Houghton off in pitch battle

Norwich City 1 Adams 71 Crystal Palace 1 Shipperley 3 Attendanc e: 16,395
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The Independent Online
Already just off the pace in the First Division, the last thing Norwich and Palace wanted yesterday was to run each other into the ground and end up with a point apiece and a 21-man free-for-all that finished with Palace's Kevin Muscat and their captain, Ray Houghton, sent off.

The fight at the end of the battle happened with only three minutes left when Darren Eadie was breaking away 35 yards out and had a more-or-less clear run on goal. Muscat cut across and held him. Before the referee, Kevin Lynch, could intervene, Andy Johnson and Muscat were quickly embroiled in a tussle which developed into several individual skirmishes and one big melee which Norwich's manager Mike Walker described as "handbags". But there were some fairly hefty satchels swung with intent. For Houghton it was his first sending off of his career. Muscat had to go because he had already been cautioned.

Walker actually felt that the unseemly incident could benefit himself. "Maybe that's a turning point - we needed a spark. We stood up for ourselves - showed a bit of character, but I was surprised experienced pros reacted as they did - Eadie was clean through, what else did they expect the referee to do."

Although Walker's idea of such a violent incentive is questionable, Norwich certainly needed a kick-start to their season. They have gone seven games without a win. Palace were also in need of recuperation after taking only two points from four matches before yesterday.

Palace set Norwich an early challenge. In fact, less than four minutes had passed when Carl Veart delivered a pass angled across the Norwich area for Neil Shipperley to force a shot low inside the far post.

Veart's running became a permanent danger to Norwich as he pumped a drive against the foot of the post and set up Bruce Dyer and Shipperley for further chances. Somewhere along the route of their recent disappointing run, Norwich had lost midfield authority. The outcome yesterday was that Houghton dominated the first half.

So Norwich had no choice but to reduce numbers in defence, put Rob Newman into midfield and all press forward. It brought them sustained pressure but having seen Ian Crook frustratingly have a fine lob pushed over the bar by Chris Day, it seemed that Norwich might end the day full of steam and going nowhere. In the event, after 72 minutes a free-kick from Neil Adams on the edge of the penalty area touched the wall, deflected at least twice and finished inside the far post for the equaliser.