Yohan Cabaye celebrates after scoring the late third for Crystal Palace.
The talk around Carrow Road had been of using Crystal Palace as a benchmark for top-flight consolidation, and on this evidence there are worse standards to aspire to. Alex Neil’s newcomers lived up to their billing as a team that will not yield easily, responding admirably to goals from Wilfried Zaha and Damien Delaney and feeling aggrieved that an equaliser by the substitute Cameron Jerome was ruled out.
But this felt like the kind of victory a practiced Premier League side is required to eke out against fired-up opponents and, while Alan Pardew would prefer more poise in possession from his team, it will go down as an afternoon well managed by the poster boys for mid-table-upwards mobility.
The managers’ selections bore little similarity to one another although Pardew, while fielding wingers in Zaha and Jason Puncheon, opted for Jordan Mutch at the tip of his midfield in what seemed a concession to the numbers and bulk of Norwich’s diamond quartet.
Pardew had explained that the reasoning in signing debutant Yohan Cabaye was to allow Palace a considered alternative to the speed and brawn that characterised much of last season’s rise. That was wishful thinking during an opening 10 minutes that his team spent on the back foot, Norwich warming to the task with the appetite expected of a promoted side and Jonny Howson, pulling out to the right, joining the right-back Steven Whittaker in exposing the Palace left-back Pape Souaré.
It was Howson who crossed four minutes in for Grabban to tap wide from a few yards out and then, six minutes later, Whittaker whose centre Grabban jabbed against a post in front of an empty goal. On both occasions the striker was flagged offside, although there was no obvious offence for the second chance.
Palace’s main contribution by the half-hour had been a late challenge by Glenn Murray on Graeme Dorrans that the referee, Simon Hooper, leniently deemed unworthy of punishment. Murray has been the subject of a £3m bid from Bournemouth and should have reasserted his value to Palace with his side’s first opportunity. Souaré’s cross was headed back by Joel Ward and Murray, unattended six yards out, was thwarted by John Ruddy. The rebound spun awkwardly towards the byline and Murray could only jab it against the outside of the post.
But the balance had tilted and, if Palace’s 39th-minute opener was not quite on the cards, their threat had been building. After taming a crossfield pass, Puncheon beat Sébastien Bassong for pace on the right flank and chipped to the back post where Zaha, contorting acrobatically, squeezed a volley past Whittaker and the scrambling Ruddy.
Mutch almost doubled the lead, attempting a half-volley that Ruddy repelled. The home team’s movement had lost its zip and by half-time they seemed exactly where Palace, with Zaha and Puncheon poised on the counter, wanted them.
The impression was confirmed within four minutes of the restart when Souaré, appearing incongruously at the end of a deep Cabaye corner, headed across the area and the centre-back Delaney, formerly of Ipswich Town, scored unfussily. Norwich’s marking was, not for the first time, of the kind that does not bode well for a long Premier League spell.
There was nearly an instant response when Alex McCarthy blocked from Grabban and then – brilliantly – Bradley Johnson’s headed rebound. It felt like a moment as significant as the second goal and was immediately followed by the introductions of Jerome and the England Under-21 winger Nathan Redmond. The latter had nibbled at Palace’s full-backs to little effect when he appeared centrally in the 69th minute and sent a low 25-yard shot beyond McCarthy, who this time should have done better.
Norwich had a lifeline and thought they had completed the turnaround when Jerome’s overhead kick beat McCarthy. Hooper signalled that the striker’s foot had been high but it seemed harsh, particularly as Ward had not appeared to be facing Jerome as he challenged for the ball.
Scott Dann cleared Whittaker’s looping volley from under his own crossbar as Norwich retained the initiative, but their threat diminished as the minutes ticked down and it was left to Cabaye, whose performance had been understated, to sweep in a third goal from James McArthur’s pass during added time.
Just the sort of start all Palace fans were hoping for. First game of the season is about one thing and one thing only: The Result. A win to get things going. The best Omen for the coming campaign. The method of the victory is unimportant, there's only one First Game OF The Season. This was it. It's gone now but long may it's warm glow linger.
The Truth is a potent weapon. You are not allowed to take weapons into Government Buildings.