The largest crowd of the all-seated era flocked to Norfolk’s county town yesterday, many of them doubtless wondering whether this would be the last time they saw Chris Hughton in the home dug-out. The final week of November is the start of the serious sacking season and the feeling locally was that the personable Norwich City manager would have been out with a fifth defeat in seven games. Instead, his team came through for him, just.
Meanwhile, Crystal Palace sank to the bottom of the table after a performance which nevertheless gave heart to their new appointee, Tony Pulis. As Pulis has never been relegated and Palace have never stayed up in the Premier League, something will change come May and the odds are still on the club preserving their record and the manager losing his.
Having admitted possibly having drilled too much into the players during his first week’s work, he had plenty more to say while bestriding the technical area throughout the afternoon in trademark tracksuit, trainers and baseball cap. “Tony Pu-lis/ He looks like a chav,” sang the home supporters.
Afterwards the new man said: “We didn’t have the breaks today. I can’t fault the players, they worked their socks off and gave it everything. I know how tough it’s going to be but it’s not the first time I’ve been in this position.”
A relieved Hughton, with a second successive win against fellow strugglers behind him, said: “It feels like a big win. In the first half we were the better team but probably needed another goal, as we knew we’d come under pressure after that. It was a massive blow losing [Anthony] Pilkington and [Robert] Snodgrass in the last week, which means we’re without three wide players altogether in a squad that hasn’t got the depth of others.”
Fortunately Nathan Redmond remains fit and well, and is one of those tricky young wingers the country is starting to produce in abundance. He tested Palace most, and Wes Hoolahan would have done so to greater effect had he been fully match fit.
For Palace, Barry Bannan was equally effective in midfield, and Pulis may be able to get more out of Marouane Chamakh if he keeps playing him more centrally, rather than stranded on the wing as he tended to be under Ian Holloway.
Savvy Norwich supporters do not worry about missing the kick-off; the 30th-minute goal yesterday was the first time this season they have scored that early. There had been some fun at both ends before that, however, starting when Johan Elmander met a free-kick with an acrobatic effort against the underside of the bar. With Palace slow to settle Redmond then veered inside for a fierce shot pushed for a corner.
At the other end two outstanding pieces of defending by Martin Olsson were required to prevent Palace going ahead. First he threw himself in the way of Jason Puncheon’s shot; then, after John Ruddy saved well from Puncheon, Bannan thrashed a fierce effort towards the far corner of the net and Olsson somehow leapt to head on to the bar and away.
But in between times Norwich scored. Redmond, having switched to the right flank, began the move, Elmander turned his pass across goal, and with the crowd screaming for a shot Hoolahan calmly set up Gary Hooper, who also took a touch before scoring in his second goal of the season.
The second half was less eventful as the tension took hold. Palace had such chances as there were, starting when Dean Moxey overlapped well and the home team’s Sebastien Bassong skewed the ball narrowly wide of his own goal. Ruddy did not grasp the resulting corner, which bounced off Palace’s Damien Delaney and over the bar. The spindly Jimmy Kebe, one of three Palace substitutes, hit a low drive into the side-netting, and after one long thrown from Moxey out of the Pulis coaching manual, there was an almighty scramble that Norwich survived.
To survive the season they must improve their away form, which will not be easy this week when they visit Liverpool on Wednesday and West Bromwich on Saturday.
“There aren’t too many tougher places to visit than Anfield but it’s much better going there on the back of a win and a clean sheet,” Hughton said.
Norwich (4-4-1-1): Ruddy; Martin, R Bennett, Bassong, Olsson; Hoolahan, (Johnson, 78), Howson, Fer, Redmond; Elmander (Becchio, 80); Hooper (Whittaker, 89)
Crystal Palace (4-4-1-1): Speroni; Ward, Gabbidon, Delaney, Moxey; Puncheon (Kebe, 75), Jedinak, Dikgacoi, Bannan (Williams, 72); Chamakh (Gayle, 79); Jerome.
Referee: Chris Foy.
Man of Match: Redmond (Norwich).
Match rating: 5/10