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Goalless Again – But Improvements Are Evident

Palace 0-0 Norwich, 29/1/11

Norwich travelled to South London today in confident mood. Being in the possession of the most superior away league record in the division, a trip to Crystal Palace, struggling at the alternate end of the table, slipping and sliding like a cat on a frozen lake, on paper appeared to be a walkover for the Canaries. But on 4th round day in the FA Cup, Palace produced a minor shock of their own to not only keep a point, but feel hard done by not to have snatched all 3.

Unified and determined, a stark contrast to the previous few games, Freedman has obviously fired up the boys or just given them a massive kick up the Arsenal because based on the performance given hours earlier, it was as though Palace were fighting to grab second place instead of Norwich.

New additions to the starting line up; James Vaughan, Sean Scannell and Matthew Parsons lit up Selhurst with exciting, attacking football, bombarding the Norwich penalty area for sustained periods. At just 19, Parsons was making his first start for the club and portrayed skills of a player with far more experience than his own and excited with his lung-busting sprints from full-back, similar to how Nathaniel Clyne plays his game.

 Palace looked lively with David Wright and Alex Marrow switched to defensive midfield, allowing Neil Danns the freedom to roam and create with Scannell and Ambrose occupying the wings. A greater balance to the side helped and Palace looked organised and solid for once.

 

 Scannell – Useful and Dangerous

But it was Norwich who threatened first through their recent arrival, Henri Lansbury, following a loan move from Arsenal. His header whizzed just wide early after the kick off, as did Andrew Croft’s glancing effort. The ball remained under Norwich control for an age afterwards but to little effect as chances proved rare. However, Wes Hoolahan did trouble landmark man, Julian Speroni, on his 200th appearance for the club with a dipping shot from 20 yards but he found the legendary Argentine alert and willing to tip it over for a corner.

Another loanee, James Vaughan, could also have marked his debut with a goal after returning to the club from Everton a few days earlier. Frustratingly for Eagles fans, the toe-end of his boot came within nanometres of connecting with Scannell’s cross as he looked seemingly certain to break the deadlock. Neil Danns then smashed a shot straight at John Ruddy from outside the area after a neat backheel from Scannell.

 Dangerous on the break, Palace grew in confidence. Scannell whizzed past defenders like a Ferarri circling traffic cones through the static Norwich defence. His return from a long-term injury feels like a new signing as he continued to cause problems. One such chance, clean through on the angle with space ahead came to an abrupt end when the referee blew for a foul on him, refusing to play the advantage. Nevertheless, the free-kick almost found the net via Paddy McCarthy’s head and Norwich survived.

The half time whistle came with Palace on top, as some real talent took to the pitch in the form of the stunning Crystal cheerleaders. Clad in merely bikinis and mini-skirts during close to freezing conditions, some sympathetic thoughts did enter a couple of the male onlooker’s minds. Briefly though.

It has become increasingly difficult to ‘score’ at Selhurst these days

 Ahem. Anyway, Palace pressure continued; Vaughan failed to control a loose ball in the area soon after the break and Danns tried again from outside the box but Ruddy stopped easily. It looked like being yet another one of those despairing days at Selhurst for the home team.

Norwich relented however, Grant Holt fired a free header just over the bar as corners into the area caused greater havoc than a student protest.  Luckily for Palace, Speroni either gathered or punched the ball to safety each time. With promotion ambitions of their own, Norwich refused to give up, despairingly shooting from distance with the hope of any deflection off of a clumsy red and blue. Anthony Gardner felt the temptation once but withdrew just in time.

Palace’s box wasn’t the only one to suffer a Blitz; Norwich dallied and gifted the ball to Palace countless times in an open, end to end encounter. Darren Ambrose, Vaughan and Danns pressed but could create little. Scannell managed to work Ruddy again before being substituted to a stirring applause from impressed supporters. His replacement, Wilfried Zaha, who made little impact and frequently had the ball dislodged from his feet, nearly stole the match after smashing a shot from inside the area straight at Ruddy.

One final chance for Norwich came late on, during the painstaking final 10 minutes of each Saturday for every Palace man and woman, but thankfully for them Holt hopelessly found row Z from 8 yards out.

A pleasing and exciting match which could only have been bettered by one team leaving with all 3 points but nonetheless, Norwich will be not overjoyed but thankful to have ended their awful recent record against Palace as they jump above Cardiff into second place, while the hosts can dwell and plan on reproducing a similar performance which will only win them games so they can scale the league ladder away from relegation. Another home clean sheet means it’s 6 consecutively for Palace as their defence strives to improve and become watertight. They just need the strikers to begin bludgeoning the goals in and Dougie’s men can read the Sunday papers with a little more ease each week.

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