Football: Norwich need some Blues' steel

Norwich City 0 Birmingham City 1
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The Independent Online
IT IS something of a paradox when two opposing managers send out teams who play in complete contrast to the way they approach the game as players.

Bruce Rioch, who distinguished himself in a successful playing career with Derby County and Scotland, has fashioned a Norwich City side which does much to distance itself from the discipline and determination which earned him 24 caps for his country.

A neat passing game, a hallmark of past Norwich sides, is still in evidence, but is overshadowed by the teams lack of creativity and commitment. It says something about character when - after conceding a goal within the first 11 minutes, at Carrow Road - they were unable to carve open a shot on goal for the entire second half.

On paper, Rioch has the perfect blend. Matt Jackson, Craig Fleming and Iwan Roberts are players who possess enough physical presence to compete at this level and combined with the revered talents of Paul Dalglish, Phil Mulryne and Cedric Anselin they should blossom.

Anselin, who appeared in a Uefa Cup final as an 18-year-old for Bordeaux alongside the likes of Zinedine Zidane, was incandescent but, despite his sublime talent, he is in desperate need of a midfield minder.

Trevor Francis is finally on the way to completing the jigsaw at St Andrew's. Forced out of his previous clubs, Queen's Park Rangers and Sheffield Wednesday, the former European Cup winner has the Premiership firmly in his sight.

The semi-final defeat against Watford in the play-off last May has long been forgotten and he has added the steely resolve, which is necessary to rise to the top of the First Division.

Stan Lazardis, the maverick midfielder from West Ham, is proving a snip at pounds 750,000 and the central defender David Holdsworth, signed from Sheffield United late last season, returned from suspension to give an accomplished all-round performance.

The strength in depth of Francis's squad was illustrated by the luxury of affording last season's top scorer, Dele Adebola, a place on the substitutes' bench in order to give 18-year-old Andrew Johnson his first full League start.

Francis has been so impressed with the youngster's pre-season form that he decided to hand him a starting place against Exeter City in the midweek Worthington Cup tie - he scored - and already his playing style has been likened to his illustrious manager.

Francis said he should have added to his tally but he will be more relieved about the contribution of the winger Jon McCarthy, who scored the winner after a wonderful solo run early in the game: it was his first goal for 18 months.

Goal: McCarthy (11) 0-1

Norwich City (4-4-2) A Marshall; Sutch, Fuglestad (Diop, 35), Jackson (Mackay, 26) Fleming; De Blasiis, Anselin, Mulryne, Llewellyn (L Marshall, 71); Dalglish, Roberts. Substitutes not used: Coote, Green (gk).

Birmingham City (4-4-2) Poole; Rowett, Grainger, Holdsworth, M Johnson; Lazaridis (Hyde, 71), Hughes, McCarthy, O'Connor; Furlong (Adebola, 62), A Johnson. Substitutes not used: Forinton, Purse, Knight (gk).

Referee: A Butler (Sutton-in-Ashfield).

Bookings: Norwich: Diop. Birmingham: McCarthy, Furlong.

Man of the match: Holdsworth.

Attendance: 15,261.