Queen's Park Rangers. .1
A FORTNIGHT after their seven-goal mauling at Ewood Park, Norwich leapfrogged over Blackburn Rovers to return to the top of the Premier League with the narrowest of victories over an enterprising Rangers side at Carrow Road yesterday.
The first half promised much but delivered little; the second saw both neat passing sides add urgency to their endeavours to produce a thoroughly entertaining 45 minutes packed with incident. Goals from Mark Bowen, a penalty, and Chris Sutton, took Norwich clear before Bradley Allen pulled one back with a flash of that familiar Allen family finesse in the box.
'The last 10 minutes was a bit hairy, but I'm delighted we're top of the League,' Mike Walker, the Canaries manager, said. The ascent was well deserved, built on the excellence of Sutton in the second half and Bryan Gunn throughout. The popular Scottish goalkeeper had not been expected to play after the death of his two- year-old daughter through leukaemia last Sunday, but Gunn decided he was in the right frame of mind and received a standing ovation when he jogged out of the tunnel into the East Anglian sunshine.
'He made it plain to me that he was ready to play and he was tremendous all afternoon,' Walker said. Gunn was nearly beaten after 22 minutes. Norwich's midfielders, Jeremy Goss and Ian Crook, lost the ball in a ruck 30 yards out and Dennis Bailey threaded a pass through to Gary Penrice. The Rangers striker darted forward menacingly but should have done better than float the ball wide. Norwich had the lion's share of the chances, Mark Robins showing his agility midway through the first half with a little jink and shot that Jan Stejskal gathered well. Crook then demanded an even smarter save from the Rangers keeper with a firm drive.
Sutton, Robins' striking partner, looked sluggish in the first half but he gave a hint of what was to come with a snap shot that slipped just wide four minutes from the break. Seconds later he laid the ball off to Robins, whose chip was tipped on to the bar by the athletic Stejskal.
The tempo quickened throughout the second period. David Phillips, Norwich's Welsh international, started the fun with a goal- bound drive which was blocked by Peacock. The next intervention, in the 53rd minute, by the chunky Rangers centre-half, was less constructive. Sutton, ordered at halftime to make more direct runs into the box, was pulled down by Peacock and Bowen beat Stejskal from the spot.
Rangers were unlucky not to equalise six minutes later when Bailey's right-wing cross was deflected past Gunn by Ian Culverhouse. It ricocheted down off the bar and appeared to cross the line before bouncing clear. The referee waved play on. 'The lads reckoned it was at least three yards over,' Gerry Francis, the Rangers manager, said, 'they might have been exaggerating, but I think it was definitely in.'
Norwich added insult to injustice in the 64th minute when Sutton escaped the close attentions of Peacock to head home Daryl Sutch's cross from the right. It was a superb goal, but it also stirred Rangers into more direct action.
With 13 minutes remaining Allen, who had just come on for Penrice, seized on Phillips's sloppy back pass to wrong-foot Gunn, his finish executed with all the aplomb of his older brother, Clive. Rangers strove hard for the equaliser, but Gunn stood firm. Andy Sinton, the England winger at the heart of many Rangers attacks, was carried off with a knee ligament injury and is a doubtful for next weekend's game against Leeds. 'Enjoy the journey home,' Francis said, 'I won't'
Norwich City: B Gunn; I Culverhouse, M Bowen, I Butterworth, J Polston, D Sutch, I Crook, D Phillips, M Robins (L Power, 74 min), J Goss, C Sutton. Subs not used: R Newman, M Walton (gk). Manager: M Walker.
Queen's Park Rangers: J Stejskal; D Bardsley, C Wilson, R Wilkins, D Peacock, A McDonald, A Impey, I Holloway, D Bailey, G Penrice (B Allen 67 min), A Sinton (D Maddix 82 min). Sub not used: T Roberts (gk) Manager: G Francis.
Referee: D Gallagher (Banbury).
Goals: Bowen pen (1-0, 53 min); Sutton (2-0, 64 min); Allen (2-1, 77 min).Reuse content