Carrow Road poised for pole position

Worthington's Norwich are favourites against struggling Bradford First Division
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The Independent Online

Norwich City were so determined their match against Bradford City would not suffer from today's club versus country fixture clash they promised fans they could go to Carrow Road and not miss a minute of England's friendly against Sweden, even though the two games kick off simultaneously at 3pm.

Norwich City were so determined their match against Bradford City would not suffer from today's club versus country fixture clash they promised fans they could go to Carrow Road and not miss a minute of England's friendly against Sweden, even though the two games kick off simultaneously at 3pm.

Fearing the counter attraction would keep supporters away, City arranged to tape the England match in its entirety to be shown on television screens in the club's Russell Allison lounge as soon as the business with Bradford has been concluded – and forbade the public address announcer to let slip any mention of the score.

As things have turned out, they need not have put themselves to so much trouble. With Norwich poised to seize top place should they claim an eighth win from nine home matches, there is only one place to be for any self-respecting Canaries fan and a 20,000 full house looks guaranteed.

Norwich, relegated from the Premiership six years ago, have not led the Nationwide League since a Craig Bellamy hat-trick against Queen's Park Rangers gave Bruce Rioch's team a taste of early-season supremacy in August 1998. It did not last. Beaten at West Bromwich Albion the following weekend, they dropped immediately to fifth and, after sliding to 14th at the beginning of April, were relieved in the end to finish ninth.

Worse followed. Taking only two points from their first five games last season, they ended August 1999 in last place and never fully recovered from the shock. Manager Bryan Hamilton gave way to Nigel Worthington in December and it was as much as the former Northern Ireland international could do to steady the vessel and guide them to the safety of mid-table.

This season, however, has been altogether different and if anyone doubted the authenticity of City's promotion challenge then last Saturday's 2-0 defeat of current leaders Wolves will have removed many misgivings. It also made the Norwich board all the more pleased to have tied Worthington to a new contract that will keep him at Carrow Road until 2005, ending fears that he would be tempted by a return to Sheffield Wednesday, where he spent 10 years as a player.

Modestly, Worthington deflects attempts to award him more than a part share of the credit for the startling upturn in Norwich's fortunes. "It's down to everyone – myself, the staff, the players – believing in what we're trying to achieve and the club as a whole pulling in the same direction," he said.

Bradford, with only one away win so far, are in dire need of a morale boost but Norwich will start favourites to win. What is more, with a trip to struggling Stockport and home matches against Crewe and Barnsley to come, they have an opportunity not only to reach the summit but to stay there.

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