Football: Robins adds polish to lacklustre Norwich

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The Independent Online
Norwich City. . .1

Southampton . . .0

NORWICH CITY came to this game with five halcyon days atop the Premier League behind them. Asked to prove they are worthy of their elevated position, they had little to offer and the glory days looked numbered. However, their tenancy of the Premier League top spot goes into a second week thanks to a late strike by Mark Robins, whose goal-getting days look set to run and run.

Norwich showed little of the polish evident in their 3-1 victory over Nottingham Forest last Monday. It is impossible, explained Norwich manager Mike Walker afterwards, to beat Southampton in the same way. A win snatched late on after a mediocre performance? 'Liverpool have been doing that for years,' he said.

Norwich and Southampton's last meeting was in last season's FA Cup quarter-final, a physical game which Norwich won. The bruises of that encounter appeared to have healed as these sides went at each other yesterday with all the tenacity of a rotary club bridge match.

However, in the second half, with Norwich's frustration increasing, Southampton found themselves on the receiving end of the sort of physical play that they repeatedly hand out. Twice Perry Groves was hacked down, Matthew Le Tissier once in the box, and David Speedie twice felt his heels kicked at from behind. Keith Hackett's response was to book nobody.

Charity, not normally the mark of League leaders, was worryingly evident in the Norwich attack as Rob Newman missed three chances in the opening 15 minutes. All three were created as much by Southampton's defence as by the Norwich attack; the third was hard to convert as Mark Bowen's cross missed the mark, though the first two saw Newman hestitate, demonstrating none of the spontaneity a striker requires.

This, perhaps, explains Newman's withdrawal to midfield to make way for Robins (greeted by tumultuous applause), who came off the bench to replace his injured captain, Ian Butterworth. The arrival of Robins nearly produced the goods immediately. A one-touch stroke saw him collect Jeremy Goss's long pass and turn at goal, only to be dispossessed by Kenny Monkou.

Robins added some spark to the Norwich attack, but the first goal looked as likely to come from one of Southampton's marauding attacks. Terry Hurlock was a ubiquitous provider in midfield, Speedie a threat in attack. A flash from the boot of Le Tissier came closest, though. He flicked up a free-kick and volleyed from 23 yards, demanding the best of Bryan Gunn.

Three minutes from half-time, Southampton's defence opened for a fourth time for Newman. He ran unmarked on to a corner from David Phillips, headed powerfully goalwards, but was denied again, not through any fault of his own, but through a fine reaction save from Tim Flowers.

After the break Southampton ran out the stronger side. Norwich were pinned in their own half for long periods, one of which saw Groves running through to let loose a shot which demanded another athletic dive from Gunn.

The deadlock came closest to being broken next by another effort from Hurlock. He caught Ian Crook on the ball and ran wide of the keeper, only to see his delicate chip rebound off the crossbar.

It was against the odds that the scramble ended as it did. Three minutes to go and Robins stole the game. Goss's cross found Phillips at the far post and Robins knocked in the rebound from a yard out.

Norwich City: B Gunn; I Culverhouse, M Bowen, I Butterworth (M Robins, 32 min), C Sutton, G Megson, I Crook, R Newman, L Power, J Goss, D Phillips. Subs not used: D Sutch, M Walton (gk). Manager: M Walker.

Southampton: T Flowers; J Dodd, F Benali, T Hurlock, K Monkou, K Moore, M Le Tissier, N Maddison, I Dowie, D Speedie, P Groves. Subs not used: J Kenna, N Banger, I Andrews (gk). Manager: I Branfoot.

Referee: K Hackett (Sheffield).

Goal: Robins (1-0, 87 min).