Photo Gallery: Norwich City hit back at Southampton to extend unbeaten run
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Little wonder a man named Lambert should figure so prominently in the Canaries’ latest stout Premier League showing last night at St Mary’s.
Southampton’s powerful frontman Rickie Lambert plundered a first half opener for the rejuvenated hosts, but Robert Snodgrass’ free-kick seconds before the interval, which slipped through goalkeeper Paulo Gazzaniga’s grasp, was the bare minimum Chris Hughton’s men deserved on the south coast. City extended their unbeaten run in all competitions to eight matches, but the Canaries would have departed the scene with a lingering sense of injustice at failing to seal a first away league win of the campaign that their measure of second half control arguably merited.
Mark Bunn looked unflappable on his full Premier League debut for the club following the pre-match bombshell of John Ruddy’s long-term thigh injury. Bunn at least had the comfort of an unchanged line-up in front of him, and City’s defensive familiarity was essential in a vibrant opening from Southampton.
Adam Lallana underlined his offensive intent with an early burst, but teenage full-back Luke Shaw skied a cross that Anthony Pilkington shepherded away. Pilkington continued to feature prominently in the embryonic skirmishes; sharp interplay with Wes Hoolahan saw him fashion a reverse inside ball for the overlapping Snodgrass who unleashed a rasping left footer Gazzaniga collected at the second attempt.
Hughton had pinpointed the threat from Southampton’s ambitious full-backs in his pre-match lowdown and Nathaniel Clyne underlined the point with a penetrative burst that forced Bunn to punch clear under pressure. Lambert intelligently drifted off Ryan Bennett’s shoulder to anticipate Jason Puncheon’s chip but the young City defender recovered his composure. Nigel Adkins’ men were oozing confidence but City’s depleted rearguard exuded a calming assurance, marshalled by the totemic figure of Sebastien Bassong.
Lambert’s movement across the width of the visiting penalty area continued to betray his reputation as static aerial object – Bunn claiming a cross intended for the bustling forward. Norwich’s collective riposte after the hosts’ initial surge had started to subside predictably revolved around Hoolahan. Clyne was fortunate to avoid a caution on referee Mark Clattenburg’s big return when he scythed down the Irishman, but Snodgrass’ free-kick was headed clear by Jose Fonte.
The Dubliner’s raking crossfield pass then picked out Bennett, but Lambert showed an admirable work ethic to track back on the edge of his own box.
Alex Tettey’s athletic surges hinted at City’s growing confidence when he exchanged passes with Hoolahan to drive into the Saints’ penalty area, but you sensed the Norwegian would have secretly admired Saints’ fellow defensive midfielder Morgan Schneiderlin’s ability to sense danger.
Clyne escaped the suffocating attentions of Pilkington in the 25th minute to craft a diagonal cross that the excellent Lallana slammed two yards over on the volley.
Grant Holt’s cute lay-off then enticed Steven Whittaker forward for his first foray into enemy territory but Snodgrass’ attempt to wriggle free 18 yards out delivered mixed results as the Scot dragged at Gazzaniga.
Southampton then stunned the visitors by taking the lead. Given City had successfully nullified the Saints’ razor-sharp early motions, Hughton must have been irked to concede from a set piece – one of Norwich’s major strengths during the recent unbeaten run.
Snodgrass was penalised for hauling down the stumbling Shaw but there was more than a touch of good fortune about Lambert’s poked close range finish, after Lallana’s deep free -kick inadvertently struck the frontman on the top of the arm in a crowded penalty area before the Liverpudlian underlined his predatory instincts to react quickest.
City were inches from conceding again in the 41st minute when Lallana’s swerving free-kick from the opposite flank bent past the outside of Bunn’s far post after Javier Garrido earned a final warning for impeding Puncheon.
Tettey’s latest energetic burst and intelligent link with Snodgrass triggered City’s equaliser in the final seconds of the opening period. The wide midfielder hauled himself to his feet after Clyne’s rash challenge saw yellow to rifle a dipping free kick from 18 yards out that squirmed through the body of Gazzaniga at his near post.
Bennett’s positioning bailed Norwich out seconds after the restart when Puncheon and Clyne carved City open but the centre back anticipated the drilled cross at Bunn’s near post. City were then indebted to Fonte’s waywardness from a clever free-kick that looked to all intents and purposes like a vehicle for the muscular Lambert to test Bunn, until Lallana’s chip to the back post prompted his centre back to hack to safety.
Like so many times before already this season, the mark of Hughton’s Norwich is the ability to handle sustained stress and respond in kind – Tettey and Bradley Johnson bit harder into the tackle, Whittaker and Garrido got even tighter to their direct opponent and City began to condense the play in the home half.
Snodgrass’ cross caused momentary panic before Fonte punted clear and Holt reprised Lambert’s role in the opening period to pull wide and cut back for Hoolahan but his intended clip into Pilkington was smuggled away.
Johnson ranged forward but unleashed a swinging strike that bore all the hallmarks of a man less than comfortable in such advanced areas.
Holt batted the ball into the turf with his hand after peeling away unmarked to head Pilkington’s corner at Gazzaniga, but it was Adkins who cut a frustrated figure sat in the home dugout pondering how to turn the tide.
Saints were now in counter-attack mode as the contest ebbed towards the final quarter but Bunn was finally pressed into meaningful action to parry Puncheon’s rasping angled hit. Hughton blinked first on the touchline, with Steve Morison introduced for Holt, and the big Welsh international was thrust into the action within a minute from Garrido’s cross.
Snodgrass swivelled into the Saints’ penalty area before tumbling over Shaw’s legs, but referee Clattenburg remained unmoved. The peripheral Ramirez belatedly showed a glimpse of his quality in the last act of the game with a pass for Lambert who carved over. On this occasion he was not to be the headline story.