Ward cures all

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The Independent Online
Norwich City 3

Ward 23, 45, Cureton 88

Chelsea 0

Attendance:18,246

ASHLEY WARD, who was playing for Crewe Alexandra in the Second Division until last Thursday, could hardly have dreamed of a better Premiership debut. Two first-half goals brought instant fame to the 24-year-old Mancunian as Chelsea's mid-season wobble began to look suspiciously like a slump.

All drinks would have been on him had not Jamie Cureton, Norwich's 19-year-old substitute, dived in to head his first senior goal within seconds of taking the field.

Signed for an initial £350,000 to solve a chronic lack of Norwich firepower, Ward conferred wisdom on John Deehan's judgment with the minimum of fuss, tucking away left-winger Darren Eadie's near-post pass and then following up when a Mark Robins effort was parried by Dmitri Kharine.

In neither instance was Ward more than a couple of yards from goal, but, as any striker will confirm, you still have to be there. And when the chances came, Ward's reactions were first class. Clearly his tally of 17 goals for Crewe this season - two morethan Norwich had managed collectively in 15 Premiership games before this one - was no accident.

"Some people were a little bit surprised that I should be going into the Second Division," Deehan said of his first buy from outside the Premiership, "but I feel I have picked up one of the best players in the lower divisions.

"I worked with him at youth-team level at Manchester City and I believe he is a late developer with the capacity to learn."

Few players will teach him more than Ian Crook, the 31-year-old Norwich playmaker. The range and variety of Crook's passing was superb. He provided the telling ball for each of Ward's goals and the cross from which Cureton claimed his glorious moment in the last minute.

Chelsea started brightly enough, with Dennis Wise and Gavin Peacock purposefully busy, but Ward knocked their confidence for six. They won more possession after pushing five into midfield, but had no one of Crook's class to open Norwich up. Two wins fromeight games reflects their current form.

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