Worthington refuses to start Norwich celebration

Norwich City 5 Walsall 0
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The Independent Football

Crisis? What crisis? A five-goal thrashing by the First Division champions-elect might appear to confirm troubled Walsall's headlong rush towards the second, but Paul Merson is having none of it.

As Norwich City prepare to clinch promotion to the top flight, the Saddlers have just three games to save themselves after being swept aside in front of a celebratory Carrow Road crowd.

The bizarre sacking of Colin Lee just 24 hours earlier had hardly helped Walsall's plight and a dismal run of three wins in 19 matches leaves them one point above the relegation zone. But Merson, joint caretaker-manager with Simon Osborn, remains remarkably upbeat.

"I'm very proud of the lads," Merson said. "I didn't want them making a lorry-load of excuses about the manager's sacking or Norwich being the best team in the division. All I asked was for them to give me 100 per cent and make some chances - which they did. I'm confident we can stay up because I believe we'll win our two home games - I just want to see entertaining football."

Norwich were more than happy to oblige, with Leon McKenzie and Darren Huckerby combining to set up a goal at close-range for Damien Francis in the second minute. Walsall tried their best to fulfil Merson's request with Lee Bradbury forcing a fine, sprawling save from Robert Green in the 10th minute.

But when McKenzie headed in Huckerby's left-wing cross in first-half stoppage-time, the game was effectively over. Six minutes after the break, a towering cross from the right was met by Matt Svensson - prompting Merson's arrival from the bench - before Huckerby rounded off a superb individual performance by sweeping home an astute pass from substitute Phil Mulryne 17 minutes from time. With four minutes left, Svensson to completed the rout with another header.

"Bring on Arsenal!" sang the home supporters, but manager Nigel Worthington was simply relieved that another vital step towards promotion had been taken. "You'll not see any celebrations from me because there's still a job to be done," he said. "When we've won promotion then we can look at the title. I'd love the players to get a medal because they deserve it."

As Merson continues to grapple with his gambling problems, he is well placed to put Walsall's predicament into perspective. "This is nothing compared with some of the other challenges in my life. They have been life-threatening troubles where you can die. I've been through a lot worse - this is a great job, it's a pleasure."

Goals: Francis (2) 1-0; McKenzie (45) 2-0; Svensson (51) 3-0, Huckerby (73) 4-0; Svensson (86) 5-0 .

Norwich City (4-3-3): Green; Edworthy, Mackay, Fleming, Drury; Cooper (Mulryne, 65), Holt, Francis; McKenzie (McVeigh, 79), Huckerby, Svensson (Roberts, 88). Substitutes not used: Crichton (gk), Brennan.

Walsall (4-4-2): Walker; Bazeley, Ritchie, Carbon, Aranalde; Leitao (Kris Taylor, 61), Burley, Osborn (Fryatt, 52), Emblen; McSporran, Bradbury (Merson, 52). Substitutes not used: Petterson (gk), Andrews.

Referee: M Pike (Cumbria).

Bookings: Walsall: Bazeley, Osborn.

Man of the match: Huckerby.

Attendance: 23,558.