Sheffield Wednesday. . .0
THE upside-down nature of the Premier League, with the unfashionable atop the national catwalk, has prompted many to focus on the fragility of the pre-season favourites rather than the vitality of those who are leading the way. The people who brought us the whole new ball game did not expect the likes of Norwich, Coventry and Blackburn to run off with the ball but England's top three are where they are on merit, their plethora of points coming from a welcome desire to attack.
Norwich are top, the elite's leading scorers and have dropped only five points in nine games. Why? They have no stars, no one likely to appear on a billboard selling boots. But the players possess two qualities most chairmen would sell their training grounds for: intelligence and versatility.
Footballers are creatures of instinct. Norwich's are no different, except that they flourish further by allying thought to natural gifts. 'We have got a very intelligent set of players here,' John Deehan, Mike Walker's assistant, said. The team listen and then contribute their own ideas. 'It would be nave of me and the manager to ignore the views of internationals,' Deehan added, thinking of Welshmen Mark Bowen, David Phillips and Jeremy Goss.
Walker, Deehan and the players do a lot of talking at half-time. They invariably need to - the only time Norwich have gone in ahead was against Wednesday on Saturday. But after tea and talk they are a different proposition. Ask Arsenal, who were cruising to an emphatic victory before Norwich hit back with four second-half goals. That triumphant turnaround has done more for Norwich's confidence than anything.
The intelligence that Deehan sees in his players is one of thought on the ball - Bowen, Phillips and Ian Crook rarely waste possession - and the belief that if you do not panic the game will turn your way.
The Canaries' versatility has also helped ensure seven wins. They are the Rory Bremners of football. The defender Chris Sutton can do a good impression of an attacker, while Bowen and Phillips could probably perform anywhere. The real flexible friend is Rob Newman, fast becoming the new Paul Madeley. This season, he has been centre-half, central midfield and centre-forward, a role he filled with distinction against Wednesday.
Newman beat Chris Woods after only 10 minutes but Mark Robins had strayed offside. Robins made amends 16 seconds before half-time: he reached the goal-line, confused John Harkes and Peter Shirtliff and crossed for Newman to power a header past Woods.
If the first half was low on goalmouth action until Newman scored, the second period was delightful end-to-end football. Goss, Newman, Butterworth and Crook were all unlucky not to add to Norwich's lead over a Wednesday side missing seven regulars.
The acid test will come when Norwich are faced with the sort of injury problems afflicting Wednesday. But having a squad of receptive players comfortable in a variety of positions lessens the impact when injuries claim key men.
Goal: Newman (44) 1-0.
Norwich City: Gunn; Culverhouse, Bowen, Butterworth, Sutton, Megson, Crook, Newman, Robins, Goss, Phillips. Substitutes not used: Sutch, Beckford, Walton (gk).
Sheffield Wednesday: Woods; Harkes, Worthington, Palmer, Shirtliff, Anderson, Wilson, Waddle, Bright, Bart-Williams, Francis (Jemson, 51; Pearson, 79). Substitute not used: Pressman (gk).
Referee: R Nixon (West Kirby, Wirral).Reuse content