Football: Ndlovu demonstrates the closest control

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Coventry City. . .1

Norwich City . . .1

THE CLASH of the cheeky usurpers at Highfield Road did little to convince anyone that if the big names of the Premier League can eventually pull themselves together they will have much to fear from two clubs who yesterday were competent without ever shaking the establishment.

Yet the inverted nature of the League in this still early stage of the season is not entirely the result of some freak of the unnatural. Why should the top dogs always come from the plushest kennels? Coventry and Norwich have been well groomed for what they do, which is to make the best of their resources, and work hard and selflessly. Yesterday, both hoped to take advantage of a situation in which several of the clubs who traditionally romp ahead had their tails between their legs.

Coventry, particularly, usually contribute to football what The Archers offer drama. How long they can continue to upstage more classy acts depends to an important extent on keeping injuries at bay, just as it does for Norwich, who yesterday were fortunate that John Polston and Ian Crook were able to continue after particularly nasty early collisions. Nothing much seems to stop this now more positive Norwich side from energetically getting forward in support of that excellent buy Mark Robins.

Their enterprising counter-attacking allowed Norwich to combat a lot of Coventry pressure and score a 14th-minute goal that was well worked on the right side by Daryl Sutch and finished with a deftly struck shot inside the far post by the recovered Crook. However, Norwich might easily have given away that advantage when Mark Bowen, in trying to clear a goalmouth scramble, contrived to hit his own goalkeeper's legs. The ball flew back into play when it might just as easily have sailed in.

For a time it seemed that Coventry's pace on either side of attack would not be equalled in the centre. In the event, that was irrelevant since the young Zimbabwean Peter Ndlovu, came gliding athletically in from the left, cut into the penalty area, enticed Gunn off his line and drove in a delightful goal.

In fact Ndlovu's goal was out of context with a match that contained insufficient quality to be taken seriously as an example of top-of-the-table football. Much of it was well intentioned and, admittedly, less frantic than has become the norm in the Premier League, but it was largely inconclusive.

The pleasantness of it all was temporarily broken when Kevin Gallacher went charging in pursuit of Steve Ogrizovic's typical long clearance. With only Gunn a serious impediment to Gallacher's scoring, Chris Sutton felled him just as he was about to enter the penalty area. The referee's decision to caution Sutton rather than send him off emphasised the confusion that still exists in the interpretation of the 'professional foul'.

Fortunately, the decision resulted in no lasting grudges. Coventry became more determined while Norwich drew back. But determination was insufficient. Over-elaboration and sloppy final passes continually hampered Coventry, and any ball lifted over from the wings invariably cleared the whole of the penalty area. Only Ndlovu remained a source of real originality. His close control is superb, and he tackles back like a demon. The plodding Robert Rosario, hoping to impress against his old club, was unable to take advantage and much attacking responsibility fell to Gallacher, lively, quick, willing and unrewarded.

The finishing of both sides left Ndlovu's goal like a beacon of hope that was not to be outshone. The game drifted into the sort of event one might have expected of these teams last season when the equivalent match attracted only 6,500 spectators.

Coventry City: S Ogrizovic; B Borrows, K Sansom (P Babb, 79 min), P Atherton, A Pearce, P Ndlovu, L McGrath, L Hurst, R Rosario, K Gallacher, J Williams. Subs not used: T Fleming, J Gould (gk). Manager: B Gould.

Norwich City: B Gunn; I Culverhouse, M Bowen, J Polston, C Sutton, D Sutch, I Crook, R Newman, M Robins, J Goss, D Phillips. Subs not used: C Woodthorpe, D Beckford, M Walton (gk). Manager: M Walker.

Referee: A Buksh (London).

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