Crystal Palace won their first Premier League game of 2016, beating Norwich City 1-0 to ease their lingering relegation fears.
Jason Puncheon had missed a portion of Palace’s struggles since the turn of the year with a hamstring injury, but the attacking midfielder picked a timely moment to score his first goal of the season, with a superb long-range strike that settled a tense Selhurst Park contest midway through the second half.
Norwich came into the match unbeaten in their previous three matches but struggled to impose themselves and sit fourth bottom – four points ahead of Sunderland, who play the first of two games in hand against leaders Leciester City on Sunday.
Palace are now 10 points better off than Sunderland and could take another huge step towards safety with a win over Everton on Wednesday.
Alan Pardew welcomed back Yohan Cabaye from injury and Dwight Gayle led the Palace attack against an unchanged Norwich XI.
Palace goalkeeper Wayne Hennessey was a bailed out by his defenders when he dropped Gary O’Neil’s 12th-minute free-kick, before the hosts spurned the game’s first clear opening.
Pape Souare fed the ball back into the box from Yannick Bolasie’s right-wing centre to give Puncheon a glorious chance eight yards from goal, but he lost his footing and sliced against the nearest defender.
From the resulting corner, Dieumerci Mbokani cleared Cabaye’s shot away from the goalmouth.
Norwich winger Matt Jarvis was furious not to receive a penalty shortly after the half-hour mark when he was barged over by Damien Delaney.
Timm Klose came off worse in a challenge with Gayle to force Norwich defender Sebastien Bassong into the fray before the end of the first half, which ended goalless after Mbokani scrambled wide from close range and an injury-time flurry of Palace pressure came to nothing.
Scott Dann stretched to blaze over on the half-volley when Norwich keeper John Ruddy missed Cabaye’s 54th-minute corner as the match continued in a cagey fashion.
Bolasie clattered beyond the crossbar from Puncheon’s left-wing cross, leaving his team-mate to show him how it was done in the 68th minute.
Puncheon moved in from the right to collect Joel Ward’s pass and lashed an unstoppable shot into the far corner from 25 yards.
Hennessey was alert to deny Ryan Bennett at close quarters as Norwich’s quest for a quick reply also saw Soure bravely block a Brady attempt.
There was now space for Palace’s pacey forwards to exploit on the break and Wilfried Zaha fired too close to Ruddy when he escaped the attentions of the Norwich backline.
Bolasie almost prodded home a second but further entertainment arrived for the Palace fans when Patrick Bamford – on for Norwich following an unsuccessful loan stint at Selhurt Park – fluffed an attempted chip over Hennessey.
It meant Norwich, who sent Ruddy forward in vain for a pair of late set plays, left empty-handed ahead of a potentially decisive showdown with Sunderland at Carrow Road next Saturday.
Key Opta stats:
– Palace became the final team in the top four tiers to secure a league win in 2016 (D3 L9).
– Norwich have kept just one clean sheet in 17 away games this season in the Premier League.
– Norwich are winless in 15 away league games against Palace, last winning yhere in May 1996 (D5 L10).
– Palace kept their first clean sheet in the league since December, ending a run of 12 games without one.