Football: Canaries fly with Fox on run

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Norwich City. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .2

Wimbledon . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .1

CARROW ROAD is beginning to resemble an off-licence. Two more bottles arrived on Saturday, bubbly bounty for Mike Walker's managing and Mark Robins's finishing, but none will be opened until the title is decided. The fluid reward was a fitting tribute to Norwich's champagne football (notably at Villa Park last week), yet against Wimbledon they proved they also possess a taste for Vimto football - little class but plenty of bite.

The Dons, who had lost only two of their previous 14 League meetings with Norwich, never gave the Canaries or the ball any peace, closing down Walker's main creative forces such as Ian Crook and Ruel Fox until late on. But Norwich are not the effete outfit they used to be: they traded challenges willingly, never gave up running, and secured the points with what is fast becoming a Carrow Road trademark - late goals manufactured by Fox on the right.

The Dons deserved at least a point, which they were denied in the final minute when Fox, looking a yard offside, crossed from the right for David Phillips to score at the far post. This was rough justice. After a fruitless first half which made the economy seem buoyant, Wimbledon took the initiative and then the lead through Lawrie Sanchez's near-post flicked header from Brian McAllister's inswinging corner in the 54th minute.

Norwich preserved an unbeaten home record 13 minutes from time with a classic Canaries move. Fox, at last finding freedom on the right, cut the ball back to Ian Culverhouse. Norwich's impressive right- back, who could revert to sweeper for Saturday's testing visit to a revitalised Manchester United, curled the ball on to the six-yard line in front of Hans Segers, Dean Blackwell failed to clear, and Robins's right foot did the rest.

Phillips's late intervention extended Norwich's lead at the Premier peak to eight points but Walker agreed it had not been pretty. 'It's very difficult to get the ball down on the floor, when it's always up in the air,' he said. 'Norwich are not particularly known for sticking at it but we kept digging.'

The Canaries often freeze in winter but with players like Phillips, Crook and Culverhouse capable of hitting long balls wide to Fox and Daryl Sutch, they have the tactics and temperament to enter the new year with a healthy lead intact.

Some of the millions who doubt Norwich's stature may be convinced if Patrik Andersson, Malmo's accomplished Swedish international defender who rejected Liverpool and Leeds, arrives at Carrow Road. Talks about a pounds 700,000 transfer continue this week. They might need him at Old Trafford.

Goals: Sanchez (54) 0-1; Robins (77) 1-1; Phillips (89) 2-1.

Norwich City: Gunn; Culverhouse, Bowen, Butterworth, Polston, Sutch (Megson, 75), Crook, Beckford (Sutton, 71), Robins, Fox, Phillips. Substitute not used: Walton (gk).

Wimbledon: Segers; Talboys, Joseph, Jones (Fashanu, 62), Scales, McAllister, Blackwell, Earle, Holdsworth (Gibson, 76), Sanchez, Miller. Substitute not used: Sullivan (gk).

Referee: R Groves (Weston-super-Mare).