Palace Ladies continued with their efforts to secure the sole promotion spot to The FA Women's Premier League top tier, with another commanding performance against Norwich City Ladies on Sunday at Bromley FC.
In a week that had seen title rivals Gillingham drop points in a midweek draw, Palace knew that a win on Sunday was vital. Speaking before the match, Manager Dean Davenport acknowledged the importance of the fixture.
"The two points dropped by Gillingham on Wednesday will certainly benefit us as we head into the end of the season, but it certainly doesn't mean we can afford to relax or take our foot off the gas. The Ladies all know that the season is 22 games long and every game is as important as the others. Today is no different against a Norwich side who we know little about, not having played them yet this season."
Palace were led out by their match mascots from Caterham Pumas Under 11s, and joined The Canaries in the centre of the pitch to pay their respects to lifelong Palace fan Steve Males, who sadly passed away recently. A poignant moment amongst so many Palace fans.
The match started with Palace gaining full control from a Norwich side weakened by absences. The Eagles dominated early possession and had numerous efforts on the Norwich goal, but were thwarted by a combination of resilient, at times heroic, defending and the quality of finishing needed to break the deadlock. Whilst the visitors were rarely able to threaten the Palace goal, only having one attempt in the first half that was well dealt with by the returning Chanell Yardley, they were incredibly diligent in defensive duties.
The returning Rochelle Shakes was a strong influence in the centre of the park with good combination work between Alma Donohoe and Fran Ali, regularly causing the Norwich right back concern. The Palace pressure resulted in a number of corners that were expertly delivered by Freya Holdaway, however the girls could still not find a breakthrough.
On 28 minutes things finally changed, with the Norwich defence positioned for another Holdaway cross, she played the ball perfectly to Dononhoe on the edge of the Palace box, who met it perfectly with her left foot and fired it into the bottom right corner.
Palace continued to press Norwich for the remainder of the half, but to their credit, the visitors held out to the break. With the news that Gillingham were drawing 1-1 with MK Dons at half time, Palace knew that they had to finish the job in the second half. Looking to exploit the inevitable tiredness of a depleted opponent, Davenport sent the team out with a simple message. Stay calm, play your football and take your chances.
The hosts started the half at a good pace, with some effective passing and movement. This was rewarded early on with the crucial second goal, when Gemma Bryan turned her defender on the left of the box, drove to the touchline, cut back in to create an angle, and drove the ball home from close range. Palace now moved into top gear and looked to add to the tally, doing so shortly after in the 63rd minute, when a speculative cross-shot from Pammy McRoberts eluded the Norwich keeper to put Palace three up.
With Palace making changes that saw Nicha Dyett, Jade Davenport and Liz Berkeley replace Abi Igbavboa, Leanne Bell and Rochelle Shakes, they turned the screw on a faltering but defiant Norwich defence. A fourth was added in the 70th minute following good work by Dyett, who laid the ball off for Ali to expertly dispatch from twelve yards.
Despite some excellent defending by the Norwich captain at centre back and some instinctive and at times, unconventional goalkeeping, Palace were able to add a fifth and final goal; a second for Bryan who unleashed an unstoppable strike from 22 yards to round off the 5-0 final score line.
Speaking after the game, a pleased Davenport spoke of another match ticked off the season run-in. "First of all I would like to give our opponents Norwich a huge amount of respect. A good young team, depleted on the day who gave their all for their club today. From our point of view with our destiny in our own hands, a win was first and foremost. Having said that, against a team that was resolute behind the ball I thought we played some good football throughout and showed good patience and control where needed."
Asked as to how he was looking at the next few games, Davenport added, "It still, as ever, remains one game at a time for us. We have just found out that Gillingham lost today to MK Dons, who we face next week. This obviously helps in our creating more of a gap from The Gills, and is an additional bonus for us. However we go into the next game like any other. MK will know that their chance of a league title will require three wins from their last three, including us next week. That should be another good game and one that we will fully prepare for, like any other."
Asked if there would be any consideration given to the upcoming County Cup Final (Thursday 21st April), Davenport said, "We believe in the squad we have and look to deploy the strongest line up for all games. We will not be taking any games lightly and will plan as we have all season. The Ladies have proved, time and time again, that they are resilient, resourceful and reliable, so we will give it our all, in all games.
Asked to look forwards to the trip to MK Dons, next Sunday, Davenport commented, "MK are a good set-up with whom we have had some very close games in the past few seasons. Having beaten them earlier in the season, they will be keen to even the score. This is also added to by the incentive that a win over us will keep their League title ambitions alive. So we are expecting a tough game, but will be fully prepared and hopefully welcoming back some of our recently injured players to the squad. The one thing that you can be assured of is that we are Palace and we will be doing what Palace do best. Giving it our all."
Palace Ladies travel to MK Dons next Sunday (17th April) in The FA Women's Premier League. Kick off is at 2pm. Details of this and all Palace Ladies news is available at www.crystalpalaceladiesfc.co.uk and Twitter @PalaceLadiesFC