Alan Pardew hails Jason Puncheon after Crystal Palace end wait for victory
Crystal Palace boss Alan Pardew lauded Jason Puncheon after the midfielder's first goal of the season all but mathematically sealed Premier League survival.
Palace had lost nine of their prior 14 games - and six straight at home - before Puncheon's strike earned a 1-0 win over Norwich and surely secured the Eagles' top-flight status.
Pardew refused to celebrate survival with Palace 16th, on 37 points and 10 points clear of third bottom Sunderland with six games to go. But he did praise Puncheon.
"He carries this football club in his heart," Pardew said.
"Some players play for a football club, they're professional, but they have no emotion to it. He's born here, his family are all from here. They were probably all in the stands today.
"He was feeling the pain of this run. His introduction back in the last two games has been a huge lift for us. Not just because of the manner in which he plays, but his personality and his leadership.
"He hasn't had his greatest season in terms of goals and assists, but he's a massive individual for this football club. He represents everything that's right about a black player, coming from this area.
"The way he conducts himself, handles himself around younger pros, particularly from ethnic origin. He's a great credit to this football club. It couldn't be more fitting that he got the goal, but I was absolutely delighted it was him."
It was Palace's first home win since the defeat of Southampton almost four months ago.
Pardew pointed to the FA Cup wins over Saints, Tottenham and Reading which have taken the Eagles to a Wembley semi-final, but he also sensed anxiety in the ranks.
He added: "When you're on a run like we have (been on)... I was nervous today and I've been in this game a long, long time.
"If I'm going to feel like that, (the players) certainly will and they played like that.
"We probably just had enough on the pitch offensively to win it.
"I don't know if we're safe, but it's gone a long, long way towards it.
"We want to look up. Mid-table is three, four points, only, away, and that's our next target."
It is 20 years in May since Norwich last won at Palace and their failure to get a point meant Aston Villa survived for another day.
The loss also means Alex Neil's 17th-placed side can still join Villa in being demoted, piling more importance on next Saturday's clash with Sunderland.
"It was always going to be a big match. The game today doesn't change that," the Norwich boss said.
The Black Cats are four points behind, but have two games in hand, the first against leaders Leicester on Sunday.
Norwich, who had beaten West Brom and Newcastle in successive games, appealed in vain for a first-half penalty after Damien Delaney's challenge on Matt Jarvis.
Asked about the penalty, Neil said: "I feel probably more aggrieved about the fact that I didn't think either team did enough to win the game. I don't think it was a game where Crystal Palace did any better than us.
"(The game) was a bit of a non-event. I didn't really enjoy watching it.
"You could see in both teams how much it meant. It was one of those games where it was going to be decided by a bit of quality or a mistake.
"A bit of quality from Jason Puncheon managed to get the points for them."
Pardew described Delaney's challenge as "robust" and praised Michael Oliver as the best referee in the Premier League.
"Matt was adamant at half-time that it was a penalty," Neil added.
"I think the magnitude of the game the referee had to be 100% spot on to give it."
Neil hopes Tim Klose's knee injury does not lead to a lengthy absence.
"We'll be really hopeful it's not going to be too bad," the Scot added.
Asked if he felt he should have earned a penalty, Jarvis said on Norwich's official website: "Yes, I thought so.
"I just gambled on the flick on, jumped, took it on my chest and just got wiped out. He (Oliver) gave a corner which was bizarre."