Huckerby lights long hard road

Norwich City 1 - Crystal Palace 1
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The Independent Football

Starting the season with a relegation six-pointer? Reality bit at Carrow Road for both these teams yesterday. Such is the incontrovertible truth of the nine months ahead. A point apiece, secured by goals from last season's top-scorers, Darren Huckerby and Andy Johnson, handed a slight advantage in the survival stakes to Crystal Palace but simply because they were the away side.

It will be some struggle. And how Norwich City may come to rue their inability to hold on to their precious 16th-minute lead.

Neither team looked equipped despite the presence of opportunists such as Huckerby and Palace's spirited strength. The lack of pace in the defences will be ruthlessly exploited against more accomplished opponents as will the relatively ponderous passing.

Not that either manager was having any of that. For each it was the power of positive thinking afterwards. Norwich's Nigel Worthington proclaimed: "I'm very pleased, first point, first goal. I'm not too disappointed that we didn't win. Only a little. There are so many pluses."

For Palace's Iain Dowie there was bullishness, even adding West Brom into the equation. "Why not all three of us staying in the Premiership? Why not?" Well the evidence why, at present, was plain to see.

Neither club would have chosen to meet each other on the Premiership's day one. The summer dreams of fans have been full of clashes with Chelsea and Co, not an opponent with whom they had slugged it out last season. Naturally the line-ups were much altered, but the preparedness was questionable.

The real challenges will come soon enough. Norwich face Manchester United, Newcastle United and Arsenal in rapid succession while Palace entertain Chelsea. The stuff of dreams with the potential for nightmares. Dowie also spoke of dreams. "It is easy to knock people's dreams," he said, anticipating the doom-mongering. "People love to do that."

His team finished last season with fearsome momentum and ended this game in similar fashion - Johnson almost winning it in injury time with a driven half-volley. That would have been disastrous for Norwich, who had been promoted as champions to end a nine-year Premiership absence. Dowie is striving to become the first Palace manager not to record just a brief, season-long sojourn.

Injuries had bitten both sides. Norwich were denied defender Malky Mackay but whether he would have fought off the challenge of Sandor Torghelle is doubtful. The Hungary international was one of six new players for Dowie while Norwich's personnel listed four changes - of which the most exciting was the loanee David Bentley, from Arsenal. However, his first touch was to hoof the ball skywards as Palace briefly made the running.

Three corners in succession settled Norwich and then Huckerby, chasing down Matthias Svensson's slipped pass, proved too quick and too strong as Mark Hudson dallied. From the corner of the area he stole the ball and drove it right-footed across the debutant Julian Speroni and into the net. The protests, calling for a foul, were fruitless. Given his inconsistency, Huckerby was once likened to a runaway speedboat. This time it was Hudson who was caught in the wash.

Norwich struggled to keep their shape but used Huckerby as their outlet. Gaps opened up and soon after the restart a chink appeared for Torghelle to steal beyond Simon Charlton. The striker went for power and his shot rebounded off the head of the goalkeeper Robert Green.

At the other end, Speroni's one-handed save denied Huckerby. Then Palace struck. Wayne Routledge flicked a smart pass inside and Johnson rolled the ball across his body before slipping it beyond Green.

Norwich tried to rouse themselves but despite Worthington's bonhomie, Dowie's final comment was telling. "Nigel will be less happy with the point than I am because you want to win your home games," he said. And that's one Norwich have wasted.