Football: Coventry falling for Ndlovu again

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Coventry City. 1

Norwich City. .1

THE SUN may have set on the Empire, but the stunning equaliser by Peter Ndlovu that earned Coventry a point proved there are still rich pickings in transfer imperialism.

The 19-year-old Zimbabwean, whose name is pronounced 'Un- love', first came to Highfield Road from the Highlanders club during John Sillett's reign as manager. When Sillett boasted that Coventry would be 'shopping at Harrods', he obviously meant 'shopping in Harare'.

Ndlovu, who idolises Bruce Grobbelaar and sometimes carries his boots in a Manchester United hold-all, cost pounds 10,000. Norwich are not the first to rue his budget- price brilliance. Exactly a year ago he hit a spectacular winner against Aston Villa (who themselves bought Dwight Yorke for peanuts in Tobago). Ndlovu failed to score again all season, and for every flash of class there was another when he looked as if he were playing courtesy of Jim'll Fix It.

Saturday's goal, Ndlovu's third in six games, epitomised his dramatic improvement: blistering pace and perfect balance as he burst in from his wide-left position, a sublime shimmy in the style of Jimmy Greaves at his peak to make the Norwich keeper Bryan Gunn commit himself, topped off by a wonderfully composed finish.

Bobby Gould, the present Coventry manager, later claimed that Ndlovu, with Ryan Giggs, was 'just behind George Best' in terms of ability. That was exaggeration bordering on sacrilege, but you could see what he was driving at. Ndlovu's lifestyle also gives him an advantage over the young Best, of which more anon.

Whereas Ndlovu is already an international - when Coventry play Scarborough and Chelsea next month he will be in Africa facing Togo and Angola in the World Cup - Ian Crook has yet to represent England at any level. Even in his 30th year, the Norwich playmaker is worth a place in Graham Taylor's squad on Thursday for the Group Two visit of Norway.

Crook, who came from Norwich's market-place equivalent of the Third World - Tottenham - for a give-away pounds 80,000 six years ago, had put the leaders ahead early on. A strong shot at the end of a typically slick build-up was impressive for starters, and he went on to spray the ball around, long and short, with energy and vision.

For a top-of-the-table match it was long on entertainment if short on quality, the goals apart. The referee, Alf Buksh, did his bit by booking instead of banishing the Norwich defender Chris Sutton, as the rules obliged him to, for a foul that denied Kevin Gallacher a scoring opportunity.

As for either club staying the pace, that seems unlikely on this showing. Take the best from both teams, though, and they might sustain a challenge. Coventry lack a midfield passer to complement a surfeit of scufflers and the leaders could use their solidity at centre- back - but at least it will be fun while it lasts.

Last week's well-publicised 'Guinness therapy' was an example of the new, carefree Coventry. The brewers might be less chuffed to learn that Ndlovu, despite a Best-like moment of pure genius, is in a temperance league of his own.

Goals: Crook (14) 0-1; Ndlovu (37) 1-1.

Coventry City: Ogrizovic; Borrows, Sansom (Babb, 78), Atherton, Pearce, Ndlovu, McGrath, Hurst, Rosario, Gallacher, Williams. Substitutes not used: Fleming, Gould (gk).

Norwich City: Gunn; Culverhouse, Bowen, Polston, Sutton, Sutch, Crook, Newman, Robins, Goss, Phillips. Substitutes not used: Woodthorpe, Beckford, Walton (gk).

Referee: A Buksh (London).