Crystal Palace 1-0 Norwich City: Eagles finally end winless run with confidence boosting victory

Alan Pardew's men rode their luck on several occasions, but eventually found a solitary goal through Jason Puncheon/

Crystal Palace 1-0 Norwich City: Eagles finally end winless run with confidence boosting victory
Palace players celebrate Puncheon's winner | Getty images

Crystal Palace finally ended their horrible run of form against Norwich City on Saturday afternoon, edging the Canaries in a tight game by one goal to nil.

The Eagles were winless in fourteen Premier League games prior to the game, but Jason Puncheon’s strike midway through the second-half earned Palace their first three points of 2016.

Alan Pardew made two changes to the side that drew with West Ham United the previous weekend; Dwight Gayle and Yohan Cabaye replaced Wilfried Zaha and Joe Ledley, who both dropped to the bench. Connor Wickham returned to the side following his injury and made a brief cameo appearance late on.

Palace start well but fail to utilise Gayle in dull first-half

Palace seemed intent on attacking from the very start and almost carved Norwich apart within the opening seconds as Yannick Bolasie surged forward and set up Bakary Sako – but the winger’s effort was deflected and the eventual succession of corners led to nothing.

Norwich struggled to cope with Bolasie's pace and trickery in the opening stages of the game, but a slight change of formation helped them ease the pressure.

Alex Neil’s side threatened on the counter attack several times during the first half and managed to capitalise on the Eagles’ sloppy passing. Their first chance fell for the threatening Robbie Brady, but the winger somehow fluffed his volley right in front of goal from ten yards.

A fairly dull first-half was to be expected due to the situations both sides currently find themselves in the league. The two teams often seemed unwilling to take risks and the defences appeared to be nervous whenever the ball entered the final third. This was typified when a mix-up between Damien Delaney and Wayne Hennessey allowed Brady to capitalise but Delaney recovered to steal the ball from the winger, despite Brady’s weak penalty appeal.

Palace’s tedious approach in the first-half made the game seem frustrating. Several long passes were aimless and even when one reached Gayle, he was isolated and eventually crowded out by Norwich’s powerful centre-backs. However, Palace had one final chance in the opening 45 minutes when Bolasie’s superb cross had to be cut out by defender Ryan Bennett to prevent Gayle from having an easy tap-in.

Another inspired substitution proves pivotal

The introduction of Zaha 20 minutes into the second-half changed the complexity of the game and it turned out to be an inspired substitution from Pardew. The winger had a poor game against the Hammers and was rightly dropped, but he was much-improved against Norwich and lifted the previously subdued and anxious crowd - which ultimately positively changed to the mentality of the players. 

Zaha proved to be key for the goal just four minutes after he came on; his excellent work on the right-hand side eventually saw the ball land at the feet of Puncheon, who cut inside and curled a wonderful effort beyond the outstretched arm of John Ruddy in the Norwich goal.

Puncheon celebrates scoring his first goal of the season | Photo: Getty images
Puncheon celebrates scoring his first goal of the season | Photo: Getty images

The lead was possibly undeserved, but it gave a restored sense of confidence throughout each player in red and blue which has not been apparent since December. The Eagles continued to search for another goal and almost found the net once again when Cabaye put Zaha through on goal with an exquisite through ball, but the former Manchester United winger shot straight at Ruddy.

A late onslaught of pressure from the Neil’s side ensued but Palace refused to allow the ball to go over the line from a seemingly endless amount of Norwich corners. Joel Ward was forced to cleared the ball off the line in added time as Norwich sought an equaliser. 

Palace seemingly safe and can enjoy rest of the season with no added pressure

The victory gives Palace a ten-point cushion from the bottom three, which means their safety is finally all but secure.

Another home fixture on Wednesday against an out-of-form Everton side provides a huge opportunity for Pardew’s side to turn their form right around as they get closer to the FA Cup semi-final against Watford on April 24.