Johnson penalty spares Palace

Crystal Palace 3 - Norwich City 3
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The Independent Online

Andrew Johnson's skill at winning penalties and then scoring from them proved the decisive factor in this pulsating relegation battle and Norwich, having let slip a two-goal lead, are still without an away win this season. They are still bottom of the Premiership, too, while Palace pull level on points with Southampton and continue to dream of escape.

Andrew Johnson's skill at winning penalties and then scoring from them proved the decisive factor in this pulsating relegation battle and Norwich, having let slip a two-goal lead, are still without an away win this season. They are still bottom of the Premiership, too, while Palace pull level on points with Southampton and continue to dream of escape.

This crucial contest hinged on the opinion of the referee, Rob Styles, about three penalty-box collisions between Johnson and Norwich's Jason Shackell, a 21-year-old graduate of the club's youth academy. Twice in the first half Mr Styles denied howls for a spot-kick. Indeed, on the first occasion, he lectured Johnson at length, presumably about his theatrical endeavours.

However, the third time it happened, seven minutes from the end, Mr Styles pointed to the spot and Johnson slammed in his 19th goal of the season. Ten of them have been from penalties, and of the 12 he has taken, missing two, Johnson has won eight himself.

The Norwich manager, Nigel Worthington, felt the penalty award was "a bit harsh" but added significantly, "At the start of the second half I said to my bench the referee would have to make amends for the first half, and that's what happened." Of Johnson's reputation for going to ground regularly and readily in the penalty zone, Worthington said, "Maybe so for the penalty, but you have to be ready for that, it's part of the game. I wish I had somebody who could do that and get me 19 goals. I have no complaints."

Worthington was more concerned about the loss of such a commanding lead. "At 3-1 the game should have been over, but we lost our discipline. If you give away as many free-kicks as we did, you are going to get punished."

Norwich appeared confused by the Palace gambit of starting with Joonas Kolkka and Wayne Routledge on their "wrong" wings and were a goal behind in five minutes. The captain, Michael Hughes, lofted a free-kick to the far post. It brushed the head of Gonzalo Sorondo, but fortunately was not diverted out of the scoring reach of Kolkka, who struck a fine shot from a tight angle.

There could have been a second for Palace but Robert Green made the first of several excellent saves from Dougie Freedman's header, getting one hand to the ball and knocking it away. Norwich did not take long to level, with much of the credit going to Damien Francis. He burst through a couple of tackles to get to the byline and centre low for Dean Ashton to bundle the ball over the line. Johnson next had the first of his penalty appeals rejected, then a handball by Youssef Safri was missed by the referee, and finally a corner was awarded as Shackell and Johnson crashed to earth once more. It was no surprise that Mr Styles was jeered off at the interval.

Straight from the resumption, Norwich went in front as Ashton beat one opponent and squeezed between two more before striking a fine cross-shot into the far corner of Gabor Kiraly's net.

Ten minutes later Norwich, who previously had managed just seven goals from 16 away games, were treating their fans to a third, and to deepen Palace's dismay it was scored by an old Selhurst Park player. Darren Huckerby did the spadework to get in a low centre from the left and Leon McKenzie turned it in at the near post.

Palace's determined fightback was rewarded with a quarter of an hour left. Johnson collected a loose ball just outside the centre circle and made ground before projecting a lofted pass towards the penalty spot. Hughes, showing remarkable speed and determination for such a veteran, reached it and headed firmly past Green.

Then, in a frenzied finale, came the Johnson penalty, and there could have been more goals for Palace. Green made excellent saves from Johnson and Freedman and a brilliant one in injury time from Fitz Hall.

As Palace's assistant manager, Kit Symonds, said: "Defeat would have been a massive blow, but as things have panned out we are happy. It is a better point for us than it is for Norwich."

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