Football: Norwich return to the summit

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The Independent Online
Nottingham Forest. . . . . . . . . . . . . . .0

Norwich City. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 3

NORWICH, driven on by the inspirational Ian Crook, confirmed at the City Ground last night what Alex Ferguson and Ron Atkinson have been saying for weeks - that the pursuit of the inaugural Premier League championship really is a three-horse race.

Their third successive victory not only left Nottingham Forest among the stragglers in the relegation zone, but also enabled the 25-1 outsiders from East Anglia to regain the leadership from the thoroughbreds of Manchester United and Aston Villa. Both have still to visit Carrow Road.

Norwich's return to the front, after a shaky two-month period in which they drifted eight points off the pace, owed much to a shrewd substitution by Mike Walker, who may yet emulate Kenny Dalglish by winning the title in his first season as manager.

Walker's pounds 800,000 snip from United, Mark Robins, had put Norwich ahead on the stroke of half-time. Seven minutes later, however, with Forest belatedly showing urgency commensurate with their plight, Robins was withdrawn in favour of the more combative Lee Power.

The substitute went on to score the second goal in the 73rd minute. Equally vitally, Power preoccupied the Forest defence to such an extent that it was no surprise when Crook, having already outplayed Forest at their own passing game, advanced from midfield to strike a third five minutes later.

For Forest, without five first-teamers through suspension and injury, the match was their season in cameo. Thorvaldur Orlygsson and Lee Glover each forced Bryan Gunn into stunning reflex saves, but there was a wretchedly familiar indecisiveness in both six-yard areas.

Nigel Clough, who as acting captain had exhorted his men 'scrap like Wimbledon', unwittingly contributed to the goal which rewarded Norwich's superiority in a low-key first half. His hastily taken free-kick was intercepted, and before Forest could react Crook sent Robins clear to fire his 15th goal of the season off a post.

Only a mixture of Gunn's good goalkeeping and their own wayward finishing prevented Forest from drawing level in a strong spell after half-time. Power then appeared, allowing Robins to rest the 'dead leg' he has apparently been carrying, and came within inches of scoring with only his second touch. Gary Bannister squandered another chance to equalise three minutes before Norwich's killing second goal. Crossley flapped feebly at a Crook corner, giving Power an opportunity he could scarcely miss, and then the goal-maker took Ian Culverhouse's pass to score with a rising drive which would have beaten the hapless keeper even without the aid of a deflection.

Nottingham Forest: Crossley; Charles, Laws, Chettle, Tiler, Orlygsson, Crosby (Black, h/t), Stone, Clough, Bannister (Glover, 74), Woan. Substitute not used: Marriott (gk).

Norwich City: Gunn; Culverhouse, Bowen, Sutton, Polston, Smith, Crook, Woodthorpe, Robins (Power, 52), Fox, Phillips. Substitutes not used: Goss, Walton (gk).

Referee: S Lodge (Barnsley).