Norwich City never choose the easy route to Premier League improvement

Norwich City's Bradley Johnson salutes the away fans after his goal in the 1-1 Premier League draw a

Norwich City's Bradley Johnson salutes the away fans after his goal in the 1-1 Premier League draw at Crystal Palace. Picture: Tim Parker/PA Wire. - Credit: PA

If Norwich City's Premier League life story since 2011 tells us anything it is the Canaries never do things the easy way.

Angst and anxiety are staple ingredients but on each of the two previous attempts, top flight safety has been achieved. A club record summer transfer outlay may have been designed to alleviate such struggles but the benchmark for the majority of the Premier League, including Norwich City, will always be set just above the waterline that is the difference between financial self-sufficiency and an uncertain future.

Achieving that objective is a unifying cause for all those who rally behind the Canaries' banner but a battling point in adverse circumstances is unlikely to appease those who have already decided Chris Hughton is no longer the man to guide the ship.

Defeats like Fulham on Boxing Day or even the failure to beat an improving Crystal Palace side proficient enough to run Manchester City as close as any this season at the Etihad just last weekend do little to improve Hughton's standing with a growing constituency who feel the Canaries should be joining the growing fad of managerial regime change.

Hughton would be the first to admit City's festive return was insufficient, with that damaging loss to the Cottagers a particularly sour episode, but the seemingly endless sub-plot to City's third season in the Premier League is largely self-defeating.

Norwich's board have steadfastly supported the manager and the events at Selhurst Park provided fresh evidence he has a set of players who believe in his methods. Whether those who hold an alternative view like it or not, Norwich and Hughton have suffered debilitating injuries right from the moment Gary Hooper collapsed to the turf in the final pre-season friendly against Panathinaikos. You could even go back further to the summer surgeries to Sebastien Bassong and Michael Turner; the latter hobbled away from the action at Palace with a suspected hamstring injury that one hopes does not add the central defender to a growing casualty list which had threatened to ease this month with the expected returns of both Alex Tettey and Anthony Pilkington.

Jonny Howson's total absence from the club's festive tussles and Hughton's post-match admission yesterday the key midfielder could be set for a longer lay-off merely increases the degree of difficulty for Norwich in a Premier League season that is shaping up to be the most competitive for many a season at the top and the bottom.

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City also had to cope with the dismissal of Leroy Fer in the closing stages for a second yellow card offence on Eagles' captain Mile Jedinak. The first brought the hosts a penalty to cancel out Bradley Johnson's unerringly accurate finish five minutes before the interval of a game largely dictated by the prevailing weather conditions. That in itself is not another excuse to absolve Hughton and his side but recognition of the difficulties both teams faced in trying to construct menacing attacking motions when just controlling the ball in the swirling gales and driving rain was a test of their technical ability.

Turner's exit was entirely related to such uncertainty after the big centre back failed to anticipate the trajectory of a Palace cross into Norwich's penalty box and instead swiped at fresh air before collapsing clutching the back of his right leg.

City's first-half breakthrough was all the more commendable as the hosts had the benefit of the elements which blew towards Ruddy's goalmouth. Johnson and Fer established a measure of control in a congested central midfield area but after early set-piece incursions from Robert Snodgrass it was Palace in the ascendancy until Wes Hoolahan and Hooper hassled Danny Gabbidon into a miscued clearance that Johnson stroked home.

There was a wonderful few seconds of silence around the stadium as the ball caressed the inside of Julian Speroni's left-hand upright before nestling inside his post, but Tony Pulis' sides are not built around a willingness to surrender and Johnson's opener merely triggered a frenetic spell prior to the interval.

Martin Olsson reprised his goal line heroics from the corresponding fixture to deny Cameron Jerome before Marouane Chamakh could count himself fortunate the officials failed to spot his assault on Hoolahan after the Irishman appeared to incur the petulant striker's wrath. City really needed to take the heat out of the proceedings immediately after their incision, but Fer lost Jedinak and then hauled him to the ground in a bid to retrieve his error. The impressive Jason Puncheon made no mistake from the penalty spot and set the tone for a second period where Palace again pushed forward without quite hinting at the precision required to beat John Ruddy again.

Fer's dismissal for a lunging challenge at Jedinak may have tipped the balance in the final moments but Norwich played out time with few genuine alarms to secure a third unbeaten outing.

But it is the Fulham home defeat which arguably colours how Norwich's festive labours will be perceived. City have been resolute on the road at Sunderland and now Palace but it is on home soil they will need to up the ante.

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