Canaries miss out in the real Big One

Norwich City 1 - Crystal Palace 1
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The Independent Online

"Next up," said the man in the Norwich press-room after this raucous draw, "it's the Big One." That's Manchester United away, on Saturday - the stuff of which Premiership dreams are made. Except it isn't the Big One. This was the Big One. Crystal Palace, at home, and a chance to grab a march on a fellow contender for relegation.

"Next up," said the man in the Norwich press-room after this raucous draw, "it's the Big One." That's Manchester United away, on Saturday - the stuff of which Premiership dreams are made. Except it isn't the Big One. This was the Big One. Crystal Palace, at home, and a chance to grab a march on a fellow contender for relegation.

Matt Holland, now of Charlton Athletic but then of Norwich's rivals Ipswich Town, wrote a column in the Independent on Sunday a couple of years ago entitled: "How the whole season boils down to a few head-to-heads". He stated, correctly, that Ipswich didn't get relegated because they were thumped at Old Trafford, but because they lost both their fixtures against Bolton, who were then themselves at the foot of the table. Holland was vilified in some quarters for the comments (lack of ambition etc), but he was absolutely correct.

Indeed, his theory was effectively repeated by Palace's manager, Iain Dowie, when he said afterwards: "There are one or two games in which we think we can do well." Of course he probably did not quite mean just one or two, but the general drift was there. This was one of them. And so, as the away manager, he would have been the happier leaving Carrow Road with a point, although when both Dowie, and the Norwich manager, Nigel Worthington, come to review the tapes they will both know that there is a lot of work to do if either club is to survive.

Ten players made their debuts - four for Norwich, six for Palace - and that may partly explain the ponderous passing, and how both sides lost their shape as the play became alarmingly stretched. But the lack of pace at the heart of each defence will be ruthlessly exploited by others.

As it was, the two top strikers from last season's First Division were good enough to highlight the deficiencies.

First, on 16 minutes, Norwich's Darren Huckerby barrelled past Mark Hudson before executing a sharp finish. Then, inside the final quarter, Andy Johnson darted into space and was picked out by Wayne Routledge, with a clever flicked pass. Johnson rolled the ball across him and instantly struck it past Robert Green.

Having gone in front, the home side will rue not holding on, especially on a day when most Premiership clubs drew. Worthington professed himself happy - with a point and a goal in the credit columns - even if he lost David Bentley, on loan from Arsenal, with a calf injury that rules him out of tomorrow's England Under-21 friendly international against Ukraine at the Riverside Stadium.

After Old Trafford, it's Newcastle United and Arsenal for Norwich. Three points would have been a welcome cushion for that rough landing. For Palace it's Everton. And that is another Big One.

Goals: Huckerby 16 (1-0); Johnson 73 (1-1)

Norwich City (4-4-2): Green; Helveg, Fleming, Charlton, Drury; Jonson (McVeigh, 64), Holt, Francis, Bentley (Edworthy, 70); Huckerby, Svensson (McKenzie, 82). Substitutes not used: Ward (gk), Jarvis.

Crystal Palace (4-4-2): Speroni; Boyce, Popovic, Hudson, Granville; Routledge, Hughes (Freedman, 89), Hall (Riihilahti, 78) Kolkka (Derry, 78); Johnson, Torghelle. Substitutes not used: Kiraly (gk), Black.

Referee: P Walton (Northamptonshire).

Booked: Crystal Palace: Granville.

Man of the match: Huckerby.

Attendance: 23,717.

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