Norwich City’s home frailties exposed by Palace
NORWICH CITY 1, CRYSTAL PALACE 2: City produced a Mr Hyde performance after their Dr Jekyll heroics at QPR at the weekend as another struggling outfit left Carrow Road with all three points.
Palace hadn't exactly been flying – no wins in their previous five outings, just one point from a possible 15 away from home and not a goal on their travels.
But two poorly-defended corners in the opening stages of the second half changed all that, and left City – beaten here by Hull and nearly undone by Leicester in their last home game – again struggling against a team they ought to be beating.
Manager Paul Lambert insists it's all a learning curve so presumably he will sit his players in front of the blackboard at Colney this week in an effort to iron out the problem.
Grant Holt's goal late in the first half looked like it would set City on their way, but two goals in the space of seven second-half minutes took the wind out of City's sails and they rarely looked like getting back on top.
Lambert went for the like-for-like option at the heart of his defence, with Jens Berthel Askou coming in for Elliott Ward, who was suspended after picking up his fifth yellow card of the season at QPR on Saturday.
Alongside him Steve Smith made his full home debut at left-back, with Adam Drury failing to recover from the calf injury which forced him off after almost an hour at Loftus Road.
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That left the only surprise for the bench, where 17-year-old midfielder Matt Ball – a Northern Ireland Under-19s international – was on a senior team-sheet for the first time.
Palace boss George Burley made changes, with former Dutch international Edgar Davids restored to the line-up, James Vaughan back from suspension and Anthony Gardner replacing the suspended Claude Davis.
City were the first to show, Simeon Jackson setting Simon Lappin on his way down the left, but his low ball – which keeper Julian Speroni wasn't tempted to stretch for – couldn't find a team-mate.
It was Jackson who came within inches of putting City ahead on seven minutes when he latched on to a lovely through ball from Wes Hoolahan, who had robbed the complacent Alex Marrow in midfield, and from the left of the area drove a lovely left-footer which beat Speroni but came back off the bar – a magnificently-executed effort which deserved more.
Palace were already showing some signs of nerves in defence, Jackson able to frighten them to death with his speed – although they somehow managed to conjure up a dangerous shot when Owen Garvan fired just wide of John Ruddy's left post.
Speroni had no problem gathering Leon Barnett's header from a Lappin free-kick – although his subsequent kick was poor.
Perhaps Jackson's effort was a false dawn – Carrow Road was hardly shaking under the crowd noise with the opening stages providing little to cheer about. It might have been even quieter on 20 minutes when Wilfred Zaha fired a low shot across the goal from a tight angle – the hope was it would prompt City into action.
The difficulty City faced was that as soon as they went forward their way was blocked by Palace's midfield four, who built an effective wall in front of the defence, leaving a mass of bodies to weave a way through.
Korey Smith managed to bundle a shot towards Speroni on 28 minutes, but it was a rare moment of excitement.
However, with half-time approaching City were slowly but surely building something approaching a head of steam and enjoying the better possession. Lappin almost benefited when his own corner came back to him and he rifled a shot goalwards which Davids cleared off the line. The Scot hasn't scored since May, 2008 and not for Norwich since September, 2007 – he won't get much closer.
The breakthrough appeared to be just around the corner and two minutes before the break, it finally came. Lappin was the provider from the left, his low cross taking a deflection but still finding Holt who, from six yards, steered it past Speroni for his third goal of the season.
They say teams are at their most vulnerable when they've just scored and Zaha almost proved that when he went clear in the area, only for Steve Smith to catch him and then, with Zaha slipping on the sodden surface, twisting a leg under him and pushing the ball away.
Danger over, it was soon time to plan how to finish off Palace over the half-time break.
Davids departed seven minutes after the break after an uneventful night's work – and watched from the sidelines as Palace produced an unlikely equaliser and then went ahead.
It started with a short corner in front of the Palace fans which gave Garvan the chance to cross and left back Julian Bennett rose well at the back post to head across goal and into the far corner.
Dorman then turned in the area and forced Ruddy into a good save as Palace took the initiative.
It was becoming frustrating for City and their fans – but it got worse on 63 minutes when, again from a corner, Palace went ahead. Garvan was the supplier, clipping the ball to the near post, where Gardner was hardly challenged and nodded the ball past Ruddy.
It was far too easy – as Lambert's angry reaction on the touchline indicated.
Jackson nodded wide from Holt's knock-down before Lambert made his first change, Chris Martin replacing Lappin on 71 minutes to add some much-needed firepower. The substitute almost connected with a Hoolahan corner while Holt fired a left-footed effort over.
Hoolahan had struggled for consistency all night and departed soon after for Anthony McNamee – and within minutes the winger had curled a shot inches over as City struggled to create the pressure for the breakthrough.
Barnett did well to block Dorman's effort and then Ruddy did well to deny Vaughan in the closing stages as it threatened to get worse for Norwich.
Barnett and Russell Martin both made a hash of clearances in time added on as City's defending took a farcical turn – but there was nothing to laugh about for the hosts at the final whistle.