The FourFourTwo Preview: Crystal Palace vs Norwich
Eagles to swoop on Canaries.
What a difference a baseball cap makes – especially if under it is Tony Pulis. The son of a steelworker has certainly inserted a solid skeleton into Crystal Palace, but not necessarily in the way the caricaturists expected: who would have thought he could turn Marouane Chamakh into a street-fighter?
CRYSTAL PALACE FORM
- Man City 1-0 Palace (Prem)
- Aston Villa 0-1 Palace (Prem)
- Palace 0-3 Newcastle (Prem)
- Chelsea 2-1 Palace (Prem)
- Palace 2-0 Cardiff (Prem)
- Norwich 0-1 Man Utd (Prem)
- Norwich 1-2 Fulham (Prem)
- S'land 0-0 Norwich (Prem)
- Norwich 1-1 Swansea (Prem)
- WBA 0-2 Norwich (Prem)
Palace won more points in December than in the rest of the season combined, and their impressive performances weren't restricted to the three wins in those six games: they also asked a few questions at Chelsea and Manchester City, with only the Newcastle defeat staining the record.
But Pulis knows that he needs to beat the teams around Palace, and after wins to nil against West Ham, Cardiff and Villa, he'll fancy his team's chances against the side they were unlucky to lose to in his first game as Glaziers gaffer.
Three points behind Norwich with the same goal difference (which is already better than Sunderland's and Fulham's, with Cardiff's deteriorating fast), the Eagles can zoom past the Canaries here - and possibly get within two points of their next visitors, Stoke City. Now there's a game Pulis will have them up for…
It's a very different story for Chris Hughton. Although a home defeat to Manchester United is hardly unexpected, Norwich only got two points from the previous three games - sharing the spoils with Sunderland and Swansea before getting beaten at home by Fulham. After three wins in five following the 7-0 loss at Man City, such results against relegation rivals are dragging Norwich back into danger.
Unlike some drop-dodgers, Hughton's team are rarely well beaten - only once in the nine games since that Etihad excoriation have Norwich lost by more than one. But that last home defeat by United summed up their problems: even when on top, they don't kill games off, and despite the promising form of Gary Hooper (five goals in nine games) they aren't nearly clinical enough.
As Hughton said after Fulham's late winner: "We didn't make the most of our opportunities. I'm really disappointed not to come away with a result."
And after the United game: "When you're having your best period in the game you've got to try and capitalise on it, and we didn't do that." It's becoming a familiar story.
In their last three home games, Norwich have had 44 shots but only got 12 on target, scoring one goal and earning one point. Palace have only had 38 attempts in their last three home games but got more on target (14), scored more goals (3) and earned more points (6). Pulis is again making a little go a long way.
The innocent clash between Cameron Jerome and Joe Hart caught the eye of the England keeper, but it was the Palace forward who was forced off with a knee injury - and he may not be back any time soon. Add injuries to midfielders Stuart O'Keefe and Kagisho Dikgacoi, and Pulis may have to do some more positional juggling – as he has by redeploying full-back Joel Ward in central midfield.
Norwich have niggles, knocks and knacks aplenty. Anthony Pilkington is still hamstrung, while Jonny Howson has missed Christmas with a back complaint, although Hughton is hopeful of the latter's rehabilitation: "He's a good healer and a strong individual." At least Hooper, unpopularly subbed by Hughton against the champions after complaining of a tight leg, should be available to be Norwich's Goal Threat.
Key battle: Mile Jedinak vs Wes Hoolahan
Jedinak was Palace's linchpin long before Pulis or even promotion, and being under new management hasn't changed the curly-mopped Socceroo's importance to the side. In the Boxing Day win at Villa he was the visitors' top passer, tackler and interceptor, if perhaps a little deeper than earlier in the season.
He may drop back a little to curb the creativity of Wes Hoolahan. The attacking midfielder's recall changed Norwich from a poor outfit beaten by Fulham into a side which scared Manchester United, the Dubliner attempting 42 passes, 4 dribbles and 2 shots while contributing 8 ball recoveries and 2 chances created.
LAST FIVE MEETINGS
- N'wich 1-0 Palace (Prem, Nov 13)
- Palace 0-0 N'wich (C'ship, Jan 11)
- N'wich 1-2 Palace (C'ship, Oct 10)
- Palace 3-1 N'wich (C'ship, Dec 08)
- N'wich 1-2 Palace (C'ship, Nov 08)
Hughton and Pulis have faced each other twice before as managers, with honours even. Norwich beat Palace on Pulis's debut in November, but the Bristol-tinged Welshman had beaten the London-twanged Irishman when Stoke won 2-1 at Newcastle in September 2010. Hughton lost his job later that year and the signs aren't great for him now - Norwich gained 38 points from 37 games in 2013.
TIPS & TRENDS
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Facts and figures
- Palace are unbeaten in 13 home league meetings with Norwich City (W9 D4).
- Canaries ace Gary Hooper completed all 32 passes in the reverse fixture with Palace this season.
- Palace have had Under 2.5 goals in their last 6 matches against middle-third teams.
More FFT Stats Zone facts • Find the best odds with Bet Butler
It says much for Pulis that Palace are strong favourites with the bookies, and we won't disagree. 2-0 Eagles.