Roberts' return leaves Wolves at a loss

Norwich City 2 Wolves 0
Click to follow
The Independent Online

How they enjoy antagonising the old boy. Sir Jack Hayward, the self-styled "golden tit" of Molyneux, that is. Just as the multi-millionaire chairman was beginning to believe that all that shovelling of his fortune from the family vaults is at last going to gain its reward, Dave Jones' lacklustre team reminded him that nothing is ever quite that straightforward where events surrounding his beloved club are concerned.

It was 1984 when those famous gold shirts (sadly, they were a rather dreary battleship grey yesterday) last graced the old First Division, and on this evidence, Sir Jack has many angst-ridden days ahead before Wanderers confirm they are ready to make waves in the Premiership.

The lachrymose Jones, in whom Norwich once expressed an interest as a successor to Bryan Hamilton, accepted that "if it was a blip I will take it, because we are better than that", and took comfort from the fact that his team were still leaders, "and deservedly so". But he added: "It was our worst performance away over 90 minutes."

Sir Jack's counterpart, Delia Smith, together with the Norwich faithful, who have yet to witness anything resembling a home defeat this season, have rather shorter memories. It was only six years ago that City were contesting the Premiership. Only two years before that they were disposing of Bayern Munich in the Uefa Cup and coming mighty close to seeing off Internazionale.

But the relative proximity of those days means that expectations here are even higher than at Molineux, where the years have developed a certain grudging acceptance of Football League status.

Norwich, who by dint of this success climbed to second, scored early through their former Wolves striker, Iwan Roberts. They never let their rivals settle or impose their style and quality on the game. A second from Paul McVeigh just after the half hour made it a daunting second-half task for the visitors.

Though City will remain everyone's idea of the first of the leading half-dozen challengers to fall from their current perch, the Norfolk club are quietly establishing themselves as a significant force among several similar-strength teams.

Crucially, they are developing into a side that few will want to meet here. With over 20,000 supporters exhorting them to yet greater efforts, it evoked the famous European nights of yore. "Our overall play was excellent," enthused Nigel Worthington. "But we must keep it up and make our mark."

Referee Paul Durkin was selected for this match, rather than a "high-profile" Premiership game, as a "punishment" following his failure to dismiss Graeme Le Saux for his two-footed scything of Danny Mills in the Leeds-Chelsea game a fortnight ago. In fact, on an unexceptional day in the Premiership, it was unlikely that any contest yesterday would have surpassed the passions aroused then, although on this occasion the official steered well clear of controversy.

It was a game in which something looked likely to give; Norwich's unbeaten home record this season or Wanderers' undefeated sequence away, and although Jones' team enjoyed an adequate share of possession the attack, led by Nathan Blake, was strangely impotent. The service was so poor that it would have required three Steve Bulls battling up front to make an impact.

In the first period they barely created an opportunity. After the interval Cedric Roussel replaced Michael Branch and, briefly, there was evidence that Wolves could assert themselves, but that optimism was short-lived. Though Worthington's team were hardly prolific in that regard, they converted what chances came their way with the confidence of a team who have found themselves jousting with promotion contenders and have suddenly decided that they have every right to be there.

McVeigh was the instigator on the left, and though he and Mark Libbra, failed directly to trouble goalkeeper Michael Oakes, the ball found Mark Rivers on the opposite side of goal. His drive across the box was turned in by the 32-year-old Welshman Roberts for his eighth goal of the season. He duly celebrated with that familiar gap-toothed grin.

The admirable Libbra and Roberts were the principal antagonists approaching the visitors' goal, but it was the dashing McVeigh, the Northern Ireland international and former Tottenham trainee who extended City's lead just after the half hour. Again, the Frenchman Libbra was involved, back-heeling the ball to Rivers and his low cross was dispatched home neatly by McVeigh. It could have been worse for Wolves, but Steen Nedergaard's effort struck the bar as the interval approached.

Wolves had one inviting chance to decrease the arrears with 20 minutes remaining, when Joleon Lescott forced a splendid save from Robert Green, who had to go scrambling across his line to do so.

But thereafter, it was Norwich who looked more likely to improve on their tally and, in the end, it was all too easy for the home side. So easy that you can hardly take it at face value. That's what Sir Jack would have been convincing himself last night.

Comments