Saturday 16th April 2005
Crystal Palace 3 (Kolkka, Hughes, Johnson[pen]), Norwich City 3 (Ashton, McKenzie)
A key game for both teams at the bottom of the Premiership, as a win offered both the opportunity to gain ground on the teams above them. The form coming in could not have been different for the two teams, with Palace having just lost 4-0 to Everton while Norwich had beaten Manchester United 2-0.
Early on it was Palace who took the initative, and when a Michael Hughes free kick dangerously swept just over a host of players in the penalty area it was left to the unmarked Joonas Kolkka to come in at the back post and lash a shot past City 'keeper Robert Green.
Palace kept on top. Andy Johnson chased a loose ball and was fouled. However referee Rob Styles played a good advantage and the ball came to Wayne Routledge, who delivered a beautiful cross for Dougie Freedman, who's header was only kept out by a brilliant save from Green.
Palace were made to pay for not making more of their early superiority. Norwich came more into the game and when the Palace defence let Damien Francis waltz through the backline uncontested to cross for Dean Ashton to equalise from close range.
Following this there were several penalty appeals for Palace. One when Johnson was brought down, one when Freedman was tripped (the one I felt was most obvious) and one when Safri handballed on the line (which was the most obvious, but I didn't have a good view of it). However for the most part I felt Norwich were starting to control the game and when McKenzie couldn't take advantage of a one-on-one with Kiraly I felt glad to reach half-time with the score at 1-1.
That would change seconds into the second half. A hopeful Norwich ball down the centre wasn't dealt with by Fitz Hall. Ashton took the ball on, made light work of getting past Sorondo and swept the ball accurately past Kiraly. 2-1 to Norwich, eleven seconds into the second half. At this point Lainy called me, making me one of those infuriating fans on their mobile while the game was taking place. "Norwich have just scored," was all I could utter.
Shortly afterwards Norwich earned a corner on their left-hand side. As the Palace defence went to sleep Huckerby played the ball in quickly, got it back, ghosted into the penalty area and put in an inviting centre for Leon McKenzie to sweep home to give Norwich a two-goal advantage.
Norwich were easily controlling the game, and I felt a final score of 4-1 or 5-1 was on the cards. At this stage I turned to my friend Neil and said that Norwich were having a laugh at our expense. Some reports have said that Norwich's fault at this point was in going for such a scoreline, personally I felt that they sat back when they could have pushed on. Their fans were having a great time, going through the Soccer AM "Easy! Easy! Easy!" routine.
After much deliberation Tom Soares and Sandor Torghelle came on as substitutes for Palace. Just after Torghelle's introduction Palace swept through midfield, Johnson, onto Freedman, a touch back to Johnson. He continued his run down the right channel and put in an inviting cross, perfectly placed for an onrushing Michael Hughes, who headed the ball with power and accuracy past Green from about fifteen yards out. Game on!
Palace came forward with renewed vigour. A long ball from Soares was chased by Johnson, who was brought down again. Referee Styles (who was seriously unpopular by this point) ran from near the halfway line and finally gave the penalty. I thought about turning away given the tension of the moment, but watched as Johnson struck the ball powerfully beyond Green's despairing reach. 3-3, and as I looked round every area of the ground was returning the "Easy! Easy! Easy!" routine. It will be a moment I will never forget as the scene was hysterically funny.
In the closing minutes both teams were still looking to win the game. A Norwich break saw Huckerby shave Kiraly's left-hand post, while in injury time a Palace corner looped towards Fitz Hall, who produced an acrobatic overhead kick. Once again Green came to Norwich's rescue, throwing himself full-length to keep the ball out of the Norwich net. The full-time whistle went shortly afterwards, the result a 3-3 draw which really benefits nobody. However it was a terrific game with an electric atmosphere. Full credit to both teams.
Man of the match: Michael Hughes (probably the only reason Palace didn't give up).
Most impressive opponent: Robert Green (destined for a big summer move, surely?).
Most annoying opponent: Rob Styles' pal Darren Huckerby.
Saturday 18th March 2006
Crystal Palace 2 (Riihilahti, Morrison), Ipswich Town 2 (Soares o.g., Fuller)
A bright but bitterly cold Saturday afternoon at Selhurst Park saw a largely frustrating afternoon for the hosts' supporters. If the talk from the management of automatic promotion still being attainable was thought of as ridiculously optimistic by some fans before the game this result and performance saw the aim moved to the rank of incredibly unlikely.
Palace did start well though, and from an early break Andy Johnson nipped in behind the Ipswich defence, and sped towards goal only to be brought down by Wilnis just outside the area, earning the defender a booking (it was debatably a goal-scoring opportunity). As the players lined up around the ball I turned to my friend and said, "Here comes another of our ill-fated free-kicks." Sure enough Ben Watson fired the ball into the Ipswich wall. However before I could feel too smug Jobi McAnuff took the ricochet and delivered a first-time cross onto the head of the unmarked Aki Riihilahti, who glanced the ball into the far corner. 1-0 to Palace.
At this stage Palace were starting to boss the game, although my friend and I both stated that we could do with another goal. A second Palace goal was not forthcoming, or indeed even really threatened. Meanwhile Ipswich (in lurid orange) started to come more into the game, making lots of inroads down their right wing. In addition to this Palace's tactics appeared to be a little bit odd, with left-back Borrowdale pushing quite a long way in from the sideline. I also found it interesting to note that at one corner kick Clinton Morrison was out by the corner flag trying to defend against two Ipswich players. Even an amusing disruption from Morrison to the referee (who looked like he was pretending he couldn't hear) failed to bring him any help, and the Ipswich players cut past him easily although eventually the attack came to nothing.
However Palace's fortune wasn't to last. On the half-hour mark Ipswich had an attack in the Palace half, and when the ball fired around the Palace penalty area as if it was a pinball table it eventually caught out the unfortunate Tom Soares. As the ball rolled agonisingly towards the Palace goal-line 'keeper Gabor Kiraly launched a desperate effort to keep the ball out of the net. He reached the ball and scooped it away, but it was ruled to have already crossed the line (incidentally I couldn't see if it had crossed the line or not, but the lack of protest of the decision seemed to indicate it had gone in). 1-1.
As the half drew to a close I nipped away from my seat to get a bite to eat, and in doing so only caught a glimpse of Matthew Richards missing a golden opportunity to put Ipswich ahead. Sky's Football League review put this down to a bobble and to be fair the pitch was horrendous for bobbles and awkward bounces all day long.
The one other incident of note in the first half was when Ipswich's centre-forward Alan Lee clattered into Palace right-back Emmerson Boyce, which angered much of the home support. It earned Lee a booking, and further wrath was caused when Lee offered what many seemed to feel was an insincere apology for the incident.
Into the second half and Palace again started strongly. A free-kick on the left-hand side was swung in by Watson, and it was inch perfect for Morrison to meet and find the corner of the net with an accurate header. 2-1 to Palace.
Now remember what happened in the first half when Palace didn't press home their advantage? Well it happened again, with the main opportunity to increase the lead denied in strange circumstances (when Andy Johnson's volley was blocked by Morrison in the six-yard box). Again Ipswich came back into the game, and midway through the half Matthew Richards popped up by the right-hand side by the corner flag. He spun round onto his left foot and placed a cross into a spot right between centre-backs Darren Ward and Fitz Hall and goalkeeper Kiraly, none of whom dealt with the danger. It left Riccardo Fuller with an easy task to draw Ipswich level again. 2-2.
Following this equaliser Ipswich pressed on, with Lee nearly giving them the lead shortly after the equaliser as the Palace defenders dithered again. It was then though that a stoppage in play brought a strange twist. The referee went over to the linesman on the far side. Following a lengthy conversation the referee strode towards Fuller, who was tying a bootlace in the centre-circle, and showed him a straight red card. It seemed as if no-one in the stadium had seen what Fuller had been sent off for bar the linesman (it was later alleged to be an offensive gesture to the same linesman), and the Palace fans couldn't believe their luck. Up against ten men for the last ten minutes.
For some reason though I suspected the sending off wouldn't change things, and it didn't really. Palace's attacks were somewhat wayward while Ipswich continued to come forward with greater incision. I suggested to my friend that if any team was going to score, it would be Ipswich.
What did change matters was the showing of the time added-on board. Three minutes were shown, and for some reason this spurred Palace on. During one attack the ball bounced to Fitz Hall, who turned the ball back across the area from the left. The ball was headed onto the far post, were Dougie Freedman looked certain to find the net until young Ipswich 'keeper Shane Supple made a terrific save to preserve the draw. Although I would have been delighted for Palace to win it would not have been a result we would have deserved.
The game then petered out following an injury to Lee. The big man who dished plenty of punishment out fell down in his own penalty area and amid much scepticism received treatment from the Ipswich physio before the full-time whistle was blown. Lee took his time to walk down the tunnel, mockingly applauding the Holmesdale and receiving plenty of comments and gestures back in return, including a fair number from the normally placid occupants of the Main Stand.
A disappointing game overall. A two-all draw probably a fair result.
One final comment on the game: At half-time a presentation was made to a junior Palace team, who were then encouraged to take a lap of honour around the ground. Having attended football games for quite some time I wondered what the reaction would be as they passed the away end, and to their credit the Ipswich fans offered nothing but applause.
One daft comment on the rest of the season: Palace's main weapon should be speed, but it doesn't seem to be being put to good effect this year. This would be my plan - lock Neil McDonald (Assistant Manager, moved from Bolton, only apparent link to a slower-paced game) in a room somewhere. Get John Harbin a dvd of "Rocky 2" and show the whole squad the training montage where Rocky's trainer Mickey emphasises the importance of speed. Should do the trick.
Man of the match: Jobi McAnuff (very good first half - didn't do much second half, but neither did Palace really).
Most impressive opponent: Matthew Richards.
Most annoying opponent: Alan Lee (by a very long way).
Also meant to say that I was at two Crystal Palace games recently. Firstly I was at the 1-1 draw at Burnley in March, and then the home game vs Preston over the Easter weekend. A very enjoyable 3-0 win for Palace in the bright South London sunshine.