The remarkable revival of Crystal Palace since Iain Dowie took over 13 matches ago came to a climax at Selhurst Park yesterday when his enormously hard-working side made Norwich City again glad they were comfortably placed above the play-off places.
In spite of their team's lofty position, Norwich fans had been beset by a fidgety feeling following a run in which they saw seven points dropped out of a possible 12. That feeling had not been entirely removed by the midweek 3-0 defeat of Gillingham, which only sounded impressive if you ignored the fact that the Kent side had a player sent off after 26 minutes and were already short of fit players. Yesterday offered a much more accurate indication of whether or not they had come through their crisis of confidence. Over 7,000 travelling supporters arrived to find out.
Under Dowie Palace have become altogether more solid and they quickly had the Norwich defence hard at work. Andy Johnson could have had them reeling in the ninth minute when he twisted on the ball eight yards out with a clear sight of goal but threw himself off balance at the same time. Nevertheless, Palace were encouraged and maintained steady pressure in the difficult, swirling wind which made any centre pass or long ball almost impossible to predict.
Palace played on the unpredictability. Norwich on the other hand suffered it and made little progress in feeding the ball up to Darren Huckerby and Matthias Svensson who were well marshalled by Mark Hudson and Tony Popovic.
In the first half Norwich made no more than a handful of moderately troublesome attempts on the Palace goal and looked incapable of injecting anything out of the ordinary to change the course of the stream. Far from it.
Three minutes from half-time they watched as a free-kick from Hudson was played on to Julian Gray. His cross was miskicked by Popovic but Wayne Routledge raised the loose ball high into the net off a couple of defenders' bodies.
Palace chased down every source of danger. They were also firmer in the tackle and better organised in midfield. Accurate, short passing was demanded in the conditions and they provided it. Norwich only took the hit when they found themselves disadvantaged but they remained slack in distribution.
Palace should have sealed the game but their chances slipped away while Norwich should have pulled level midway through the second half when Svensson swivelled on the ball and cranked a powerful shot that Nico Vaesen, making his debut for Palace, did exceptionally well to hold.
By quashing the threat of Huckerby, Palace took the pace out of their opponents.
This was a team effort deserving more credit than that offered by Norwich's manager, Nigel Worthington, who said he was "not too concerned at all" about the result. Dowie unconvincingly talked down Palace's success: "We've played better but the players matched my expectations."
Crystal Palace 1 Norwich City 0
Half-time: 1-0 Attendance: 23,798Reuse content