Norwich City must not be Premier League fall guys

Sebastien Bassong was convinced he should have a had a late penalty in Norwich City's 3-1 Premier Le

Sebastien Bassong was convinced he should have a had a late penalty in Norwich City's 3-1 Premier League defeat to Crystal Palace. Picture by Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd - Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd

For all the fury unleashed by Cameron Jerome's disallowed goal Alex Neil is too astute to let that mask the deficiencies that undermined City's labours against Palace.

Norwich were bold and vibrant for much of a pulsating contest at Carrow Road on their return to the Premier League, but in both penalty boxes they were brutally exposed.

For all Palace's undoubted potency on the counter-attack and the depth of their resources, which enabled the visitors to start without Patrick Bamford, Connor Wickham or Yannick Bolasie, Norwich were more than a match in general play.

The Canaries dictated from the start with Wes Hoolahan finding those elusive pockets of space the wrong side of Yohan Cabaye and James McArthur to service Jonny Howson, who underlined both his intelligence and versatility with a passable impression of an effective wide midfielder.

But tangible reward for a breathless opening, labelled afterwards as 'brilliant' by Eagles' chief Alan Pardew, proved elusive; Lewis Grabban stabbed a right-footed shot against the outside of a post from barely five yards on his Premier League bow.


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Neil is a huge admirer of the former Bournemouth striker but at this rarefied level, and given the goalscoring problems that beset the Canaries the last time they were here, it was a chance that had to be taken.

Hence why City remain in the market for the type of firepower that could embellish such levels of possession and territorial dominance enjoyed against Palace on a par with those routinely managed in the Championship.

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The visitors, however, possessed a more precious commodity - that ruthless, attacking edge which required John Ruddy to deny Glenn Murray with a smothering stop before Wilfried Zaha's cushioned finish carried enough venom to nestle inside his near post.

Jason Puncheon's burst down the opposite flank, forcing Seb Bassong to leave his central station with Robbie Brady trying to track back, had left the hosts vulnerable beyond the far post.

If that irked the meticulous Neil, Norwich's manager was visibly angered by the manner of Palace's second; Pape Souare escaping detection on the edge of the home penalty area to divert Puncheon's corner back into the six yard box where the unmarked Damien Delaney swooped.

Neil pivoted in front of the City dugout with a look of disgust on his features as he took his frustration out on a water bottle. It was a sour concession, given he no doubt spent the interval exhorting his players for a positive response.

But Neil and Norwich proved their resilience again, just as in the most testing moments of last season's promotion run-in.

Nathan Redmond and Jerome were swiftly introduced and both produced in a final quarter where referee Hooper became the leading man.

Redmond's long range strike restored belief on the pitch and the terraces before Jerome's acrobatics appeared to have restored parity. For the referee to deem his athletic brilliance as dangerous play was a staggering decision. Neil correctly dissected the minimal risk towards the endangered Palace defender afterwards.

Had the goal stood, the force was clearly with Norwich to complete a remarkable opening day comeback. Bassong was not the only one inside Carrow Road who felt Connor Wickham's stoppage time shove was worthy of a penalty. Instead, a tiring City failed to track another midfield runner, which allowed Cabaye to whip a close range finish beyond Ruddy from McArthur's disguised pass in the final moments.

By any measure it was rough justice. Norwich's players left the field to applause as Hooper and his officials departed to a chorus of disapproval. But a victim complex will not arm City with the ability to survive and in time flourish in the Premier League.

They must become hardened to contentious refereeing decisions and the reality that most weeks they will be at a competitive disadvantage.

Palace harbour European ambitions and sanctioned a major summer outlay designed to build on a top ten Premier League finish. Yet there was no gulf, no chasm in quality.

What was painfully apparent was the edge to the Eagles' attacking motions.

City's dominance of the ball and control in midfield can prove residually effective in the Premier League if they add a ruthlessness to their decision-making and execution in both penalty boxes.

Neil believes he has quality at his disposal, but this episode perhaps reiterated the value of one final push in the transfer market.

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