Football: Norwich stay with title pace

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Norwich City . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .2

Manchester City. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .1

SO we thought we had heard the last of those silly ideas of Norwich being champions. They still have ambitions and in spite of some loss of style in recent weeks, they still have a chance, especially if they can continue to defy such odds as overcoming a record of having won only four times in 43 previous matches against Manchester City.

Although put under considerable second-half pressure, they frustrated the aerial threat of Niall Quinn and managed to cope with the width of the Manchester City team. Two goals within a two minute period in the first half appeared to secure their victory, but it might not have been so if Manchester City's finishing had been equal to their industry, especially that of the enterprising Mike Sheron and Garry Flitcroft.

This being a season in which any club anywhere in the top half of the table can be written off one week and written back into the script a few days later, Norwich, with their games in hand over Manchester United and Aston Villa, had to be watched. So too, though, did Manchester City, going well in the FA Cup and quietly hovering in the wings of the Premier League's title drama, which by happy chance rather than design is a different ball game from many a previous season because there is no monopoly.

No doubt the promotions people will take the credit for the season's openness, whereas the truth is that it would not take an extraordinary team to overcome a lot of ordinary opponents and succeed with a late run. Norwich could yet be that side but in the end perhaps their away record may deprive them.

The ominous ordinariness of yesterday's first third of what became an absorbing game was unexpectedly broken with the two goals in a minute and a half. Until then the absence of Manchester City's Peter Reid and Norwich's Ian Crook seemed likely to deprive the game of direction. As it was, Norwich took a decisive hold with two sharp breakaways amid a welter of stodgy midfield untidiness.

Only the ever-busy Ruel Fox and Manchester City's new Norwegian, Kare Ingebrigtsen, had attempted shots before, in the 29th minute, Mark Bowen and John Polston interchanged passes on the left, Bowen crossed and Mark Robins, scrambling on the ground, managed to get his head to the ball and ensure that Tony Coton was beaten by touching it over with his foot.

Having by now discovered that it was better to run the ball at Manchester City rather than attempt anything speculative against the height and strength of Michel Vonk, Norwich immediately took further advantage. A pass out of his own half by David Phillips was deflected into the possession of Lee Power, whose upward shot was unstoppable.

If Manchester City were to have any serious reply they had to say something early in the second half. Forty seconds was probably quicker than they expected and initially knocked the confidence out of Norwich. Keith Curle had won the ball and his forward pass saw Quinn head down into the penalty area where Sheron flicked the ball over Bryan Gunn.

The potential for a recovery might have been nullified had Coton not cleverly stopped a fierce shot from Power after one of Fox's many long, searching runs. Manchester City composed themselves again. Flitcroft, who had been eye-catching for the England Under-21 side in mid- week, then dropped a centre - or attempted shot - on to the crossbar and David White just failed to put the ball over the line from a yard out, a feat he repeated later when offered a free header.

The dullness of the game's early minutes was relegated to the memory as, on the hour, Curle's 40-yard free kick slipped through the hands of Gunn, who was fortunate to concede nothing more harmful than a corner.

Sheron's inspiring attacks when he moved wide to Manchester City's right and Fox's similar bursts on the other side for Norwich gave the whole game a refreshing breadth, but the finishing of both sides was disappointing. None the less, Norwich's tenacity in the face of relentless attacking and the threat of history was impressive.

Norwich City: B Gunn; I Culverhouse, M Bowen, I Butterworth, J Polston, G Megson, J Goss (D Sutch, 60 min), L Power (A Johnson, 89 min), M Robins, R Fox, D Phillips. Sub not used: M Walton (gk). Manager: M Walker.

Manchester City: T Coton; R Ranson, T Phelan (A Hill, 44 min), K Ingebrigtsen (M Quigley, 81 min), K Curle, M Vonk, D White, M Sheron, N Quinn, G Flitcroft, R Holden. Sub not used: A Dibble (gk). Player-Manager: P Reid.

Referee: B Hill (Wilbarston)

Goals: (Robins 1-0, 29 min); (Power 2-0, 30 min); Sheron (2-1, 46 min).