Football: Rovers out of pocket

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The Independent Online
Norwich City. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .2

Bowen 30, Newsome 55

Blackburn Rovers. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .1

Sutton 4

Attendance: 18,145

CHRIS SUTTON'S return to his football nursery turned out to be a four-minute dream scenario, with the pounds 5m striker scoring. From that moment on, however, the script was firmly shredded by a Norwich performance notable for guts and determination, and Blackburn slunk away from East Anglia smarting over their first Premiership defeat.

Coming on top of their midweek European failure, this setback should give some perspective to the real potential of Kenny Dalglish's multi-

million-pound squad. The evidence here was that Jack Walker's money has bought a competent side with two exceptional strikers. Norwich thought so too, and put their energies into curtailing the service to Alan Shearer and Sutton.

Mark Bowen reduced Stuart Ripley to nothing more than an ineffectual runner, while the Johns Newsome and Polston were more than assertive in challenging when useful balls did reach the strikers.

The intensity of the salt rubbed into Norwich's wounds by Sutton's goal was manifest in the home supporters' chanting of 'Are you watching Robert Chase?' - a refrain to jar the nerves of the Norwich chairman who collected Blackburn's pounds 5m cheque for the player.

The goal was helped by Newsome dithering about his challenge and Bryan Gunn leaving his line too soon, so that Sutton's shot rolled gently into the net. But the Norwich captain was to do more than enough to atone.

For 10 minutes after Sutton's strike it looked ominously as if Rovers were about to walk it. But when Ian Crook made Tim Flowers prove his worth to touch a 25-yard volley for a corner, he demonstrated to his team mates that it need not be so. The rush of adrenalin brought Norwich's equaliser in the 31st minute. Mark Bowen hurled himself to meet a measured chip from Crook. It cannoned towards Efan Ekoku and the Welsh full-back's impetus carried him forward to meet the loose ball. Colin Hendry's deflection did the rest.

Norwich's goal famine was reflected by both goals coming from defenders. Newsome's winner in the 55th minute was the kind of effort we take for granted from a Baggio. A big English defender brushing aside three challenges and, as he is falling, hitting a shot that deceives the country's most expensive goalkeeper does stretch the credibility. But this bizarre fact cost Blackburn their unbeaten record.

Prodded and cajoled by Ian Crook's delightful distribution in his 250th League game, Norwich's confidence swelled. Outrun and often out-thought in midfield, it was no surprise that Rovers' skipper, Tim Sherwood, was replaced by Robbie Slater 10 minutes after Newsome's goal. The substitute's aggression helped stoke Rovers' desperate attempts to salvage a point. Shearer carved a passage to goal for Sutton with a superb through pass but the shot went wide. Ten minutes from time Sutton returned the compliment with a clever chip towards Shearer, but his header just lacked the power to beat Gunn, although the keeper had trouble enough stopping it sneaking inside his right-hand post.

The Canaries may still be some way from being on song, but the grit they displayed will stand them in good stead against lesser opponents. Blackburn's problem is to find someone of the calibre of Ian Crook to provide the kind of service Sutton and Shearer are crying out for.