Football: Norwich reliant on the end game

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The Independent Online
Norwich City. . 1

Southampton. . .0

NORWICH CITY'S table-topping start to the season is primarily the result of their match-winning finishes: of their 14 goals, 12 have come in the last 35 minutes. Their manager, Mike Walker, was keen to point out that a strong finish has been the mark of Liverpool for years.

An impartial spectator at Carrow Road, however, would have been pretty pushed to find any likeness with the Anfield standard-setters. The team the bookies favoured for relegation did not look as though they can continue as they have started.

For all Norwich's failure to stamp any authority on the game, though, their last 10 minutes was an impressive show of strength. Bar a brief period in the first half, during which Rob Newman missed three chances on the trot, this game was Southampton's for the taking. Until the finishing straight, that is, when they tailed in a poor second. One of the ball's rare excursions out of the Southampton half and as far as the half- way line was for the restart after Norwich had scored.

Talking of finishing, who else but Mark Robins would be in the right place at the right time, and the cross that he nudged in was David Phillips's second in three minutes to pass in front of the goal-line without a defender nearby.

Norwich have stamina and, as Walker pointed out, a fair dose of resolute determination. The game was, he said, 'a test to see if the players would drop their heads'. Walker has also injected mettle into a team that often looked more accomplished ball-winning than ball-distributing, their traditional forte. Tackles would arrive hard, sometimes late, and often both at the same time. Southampton's Terry Hurlock - not famous for shying away from confrontation - was a pussycat next to the bulldog challenges that twice bit hard at the heels of both David Speedie and Perry Groves.

The referee, Keith Hackett, failed to muzzle Norwich's bite, but Southampton managed to break up Norwich's passing pattern, much as they had done Liverpool's, Middlesbrough's and Manchester United's in the last fortnight. The result? An unstructured scramble. The shine, so evident in Norwich's televised challenge with Nottingham Forest last week, had rubbed off. The League leaders were totally bereft of their polished finish. Until the finish, that is.

Goal: Robins (87) 1-0.

Norwich City: Gunn; Culverhouse, Bowen, Butterworth (Robins, 32), Sutton, Megson, Crook, Newman, Power, Gough, Phillips. Substitutes not used: Sutch, Walton (gk).

Southampton: Flowers; Dodd, Benali, Hurlock, Monkou, Moore, Le Tissier, Maddison, Dowie, Speedie, Groves. Substitutes not used: Kenna, Banger, Andrews (gk).

Referee: K Hackett (Sheffield).