Lacklustre Canaries miss a chance

Jonathan Redhead Norwich City 0, Southampton 2: Maybe League One is turning into the division nobody wants to win. After seeing nearest rivals Leeds United and Charlton Athletic stumble again during the week, the Canaries had the perfect opportunity to stamp their authority all over the league against the Saints on Saturday.

Jonathan Redhead

Norwich City 0, Southampton 2

Maybe League One is turning into the division nobody wants to win.

After seeing nearest rivals Leeds United and Charlton Athletic stumble again during the week, the Canaries had the perfect opportunity to stamp their authority all over the league against the Saints on Saturday.

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And the omens were good.

A pretty-much first choice team, an important victory at Brighton last weekend and an 11-match winning home run to build on meant the odds were firmly in their favour.

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The visitors had been impressing in recent weeks too, but a play-off place looked to be out of their reach and win number 12 seemed likely.

But from minute one on Saturday, it turned into a day to forget for the vast majority of the 25,000 packed into Carrow Road as City stumbled to a deserved defeat.

Yes, Darel Russell was unjustly sent-off by referee Russell Booth just after the hour mark, but overall for some reason, City were fairly awful.

That's not being overly harsh on Paul Lambert's side, but after the standards that have been set this season since the Scot took up the managerial reins, it's the truth.

And it's difficult to understand, quite why that was the case.

The confidence should have been flowing through the veins of the City players, but they just did not show up on the day.

Indeed, in the first half they failed to fashion a single shot - either on or off target - at Kelvin Davis' goal and did not even earn themselves a corner as the much-fabled front three of Wes Hoolahan, Chris Martin and Grant Holt were fairly anonymous all game.

One Korey Smith run which ended on the edge of the Southampton box was the best attack they could produce on the visitors' goal.

They also went in for their half-time cup of tea a goal down, which probably flattered them.

Southampton were very good in the first half.

They had come to Norfolk intent on playing their own game without any special plans for the likes of Wes Hoolahan.

While City's passing was not the best, Southampton were good in possession and should have taken the lead on 18 minutes when top scorer Rickie Lambert found himself in space on the right-hand side of the area, but flashed his volley well over the bar.

Four minutes later and Jason Puncheon, a left-footer playing on the right for the Saints, missed a golden opportunity to take the lead by pulling his volley wide from 16 yards out with Fraser Forster rooted to the spot.

Forster, who was one of City's better players on the day, was on hand on 27 minutes to save Lee Barnard's header from a Puncheon cross.

But he was powerless to stop Barnard heading the visitors into the lead just after the half hour.

From fully 30 yards out Lambert's free-kick beat the wall and smacked against the cross bar with Forster grapsing thin air.

The ball bounced down and poacher Barnard was on hand to nod in from a few yards out, although City's motionless defenders appealed for a push by the former Southend man.

City needed a response similar to their last home game against Hartlepool when they found an equaliser within two minutes.

But they offered nothing as an attacking force, with midfielder Dean Hammond, who was in the Colchester side that hit seven on the opening day, proving an excellent shield in front of the Saints' back four.

Alan Pardew's men could have doubled their advantage when Puncheon beat Michael Rose on the left again, but Barnard volleyed his cross high, wide and not very handsome.

Too many City players had gone missing, but they came out with all guns blazing at the start of the second period.

Davis was finally forced into a save three minutes in when Michael Nelson's shot from outside the box forced him down to his left to palm away.

The Saints went up the other end and could have put the game to bed as Puncheon went clean through, but Forster denied him with a brave save at his feet.

Back came City, and their best player Korey Smith saw his shot from outside the box take a deflection and loop up and over Davis.

A goal seemed a certainty, but the former Ipswich stopper was on hand to touch the ball on to the bar and was scrambled clear.

It was enough to take the sting out of City and their chances were effectively over on 64 minutes when the combative Russell saw red. His foot was high as he challenged the excellent Morgan Schneiderlin, but it was not deliberate as he had not seen the Saints man coming.

No-one saw referee Booth's red card coming either and to the astonishment of Russell, both sets of players and the crowd, he was given an early bath.

The City boss withdrew Nelson and brought on McNamee to try to rescue a point, but the Saints were keen to close out the game.

Twice in a minute Adam Lallana hit Forster's left-hand post, firstly after brilliant work by Jon Otsemobor on his old stamping ground and then after all his own good work.

But on 77 minutes, Barnard showed him how as he side-footed him following great wing play by Puncheon.

Credit to the Canaries as they never gave up, but a bad day at the office saw the winning run come to a sad end. They still lead League One by three points as Leeds stuttered to a 1-1 draw against Brighton, but City need to bounce back against Southend tomorrow.

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