Norwich City-Crystal Palace Preview
Norwich City have one objective remaining - to avoid relegation - and they've done a decent job of it in recent weeks. Crystal Palace have seemingly been playing singularly focused on their FA Cup ambitions for so long now that they've become a part of the drop discussion along with the Canaries.
Should the Eagles' nose dive continue Saturday at Selhurst Park, the clubs will be linked at 34 points just above the red, and they'll have matched the club's longest winless streak in the Premier League.
Dating to a scoreless Boxing Day draw at Bournemouth, Palace (9-7-15) are winless in 14 straight league matches with four points and 11 goals scored for their worst top-flight drought since managing four points and 10 goals on a 15-match winless streak in 1997-98.
"It's a key game because Norwich are only three points behind us and they've won two games," Palace manager Alan Pardew told the club's official website. "We need to get the crowd behind us to help us attack the game and give ourselves a cushion going into our next run."
After last Saturday's 2-2 draw at West Ham United - which was by many opinions gifted to them in the form of a head-scratching red card to West Ham's Cheikhou Kouyate with the Hammers leading 2-1 in the 67th minute - the Eagles remain 15th on 34 points.
They showed their heart is still very much in it," Pardew told the club's official website. "We've got ourselves into a bit of trouble but this is a great result. There were a lot of talking points."
Pardew even acknowledged the Kouyate punishment as excessive, and the West Ham claim was vindicated by the FA's decision Tuesday to rescind the card.
"The sending off was a key moment and was a bit harsh and I would've been disappointed to have that happen to one of my players," said Pardew before reiterating the point. "Every point in the Premier League is gold dust, especially to get something at West Ham. It was a great performance and a great result."
However, it stands as Palace's best result since winning at Stoke City on Dec. 19. The second round of fixtures has produced three points for the Eagles, while historically bad Aston Villa have eight with one more match played. Villa had eight in the first round, which is tied with 2011-12 Wolverhampton for the worst total for a cycle since Derby County had four points in the 2007-08 second round. The Eagles have seven matches to clear themselves of that company.
Still, six points to get to the typical safe haven of 40 could prove difficult. The seven-point gap seems unlikely to change this weekend with 18th-place Sunderland playing first-place Leicester City, but Palace follow Norwich with Everton, Arsenal and Manchester United before their FA Cup semifinal shot against Watford. They then close league play against Newcastle United, Stoke and Southampton, so the Canaries and Magpies are the only clubs they'll face outside of the top eight.
Opponents aside, they need to end a six-match skid at Selhurst Park that's tied with that same '97-98 span for their worst ever in the league. To help, they figure to have Yohan Cabaye and Connor Wickham back in the fold. Cabaye missed the West Ham match after suffering an injury during the international break with France, while Wickham last played March 1 and could be used in a substitute role.
Both were involved in a season-opening 3-1 win at Carrow Road as the Eagles improved to 4-2-1 against Norwich dating to the 2008-09 Championship season. It's been 10 matches since the Canaries scored more than one goal against Palace, though they've shown no such trepidation lately.
Norwich (8-7-17) returned from the international break with Saturday's 3-2 home win over Newcastle, giving them maximum points from their last two following a crippling 10-match winless span with two points.
Martin Olsson scored in stoppage time after Newcastle equalised in the 86th minute.
"The only thing we had in our mind was winning. We didn't want to draw so we went for it at the end and got the luck," Olsson told the club's official website. "We'll take it one game as a time, but we feel stronger as a team. Over our last few performances we've started to get things together."
It has them nine points shy of that 40-point mark and four up on Sunderland, and Alex Neil's side now plays a second straight game against a team in the bottom five. Next weekend against Sunderland will be their third.
"Games are running out now and this was one up against somebody who was right next to you in the table," Neil said. "For whatever team that could win it, it was going to be a massive three points."