Warning signs are loud and clear for Norwich City

Posted by Paddy Davitt

Such is the incessant nature of Premier League combat that Norwich City's upbeat display in a 1-0 home defeat to Manchester United will carry little substance should they succumb at Crystal Palace this coming week.

Chris Hughton's squad have been maddeningly inconsistent all season. Defeated at home on Boxing Day to a Fulham side who were hammered 6-0 at Hull two days later, yet capable of pushing the champions to the limit until match-winner Danny Welbeck's fortuitous second-half intervention deflated the hosts. The injury absences of both Wayne Rooney and Robin van Persie were essential caveats in assessing Norwich's efforts, but undeniably City deserved a more tangible reward than raised expectations and renewed hope.

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David De Gea was far busier than John Ruddy who was left badly exposed in the game's defining moment at Carrow Road when Ryan Bennett's intended clearance ricocheted off first Welbeck and then Javier Hernandez before spiralling back under the control of the England striker who coolly rounded his international colleague.

The scale of the celebrations around the away dugout underlined the competitive nature of the previous hour's entertainment. Norwich were defensively resolute and propitious in their attacking movements, with the recalled Russell Martin a standout performer as an auxiliary offensive weapon from full-back. De Gea beat away one angled lash that agonisingly dropped outside Wes Hoolahan's orbit hovering inside the 6-yard box which allowed Chris Smalling to scramble the rebound clear. Gary Hooper and Sebastien Bassong both tested the young Spanish goalkeeper's positioning before Hoolahan checked inside Smalling but lashed a goal-bound shot against the thigh of Jonny Evans.

City left the field to a standing ovation from the home fans, who may justifiably question why such potency and directness was lacking against the Cottagers earlier in the week. That ultimately was the prevailing feeling once Welbeck had tipped this game firmly in the champions' favour with Norwich singularly unable to produce a concerted response in the final quarter of a match that ebbed gently towards David Moyes' men. Fulham was the home game Norwich had to win over the festive period. Manchester United was a delicious bonus where expectation levels were minimal and all the pressure was on the Reds to maintain their upward trajectory.

The reality is Norwich now head to a rejuvenated Crystal Palace on New Year's Day requiring a positive result not just to check the Eagles' momentum but to re-affirm their own stuttering bid to avoid becoming embroiled in the survival scrap. This time last season Norwich emerged from four games over the festivities with no points and what in hindsight was the origin of a prolonged slump well into 2013 that required a win in their final Premier League home game to secure their top-flight status.

Norwich's support base will recognise the warning signs should City return from Selhurst Park empty-handed. Hughton's side earned plenty of plaudits against Manchester United in a valiant losing cause, but points are the only currency that matter.


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