Norwich City's Nigel Worthington has added his name to the several First Division managers who seem to think that because perhaps 14 clubs are still capable of winning promotion, this indicates a high standard, possibly good enough to succeed in the Premiership. His team's performance on Saturday at Selhurst Park, admittedly in adverse conditions, indicated that he, like the others, is riding a false premise.
Worthington said that the defeat, which still left them eight points clear of the top play-off place club, did not instil any concern. It should have done. This was a one-goal rout, reeking of complacency. The gale provided no excuse because Norwich were outplayed to such an extent that the very thought of coming up against Arsenal, or even a mid-table Premiership side, next season should have had the club fearing for their credibility.
Above all, Palace upstaged the division's leaders in simple sweat and guts but Iain Dowie's 13th match in charge was not favoured by any particular luck. Norwich were out-fought and out-thought. Dowie is an up-front guy who gets out there on the pitch for the warm-up after keeping the heat on in training all through the week. "I know I have high standards and press them hard but they now know it works" he said. The work ethic put Norwich to shame.
Tactically, the one obvious thing that Palace had to do was shackle Darren Huckerby, who may not possess the most subtle football brain but has the pace to do a lot of damage. Dowie made sure that he rarely got into his stride. If the first tackle failed to frustrate, the second almost always did and as a result Huckerby's partner, Mathias Svensson, had an afternoon of poor service and frustration. A lot of that went down to a fine defensive display by Mark Hudson.
That Norwich lost by only one goal had Worthington suggesting that there was not much in it. They stormed the Palace defence in the last 10 minutes and Palace's newly borrowed goalkeeper, Nico Vaesen, from Birmingham, pulled off one superb save from Svensson and some less difficult ones. Yet Norwich were not only flawed in passing skills but also floored by a goal that should have been avoided.
Just before half-time their defence watched as a cross from Julian Gray penetrated the penalty area. No one covered Tony Popovic, who failed to make a proper connection. The ball ran on to Wayne Routledge, allowing him to smash it high into the net. Of course, this result in itself is not going to stop Norwich from winning promotion, but it added nothing to their reputation.
Goal: Routledge (41) 1-0.
Crystal Palace (4-4-2): Vaesen; Butterfield, Hudson, Popovic, Granville; Routledge, Leigertwood, Hughes, Gray; Shipperley (Freedman, 89), Johnson. Substitutes not used: Berthelin (gk), Derry, Borrowdale, Black.
Norwich City (4-4-2): Green; Edworthy, Fleming, Mackay, Shackell (Roberts, 72); Henderson (Cooper, 46), Mulryne, Holt, McVeigh (McKenzie, 61); Svensson, Huckerby. Substitutes not used: Crichton (gk), Francis.
Referee: P Durkin (Dorset).
Bookings: Crystal Palace: Popovic. Norwich: Mulryne.
Man of the Match: Hudson.
Attendance: 23,798.Reuse content