocked and Paul Ifill gaining possession after a burst of pinball to send in a short low cross from the left, which Marshall managed to grab to end the danger.
Two minutes later and City's good work was undone as Palace took the lead again. It started with a quick free kick by Robert Carle down the left after Fotheringham was harshly penalised. With City sleeping, Ifill took over, clipped in a cross which found Scannell who headed goalwards and while his effort was blocked by Bertrand, the ball came out for Fonte, who drove it home from 15 yards, via a slight touch off Elliott Omozusi which made little difference to its final destination.
Once again, City had themselves to blame.
Hoolahan teed up Clingan for a left-foot shot which was blocked before Hoolahan had a go himself, but saw his effort easily saved by Julian Speroni. Pattison then went down under Hill's challenge, but referee Keith Stroud, who seemed to be eager to give most claims, was having none of it.
An equaliser should have come four minutes before half-time when Ostemobor did well on the right, leaving Hill for dead on the byline near the corner flag and getting in a low ball which Speroni wasn't tempted into stretching forward for. It was inviting for Lita, who, from six yards, stuck out a boot - but somehow only managed to find the far post. By Lita's standards it was a sitter - and so close to half-time it was crucial.
It had been a half of football that left much to be desired as far as quality was concerned - but City would have fancied themselves to get back into the game for a second time.
Doherty was on target with his head again four minutes into the half, connecting with Otsemobor's cross from the right but finding only the hands of Speroni.
Palace lost McCarthy to a shoulder problem soon after, forcing Hill to move to centre-half with Danny Butterfield coming in at left back.
In his absence the unmarked Lita get his head to a 54th-minute free-kick by Bell on the left, but Speroni got down to his left to claim comfortably.
Fotheringham became the first City player in the book for a foul on Ifill, before Derry's shot from 25 yards hit Doherty, with Palace claiming the City man used a hand.
City were perhaps edging it, but it was all pretty poor - although Derry almost set up Lee for a near-post effort, Marshall getting down well to gather.
Palace almost helped City on their way soon after the hour mark when Butterfield tried to clear a Bell cross but only managed to thump it against Hill - and Speroni had to scramble the ball away.
Palace brought on ex-Ipswich striker Shefki Kuqi and began to look more threatening. Doherty blocked one long-range effort while Derry was pulling too many strings. Ifill had a shot deflected after Kuqi outmuscled Omozusi - brawn against brains perhaps.
A neat City move saw Hoolahan's shot blocked by Derry and Otsemobor put the follow-up shot just off target.
With quarter of an hour remaining, Cort came on for Pattison as City tried to lift their game for a final push - but it was a hope that looked forlorn at that stage.
Russell was added to the mix with seven minutes left, but the game had long drifted towards oblivion.
Kuqi almost spat on City's icing but was put off by Marshall and put the ball wide - but in the final minute they again paid for their own mistakes. City dithered on the edge of their own area, lost possession, the ball fell nicely for Butterfield who tried his luck from 25 yards - and although Marshall got a hand to it, it was game over.
If this is a sign of Christmas Present, don't even think about Christmas Future.