Canary defences collapse
CHRIS LAKEY Crystal Palace 3, Norwich City 1: Peter Grant must be sorely tempted to invest in some defensive cover as he ponders the ramifications of a series of catastrophic errors at Selhurst Park yesterday.
Crystal Palace 3, Norwich City 1
Peter Grant must be sorely tempted to invest in some defensive cover as he ponders the ramifications of a series of catastrophic errors at Selhurst Park yesterday.
Having dominated the early stages at Selhurst Park, City's defence parted like the Red Sea to allow Crystal Palace to claim three of the easiest three-point hauls of their season.
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Three first-half chances for Palace, and three times City's defence collapsed like a house of cards that needs a huge shuffle if Grant is to claim even pride from a season which is fast going down the pan.
Even when they looked like getting back into the game just before half-time, they inexplicably conceded a third goal.
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What makes it particularly galling for the 900-plus travelling fans is that City could have been out of sight by the time Palace had even seen the whites of Paul Gallacher's eyes.
It will hurt that Palace managed to get two goals ahead, it will hurt that when City got back into it they conceded again - but it will hurt more because they clearly deserved more from a game when they were never truly second best.
But while goals win games, errors lose them - City couldn't get the goals, but the mistakes were much more visible.
Grant had opted not to risk Saturday's goal scorer Dion Dublin or right winger Lee Croft, changing to a 4-3-3 formation, with Andy Hughes called up from the bench and Carl Robinson back after a one-match suspension.
The first of the early chances fell to Robert Earnshaw who, with three City players in the area, found himself in possession, turned his marker, but shot into the side netting from six yards.
The Welshman had another chance just minutes later when Youssef Safri flicked the ball into the area and Earnshaw tried to do the same - but only found keeper Scott Flinders.
An early goal would have been perfect for a City team with a poor recent record at Selhurst Park, but they were doing all the early pressing, Gary Doherty putting a Darren Huckerby cross wide of the target on 10 minutes.
Carl Robinson did well to win possession 30 yards out and fed Dickson Etuhu, whose low cross-come-shot was stopped but wouldn't fall for Earnshaw. City retained possession and pressure, with Huckerby teasing on the left, turning his man and slamming a shot against the bar from a narrow angle.
It was Huckerby again who was tormenter in chief on 13 minutes, shooting low from the same spot and forcing a good save from Flinders.
The chances were coming thick and fast, Doherty guilty of wasting an Adam Drury cross which he headed down and straight into the keeper's hands.
While it was an excellent start for City, the fear was that a series of quality scoring chances were being spurned.
However, three good opportunities in the opening 15 minutes is a start not to be sniffed at, and with City once again pushing up on to their opponents, the early signs were more than encouraging.
But Palace slowly stemmed the tide, even though Robinson's neat shot, which lacked power, reminded them that City were on top, while Drury was inches away from getting his head on to a Huckerby cross after a sleek sequence of passes by the Canaries.
A quick corner by Safri saw Jason Shackell shoot wide from Huckerby's cross on 24 minutes, but then suddenly, after all that possession and all those chances, it went badly wrong.
Dougie Freedman's break forced Jurgen Colin to concede a corner. Stuart Green's ball in was flicked on, Leon Cort headed it back across the face of goal and, with Gallacher rooted to his line, Mark Hudson rose above Dickson Etuhu and Colin to nod home from close range.
Ex-Ipswich striker Shefki Kuqi then saw a header gathered easily by Gallacher as Palace suddenly realised they were the home team and began to make their presence felt.
But if the Finnish international was wasteful then, he made no mistake minutes later when he robbed Doherty, fed Freedman who then slid the ball back to him, putting a neat shot past Gallacher to complete a stunning and inexplicable four minutes.
The task for City now was to hit back as soon as possible, which they could have done had Hughes been able to get a shot on target from Etuhu's cross, rather than hitting it across the face of the goal.
Marco Reich fired a shot across City's bows on 34 minutes, with an effort that flashed past Gallacher's left post - emphasising the task facing Grant's men.
Hudson put another header wide from a corner, City having major problems with the set-piece - but it was one of their own that gave them the chance to get back into the game on 44 minutes.
Safri swung in a free-kick from the left, Robinson got his head to it and Palace skipper Carl Fletcher got his hand in the way. It was the perfect opportunity - and Earnshaw snapped it up, bagging goal number 17 of the season.
A goal just before the interval should have been the perfect fillip for the Canaries, but this incredible match took another turn - and for the worse as far as City were concerned.
There was hardly time to celebrate as Palace went straight down the other end, Kuqi cut the ball back and Green smashed it home from eight yards with the City defence static.
From dominating the early stages, City were 3-1 down - and it was a little difficult to see why, apart from the obvious errors, it had gone so wrong.
Grant sent on Dublin after 52 minutes to beef them up and within minutes he had teed up Earnshaw with a lovely cross in that just eluded the Welshman.
But one man doesn't make a team, and Palace were soon up to their old tricks, stretching City down the flanks and getting crosses that the nervy defenders struggled with. Sub Jobi McAnuff sent one of those crosses in, Cort heading just wide - a ploy that had endless possibilities for the Eagles.
Croft soon joined Dublin from the bench, as Grant tried to give City an extra attacking dimension, but it was the Canaries who were cut apart when Kuqi played in Michael Hughes down the centre. A fourth goal looked inevitable - until Doherty got in a tackle to save the day.
Dublin offered a ray of hope for City with a cracking half volley from 20 yards which narrowly missed the target, but Palace were too far away and looking unlikely to be caught.
Croft did have a chance to make the last 15 minutes interesting when he was put through after a good run by Colin, but Flinders flew out of his goal to smother his shot - and you felt the game, and quite possibly the season, ended at that moment as far as City were concerned.
The result was paramount - and City didn't get it. They had their chances, they fluffed their lines.
Crystal Palace: Flinders 6, Lawrence 6, Ward 6, Hudson 7, Cort 6, Freedman 6 (Morrison 73, 6), Hughes 6, Reich 6 (McAnuff 45, 6), Fletcher 6, Green 7, Kuqi 6. Subs: Scowcroft, Kennedy, Wilkinson.
Bookings: Hughes, 33, foul on Safri.
Norwich: Gallacher 6, Colin 6, Doherty 6, Shackell 6, Drury 6, Hughes 6 (Croft 59, 6), Robinson 6 (Dublin 52, 6), Safri 6 (Thorne), Etuhu 6, Huckerby 6, Earnshaw 5. Subs: McVeigh, Lewis.
Referee: C Boyesen.
Attendance: 16,765 (894 City fans)
EDP Man of the Match: None
Time added on: 2min/3mins.
Shots on: Palace 4, Norwich 3
Shots off: Palace 9, Norwich 9
Fouls committed: Palace 10, Norwich 13
Corners: Palace 7, Norwich 8
Offsides: Palace 0, Norwich 2