Football: Norwich stem the red tide

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The Independent Online
Manchester United. .2

Giggs 30, McClair 42

Norwich City. .2

Sutton 31, Fox (pen) 47

Attendance: 44,694

THEY were without four significant first-teamers, they lost their captain at half-time, and they face perhaps the most important match in the club's history in midweek, but Norwich City refused to fall beneath the scarlet tide yesterday.

Twice they went behind, to goals by Ryan Giggs and Brian McClair, and twice they equalised, through Chris Sutton and, from the penalty spot, Ruel Fox. In a match both exhilarating and intellectually satisfying, not even Eric Cantona at his most resplendent - and, occasionally, truculent - could force the East Anglian side into submission.

United, lucky to lead 2-1 after a first half in which Norwich's patient, assiduous approach play always promised danger, stormed through the second half in a torrent of attacking play, led by Cantona and a hungry Giggs. But they failed to make the most of the many chances which fell their way, and Fox's penalty, awarded after a misunderstanding between Gary Pallister and Peter Schmeichel, cost the Premiership leaders their third dropped home point of the season.

Cantona was the first to work out that something more than a frontal assault would be required if Norwich's five-man defence was to be broken down - as it had been on the season's opening day, when United won 2-0 at Carrow Road. Withdrawing into deep positions, he was clearly hoping to pull the markers out of position, leaving room for others to make late runs.

The Canaries had already mounted several promising attacks of their own when Cantona's stratagem paid off after half an hour. Wandering in no man's land, he controlled a loose clearance and floated it over the Norwich defence for the on-rushing Giggs to slide it home across Bryan Gunn. Within a minute, though, the visitors were level when Sutton took advantage of indecision by Gary Pallister and Denis Irwin to drive in from 20 yards.

It was no more than Norwich deserved for the constant threat of Sutton and the calm midfield accuracy of Jeremy Goss. But when United regained the lead 10 minutes later it was with a goal that owed everything to intelligence and close skills. A move involving Cantona and Giggs, and highlighted by the Welsh winger's ice-cool flick to his French colleague, climaxed with McClair's sudden incursion and close- range shot.

Significantly, Norwich again almost equalised from the kick-off, and United were guilty of dozing five minutes into the second half when Pallister lost a race with Sutton and, seeing Schmeichel reluctant to come out, barged the Norwich forward over no more than 10 yards from goal. The linesman waved furiously, the referee took his word for it, and Fox stepped up and slammed the kick through the hole in the air where Schmeichel had just been standing.

For the next 40 minutes, Cantona got through enough work to win half a dozen matches against less composed or deserving sides. He met Giggs's raking left-wing cross with his chest, but saw it rebound to Bryan Gunn. He back-heeled to McClair, and then lofted one chip towards Giggs with such delicacy that you thought he might have swapped his right boot for a carpet-slipper. He brought a marvellous diving save from Gunn. He would probably have met one skimming cross at the far post had Giggs not unsighted him. He headed down, with microscopic accuracy, for McClair to put a cross-shot wide. And, when Culverhouse seemed to wrestle him down, he got up and rebuked the Norwich defender with an imperious swipe of his arm. Mr Bodenham let them shake hands and get on with it; a wise piece of laisser-faire refereeing which maintained the good temper of a magnificent match.

Without Ian Crook, John Polston, Efan Ekoku and Mark Robins, Norwich also overcame the loss of Ian Butterworth at half-time. Their defence never looked as secure thereafter, but this was a result that will put them in good heart for the task of overcoming Internazionale's one-goal lead in Milan on Wednesday.

(Photograph omitted)