Away form a worry but survival is in Norwich City’s hands
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
After clinching seven points from three matches and experiencing the thrill of last-gasp heroics against Newcastle, perhaps it was asking too much of Norwich to get a result at Crystal Palace.
Not because the task was too difficult, a glance at their results this year tells you that was never going to be the case. More the fact that City had failed for the majority of the season to pick up points away from home, even on the rare occasion when they've been the form team.
Saturday was no different. Defeat at Selhurst Park was the sixth in eight away fixtures against sides currently languishing in the bottom half of the table.
Much like the 1-0 defeat at Swansea, this was a cagey affair that lacked quality. Unlike the win by the same scoreline at West Brom, this time the luck didn't fall our way and one moment of class from Jason Puncheon was enough to make the difference.
The penalty shout waved away by Michael Oliver when Matt Jarvis was barged over in the first-half was a possible turning point in the game, but it was Norwich's poor response to not getting that decision that ultimately cost us the match.
How did we go from a side unlucky to only score three against Newcastle to one that barely threatened? Unlike at Carrow Road seven days earlier, Dieumerci Mbokani was well marshalled by the opposition's centre-halves in Scott Dann and Damien Delaney. As a result, Steven Naismith, who had linked up so well with him in that win, was unable to have the same affect on the game in the final third.
Palace's back four were much stronger aerially than Newcastle's, sniffing out any danger and making easy work of clearing crosses and intercepting the long balls that Norwich so often resorted to.
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Bar a tidy volley from Ryan Bennett that tested Wayne Hennessey, City didn't create any clear-cut chances. We committed the men forward, but the final ball lacked accuracy. The game seemed to be crying out for Wes Hoolahan, who pulled all the strings going forward in the return fixture back in August, to provide that spark and create an opening.
Instead, Alex Neil opted to bring on Patrick Bamford at 0-0. Desperate to prove a point against his former club, the home fans booed his introduction, his first touch went out of play and he couldn't recover. Gone was the romantic notion that the striker deemed surplus to requirements by Alan Pardew could inflict damage on the club where he admitted enduring such a miserable time.
It's rare to see Alex Neil opting for an unchanged starting XI and it didn't quite work out for him at Selhurst Park. With Nathan Redmond fit again, I'd prefer to see him start ahead of Jarvis against Sunderland. He has his critics and is sometimes found wanting defensively but Redmond at his best provides far more attacking verve than Jarvis. The latter has managed just five goals and four assists in his last four Premier League seasons. Redmond meanwhile is our joint top scorer with five goals to his name in this campaign alone.
Back to Saturday's defeat in south London and the worst news could still be forthcoming regarding Timm Klose's knee injury. Yet the result itself hasn't made much difference to Norwich's situation ahead of Saturday's game, especially given both Sunderland and Newcastle failed to make up any ground.
The manner of Newcastle's loss at Southampton suggests it could be a straight shootout now between Sunderland and ourselves. With four points still separating the sides it's hard to see Sam Allardyce's men playing for a draw at Carrow Road. And like their North East rivals before them that could play rather nicely into our hands.