Football: Sutton keeps Rovers in check: Canaries able to cope after dismissal of Polston at Carrow Road

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The Independent Online
Norwich City. . .2

Blackburn Rovers. 2

THE OBSTACLES to Manchester United's treble hopes are crumbling fast. Less than 48 hours after United had comprehensively removed the threat of Wimbledon in the FA Cup, they had the 10 men of Norwich to thank for stalling Blackburn's brave Premiership challenge at Carrow Road last night.

Blackburn's eighth consecutive League win - equalling a club record - looked on the cards when a desperate-looking Norwich side had John Polston sent off in first-half injury time. It proved, however, to be a blessing in disguise for the Norfolk team.

Reverting to the sweeper system they deployed so successfully under Mike Walker, their previous manager, they provided much sterner opposition after the break and Chris Sutton, who weighed in with a brace to counter that of Kevin Gallacher, might even have pulled off an extraordinary victory in the final minute had he shown greater composure when faced with just Tim Flowers, the Blackburn goalkeeper, to beat.

It meant that Rovers had clipped United's lead only to six points, having played one game more, and suddenly the Ewood Park meeting between the two on 2 April looks less of a showdown. Yet any team with the kind of form Blackburn boast - 10 wins and two draws from their last dozen games - cannot be discounted.

Norwich's home record, the worst in the Premiership save for Spurs, compares unfavourably with Blackburn's, which is the best save for United's. Norwich's failure to draw much comfort from home has largely to do with their inability to make the play despite the presence in their midst of someone as creative as Ian Crook. It probably suited them to be playing such attack- minded opposition, though they do seem to be mentally conditioned now to playing on the break.

They did not relish, however, being stretched as much as they were last night by the penetrative runs of Alan Shearer and Gallacher. By the 28th minute their centre-backs, Polston and Rob Newman were hovering dangerously on a caution apiece and it came as no surprise when Polston fell foul of the law again when he wrestled Shearer to the ground and received his marching orders.

Norwich's obvious need for the security of a sweeper was shown up in the 32nd minute. Pushing up a shade too far, once too often, Norwich's defence was out-paced by the fleet-footed Gallacher running on to Stuart Ripley's through- ball. It was asking too much of Newman to intercept but perhaps not of Bryan Gunn, the goalkeeper, who was beaten at his near post.

Sutton ought to have levelled three minutes later when he drove tamely at Flowers but the opportunity to atone came soon after when he was tripped in the area by Henning Berg as he sprinted on to Crook's smartly taken free-kick. This time he gave it plenty of welly from the spot.

Norwich introduced Ian Butterworth for the second half and switched Ian Culverhouse to his old sweeper position. Norwich were transformed and the greater security behind gave them the confidence to go forward and take the lead when Sutton flipped up and volleyed a fine goal as he swivelled.

Blackburn rudely stifled the celebrations within a minute when Gallacher latched on to Shearer's knockdown to score the equaliser.

Norwich City (4-4-2): Gunn; Culverhouse, Polston, Newman, Bowen; Adams (Butterworth, h/t), Crook, Goss, Ullathorne; Sutton, Ekoku (Eadie, 74). Substitute not used: Howie (gk).

Blackburn Rovers (4-4-2): Flowers; Berg, Moran, May, Le Saux; Ripley, Batty, Atkins, Wilcox; Shearer, Gallacher. Substitutes not used: Marker, Wright, Mimms (gk).

Referee: K Barratt (Coventry).