Football: Owls put clawless Canaries to flight

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The Independent Online
Sheffield Wednesday. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .1

Norwich City . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .0

CHAMPIONS? At this rate Norwich will do well to end the season as champions of their own East Anglian backyard. Without a goal for seven and a half hours, without a win for five weeks, the eight- point lead they enjoyed at the beginning of December has been whittled away, with Manchester United newly installed as leaders and championship favourites.

Norwich need to start scoring again, and quickly, if they are not to drop out of contention. Their chances of doing so, and recovering their lost momentum, were scarcely enhanced yesterday when Mark Robins, their main striker, was carried off and taken to hospital for X-rays on a damaged ankle.

At no stage did they look the part as title aspirants, a late flurry rooted not so much in their own creative ability as Wednesday's sudden propensity for giving the ball away.

The dark horses of last year had much the better of it against this season's surprise package. In the language of the aviary, the Owls made short work of putting the Canaries to flight.

Back at something like full strength after a debilitating spate of injuries, Wednesday are heading out of the doldrums with three wins and that scintillating 3-3 draw with Manchester United in their last four games.

The only quibble with another restorative victory was that the margin should have been much more convincing. Trevor Francis, their player-manager, has been bemoaning his team's profligacy of late, and took up the theme with some feeling last night. 'When you have 22 shots at goal - and some of them were excellent chances - you should be scoring more than one,' he said.

The quality of Wednesday's football had again given him great satisfaction, but he added: 'We are capable of creating chances against any opposition, but we've got to be much more ruthless in front of goal.'

The culprits included Mark Bright, Viv Anderson and Chris Waddle, all of whom failed to hit the target from promising positions in a first half-hour which ended in a chaotic escape for Norwich, when Bryan Gunn picked up Ian Butterworth's back-pass.

From the consequent free-kick, which John Sheridan nudged sideways, David Hirst let fly with all his muscular power, and David Phillips handled the ball to keep his facial features intact.

A penalty? Harsh, perhaps, with self-preservation uppermost in the defender's mind, but his use of the hands undoubtedly cost Wednesday a goal.

The referee sided with Phillips, and again did Wednesday no favours two minutes later when Sheridan drove the ball home from 20 yards, only for Hirst, who was lying injured, to be given offside.

Lucky Norwich? If they were, their good fortune ran out after 34 minutes when Robins collapsed under what looked like a harmless challenge by Anderson, and spent the rest of the afternoon in casualty.

Norwich should have been in there with him. Battered remorselessly, they could have fallen behind to decent strikes from Hirst or Waddle before Wednesday finally took the lead, four minutes before half-time, when Bryan Gunn failed to hold Sheridan's 25- yarder and Nigel Worthington was in quickly to dispatch the loose ball.

Chris Woods was called upon to protect his team's slender advantage with a smothering save at Phillips's feet, but the withering onslaught was soon resumed, with Gunn denying Hirst on three more occasions. Bright and Waddle also had further reason to rue the bravery and agility of Norwich's overworked goalkeeper.

Ruel Fox and Phillips spurned inviting chances at the death, but an equaliser would have been a travesty. Wednesday are on the up and up. They could yet pass Norwich, heading in the opposite direction.

Sheffield Wednesday: Woods; Nilsson, Worthington, Harkes, Anderson (Warhurst, 45), Shirtliff, Wilson, Waddle, Hirst (Bart-Williams, 85), Bright, Sheridan. Substitute not used: Pressman (gk).

Norwich City: Gunn; Culverhouse, Bowen, Butterworth, Polston, Megson, Crook, Power, Robins (Sutch, 37), Fox, Phillips. Substitutes not used: Walton (gk), Woodthorpe.

Referee: D Allison (Lancaster).

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