Two of the First Division's unlikely front runners provided a game to match their exalted status in sunny Norfolk yesterday. Norwich City won it, just, recording a fifth straight home victory by holding off Stan Ternent's adventurous Burnley. The Lancashire side nevertheless remain top, two points ahead of their victors, having played a game more.
While it is too early to say how either side would fare in the Premiership, both were a credit to their respective managers and deserve to enjoy a good season. Burnley, who had won their four previous away games and went into the afternoon as the Nationwide League's highest scorers, took a little too long to get going this time. They were two goals down before finding the sort of form that has had their followers dreaming of a return to headier days. "It's fair to say we just didn't play in the first half," Ternent said.
Although Wolves' victory in the Black Country derby at Walsall on Friday night deprived the game of its billing as a meeting of the top two, an atmosphere of rare anticipation pervaded Carrow Road's largest crowd of the season. It included a fair-sized contingent who had made the tortuous cross-country journey from Lancashire, some of whom were doubtless around in 1976, when the team last played in the top division.
This time, they fell behind within four minutes. Steen Nedergaard's high cross from the right was controlled by Paul McVeigh and laid back for Gary Holt. The Scottish international midfielder drove in his first goal for Norwich from fully 25 yards.
The home crowd were in even greater raptures when the electric scoreboard flashed up the latest news of Ipswich's match at Old Trafford as "Man United 1 Scum 0". So much for friendly local rivalry.
Burnley came back strongly, moving the ball round well and lacking only a finish. Darren Kenton had to clear off the line from Gareth Taylor after his goalkeeper, Robert Green, dropped a cross, and Kenton's foul on Glen Little might have been just inside the penalty area rather than on the line as the referee indicated. The worst miss was by Little, who side-footed wide as Kevin Ball's blocked shot fell perfectly for him.
Little, moved to the left for the second half after Alan Moore was substituted, was the guilty party again in the 49th minute, hitting the side netting from close range.
Further Norwich attacks were less threatening, until Iwan Roberts set up McVeigh to drive past a post. They might have been expected to take greater advantage of the discomfort clearly being felt by Burnley's goalkeeper, Nik Michopoulos. The Greek international player was unable to take any goal kicks, and was reluctant to make clearances at all.
In the 55th minute they finally did take advantage of his unease. Michopoulos could not hold McVeigh's cross and, although Darel Russell's shot was blocked, Roberts scrambled the ball home at the second attempt. Two goals was a flattering margin and within three minutes, the visitors had halved it. Gordon Armstrong volleyed in as Paul Weller flicked on Little's corner.
In a frantic finish to a splendid game, Armstrong's header was cleared off the Norwich line by Neil Emblen, and another substitute, Alex Notman, hit Burnley's bar.
Norwich City 2
Holt 4, Roberts 55
Half-time: 1-0 Attendance: 19,849