Crystal Palace 3 Norwich 0
On a mild, drab day in south London Crystal Palace eased their way past the yellow and green substance currently passing itself off as Norwich City of the Premier League with a performance that barely needed to slip out of second gear.
The score finished 3-0 at Selhurst Park, but the numbers seemed by-the-by, a result of Palace’s players easing through the entire second half like men stoically seeing out some clock-watching festive obligation.
Odsonne Édouard scored one, made one and was a constant source of menace whenever Palace chose to press at the seams of the Norwich defence. Will Hughes, who does a fine, spiky job for Palace in central midfield, ran the game before leaving for a rest after 73 minutes.
Norwich, for their part, looked bright, neat and almost totally ineffectual. Somehow the table continues to suggest Dean Smith's team are just three points from safety, but they looked like a zombified presence, bereft of heart and edge. Defeat here makes it five in a row with a combined aggregate score of 14-0, the kind of run even "Comical" Chris Silverwood, mastermind of England's Ashes meltdown, would struggle to pick the positives out of.
Both of these teams are in the dirt right now, although there are of course degrees here. Palace have been battling a Covid/injury/congestion-related meltdown and were on a run of one win in seven. For Norwich the season has simply become a long march to nowhere, a one way conversation where the subject is always the same thing: the inadequacies, the basic lack of stuffing of Norwich City.
Odd to think now that back in August there were whispered hopes that this well-run club could somehow "game" the system with its left-field transfer policies. How bad are Norwich? They came to Croydon with three goals away from home all season. At left-back Sam Byram was making his first league start since February 2020. And yet somehow they looked worse than that.
A team that offers no expectation of fight or coherence still somehow managed to come across as a mild disappointment, as Palace swatted them aside without really needing to raise the pulse rate.
The home team had six Covid-related absentees of their own plus one, Wilfried Zaha, serving a ban for the kind of red card he seems always to be seeking, and which he finally achieved on St Stephen's Day thanks to an impressively sustained spell of narkiness and petulance. Palace do not tend to win much without Zaha in the team. But then, they do not often get to play Norwich either.
It took eight minutes for the first little huff to blow the door in. Will Hughes took the ball on the edge of the box, turned sharply and was tripped by a clumsy challenge from Kenny McLean. Édouard paused over the kick, drifted into a brief state of reverie, then stepped up and rolled it into the corner.
Norwich did not sag immediately. Instead, they waited a few moments. This is a team that always seems to be one thrust away from disaster, even as the midfield runs though its neat patterns, as the ball is zipped about with a brittle sense of urgency.
Édouard shot into the side netting. Jeffrey Schlupp had a attempt blocked by a desperate lunge. There was a moment of farce as the entire ground waited five minutes for referee Paul Tierney's microphone to be fixed. At which point Norwich did something fatal, pressing upfield and winning a couple of corners.
Palace broke the length of the pitch, the Norwich players hanging back weirdly from Édouard as he made ground down the left, unwilling to engage with this intrusion. His cut back was pinged first time into the far left-hand corner by Jean-Philippe Mateta, the placement rather than the power beating Angus Gunn’s slightly limp dive.
Four minutes later it was three, Palace players lining up to tiptoe through the diffuse Norwich cover, before the ball broke to Schlupp. His shot zinged into the far corner from a fine angle.
Norwich might have pulled one back before the break, Byram heading Przemyslaw Placheta’s free kick on to the crossbar from close range. But both teams came out for the second half with a sense that the day was already settled. It took Palace 15 minutes to muster the energy to try to score another goal.
Édouard shot just past the post. Placheta had a close-range shot brilliantly saved by Vicente Guaita. And by this point the Norwich end had taken to amusing itself by suddenly bursting out into wild do it yourself celebrations, just for laughs. It looks a long old half-season from here. - Guardian