Crystal Palace has warm glow for Norwich City fans
CRYSTAL PALACE 0, NORWICH CITY 0: Look through the records of any of Norwich City’s promotion campaigns – and we are not yet so presumptuous as to suggest this will be another of them – and you will find evidence of the odd dogged goalless draw on the road to success.
So while nearly 2,700 travelling Canary fans had to cope with the primitive conditions of Selhurst Park, the bitter January temperature and one of the least inspiring matches of the Championship season so far, they should still have left South London with something of a warm glow.
They had just seen their side extend an unbeaten away record stretching back to the end of October, pick up a point against Crystal Palace on their own ground for only the fourth time in 13 visits – stretching back 15 years – and, best of all, move into the automatic promotion places just nine months after booking their exit from League One, a feat described by their manager as “extraordinary”.
Small wonder that Paul Lambert was, in his own words, “not too disturbed” at taking only one point from Saturday’s contest.
The Canaries have just collected five points from three away games against teams fighting hard against relegation, without finding anything like their best form against any of them. Who, under those circumstances, would not be quietly satisfied?
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On their next two away trips, Burnley and Leeds are likely to provide a more thorough examination, but this City team has a happy habit of crossing bridges when they come to them.
The Palace encounter was no classic. Indeed, it could be argued that City’s two games against the Eagles have been just about the least entertaining they have been involved in all season, but after an unexpected 2-1 reverse at Carrow Road, they at least preserved their record of never being doubled under their current boss.
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The outcome might have been even better had skipper Grant Holt not shown a rare lack of composure and accu-racy when ballooning a decent chance into the crowd seven minutes from time. But a draw was undoubtedly a fair result.
City began brightly enough and after Henri Lansbury and Andrew Crofts had glanced early headers just off target, Wes Hoolahan went close to his first goal of 2011. Russell Martin’s cross was cleared straight to Hoolahan and he curled in a left-foot shot that was dipping under the bar when goalkeeper Julian Speroni managed to push it over the top.
Sadly, it was probably as close as the Canaries came to scoring all afternoon, and most of the opening half was spent dealing with the threat posed by the lively Neil Danns and Sean Scannell.
First Scannell got away from Adam Drury on the Palace right but striker James Vaughan, back on loan from Everton, was unable to take advantage from the cross. Then Danns was the provider but Vaughan failed to make clean contact with his centre.
Palace might have gone ahead in the 29th minute when Darren Ambrose’s free-kick found skipper Paddy McCarthy unmarked, but he sent a free header just wide.
The main talking point before the break was whether Vaughan should have been shown a red card after Drury was knocked to the ground by what looked like an elbow. City players protested in unison but referee McDermid settled for a booking.
Vaughan was off target with a curling effort soon afterwards after gathering Scannell’s diagonal pass.
Some of the Canaries’ passing was untidy at times, though a poor surface did not help matters, and after Lansbury volleyed wide early in the second half, a loose ball by David Fox almost had City in trouble. Vaughan intercepted but Zak Whitbread did well to block the striker’s shot.
Barnett came to the rescue with a timely header when goalkeeper John Ruddy was able only to parry a cross by Vaughan, but the ’keeper earned his corn in the 59th minute when he parried Scannell’s powerful drive.
City hit back and a snapshot from Crofts was turned wide for a corner, but Palace threatened on the counter-attack when Ambrose burst clear and found Danns, but Ruddy was right behind the midfielder’s shot.
There were more angry exchanges after a bad tackle by Alex Marrow on Marc Tierney – making his City debut as a substitute for the injured Drury – but, oddly, the only player booked was Crofts.
In the closing stages, Palace looked more likely to snatch victory and with 10 minutes left, Ruddy made a fine save to keep out Wilfried Zaha’s shot after the substitute got the better of Tierney on the edge of the area.
Possibly the best opening, however, fell to City top scorer Holt, after 83 minutes. Substitute Aaron Wilbraham challenged in the air and the ball dropped to the unmarked Holt but, perhaps surprised by the opportunity, he snatched at it and cleared the bar by a distance.
When Lansbury’s stoppage time free-kick was blocked by team-mate Simeon Jackson, also on as a substitute, it summed up City’s afternoon in front of goal.