And breathe, Palace fans.
Jason Puncheon’s fine 68th-minute goal proved enough to earn a vital 1-0 victory over Norwich City, to give Crystal Palace their first – yes, first and only – league win of 2016 and, above all else, create a 10-point buffer from the relegation zone to ease the tension around Selhurst Park which had been palpable and growing in recent weeks.
Palace had a touch of assistance from the match officials, though, when Norwich’s appeal for a penalty was waved away after what even the Palace manager described as a “robust” tackle by Damien Delaney.
But with the weight of the winless streak off their shoulders, Palace and their manager, Alan Pardew, can now start to think about their Wembley date with the FA Cup semi-final.
“I was as nervous today as I have ever been in football,” Pardew told BBC London. “Sometimes the media can keep drilling it into you and in the end you are carrying that burden. I wanted to calm them down at half-time and they delivered for me.
“It was a robust challenge from Damien Delaney, to say the least. We had the best referee in the Premier League and he didn’t say it was a penalty so I’ll go with that.
“We are four points from mid-table and that is where we should be. If we can finish as high as we can then we can still get 11th. That’s what we want to hunt down.”
Norwich were searching for a third win in a row but endured a tough afternoon, having defender Timm Klose carried off on a stretcher as well as being denied the penalty shout.
Having missed what he described as a “sitter” in the first half when he sliced a chance wide from 12 yards, Puncheon was in tears after his game-winning goal – his first for the club in 11 months.
Palace’s barren run in the league included six straight home defeats. They are the last side in all four divisions to register a win in 2016. But as their cup run has demonstrated, Palace have never been too far from the sort of form which got them among the Premier League front-runners before December.
The returning Dwight Gayle and Yohan Cabaye added pace and poise to Palace’s play, which augurs well for Wembley game against Watford at the end of the month, though they have a formidable league programme to handle first, including visits to Arsenal and Old Trafford in the next 10 days, following facing an out-of-sorts Everton at home this Wednesday.
But the relegation worries should now be forgotten, as other results yesterday also went Palace’s way, with Aston Villa nearly relegated and Newcastle’s defeat at Southampton. One more point should be enough to ensure survival.
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