Roeder's case for defence

David Cuffley Midfielder Darel Russell and manager Glenn Roeder were united in their defence of referee Andy Penn for sparing Norwich City defender Gary Doherty a red card in the heat of last night's Championship victory at Southampton.

David Cuffley

Midfielder Darel Russell and manager Glenn Roeder were united in their defence of referee Andy Penn for sparing Norwich City defender Gary Doherty a red card in the heat of last night's Championship victory at Southampton.

Striker Ched Evans' fourth goal for the Canaries, in the last minute of the first half, gave them a 1-0 victory at St Mary's Stadium and stretched their unbeaten run to 10 league games. It also gave City their first league double of the season and moved them up to 16th in the table, five points clear of the bottom three.

But it could have been a different story had Saints striker Stern John not blazed wildly over the bar after 69 minutes from a penalty awarded for handball by Doherty - and had the centre-half been dismissed, leaving his side down to 10 men for the final 20 minutes.

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Instead, after consulting his assistant, Mr Penn ignored the home team's protests and decided a yellow card, Doherty's eighth of the season, was punishment enough.

Russell argued that Doherty, who handled as he fell backwards after a challenge on Southampton skipper Wayne Thomas, had been shoved off balance as he jumped to meet a free-kick.

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"It was six of one and half a dozen of the other," said Russell. "Doc, I felt, got pushed. It hit his hand once he was pushed, and the referee made his decision. But I think justice happened in terms of them missing the penalty.

"I never had any worries that it was going to be a red card. If he was going to give handball it was going to be a yellow. There was a lot of argy-bargy going on in the melee that caused the penalty."

Roeder said the West Midlands official had made a sensible decision.

He said: "I wasn't sure whose hand it was. There were so many players involved but I have to say I just knew it hit somebody's hand and when the referee pointed to the spot, I knew it was one of our players. I wasn't absolutely certain until I saw the referee take Doc aside. Thankfully, he showed some common sense and only gave him a yellow."

Russell said City's victory, which made it five wins and five draws in the Championship since their defeat at Stoke on December 1, was of "massive" importance.

He said: "Considering the way we played in the first half, it's a great result for us.

"We were a little bit out of sorts. We took a little while to get ourselves into our stride and organised and, to be fair to Southampton, they did pretty well. They had a few efforts and we rode our luck a little bit, but it's the sign of a good team when you're not playing your best and you still come out and get a result. That's the way forward.

"In the changing room, everyone's buzzing and happy and if we can get three points against Preston on Saturday we'll be clearing away from that relegation zone and perhaps looking a bit further forward.

"We're heading in the right direction and have to keep this unbeaten run going. Look what Crystal Palace have done. If we had turned a few of our draws into wins we could have been right up there by now."

City lost skipper Mark Fotheringham with a calf injury midway through the first half but Matty Pattison's contribution as substitute won praise from Russell.

He said: "We are not a team of individuals. We work together and we've got enough quality on the bench to come and fill in. Patta's come on, helped to shore up the midfield and from then on we were a little bit more solid."

Russell also praised 19-year-old Evans. Each time he has scored, City have won.

"It was a fantastic finish. He showed great composure in the box and popped it in and that's what we need. He's firing on all cylinders. He got a little bit tired and the gaffer changed it and it's great to see we've got someone like Jamie Cureton, who can score goals, come on to the pitch and look busy."

Roeder admitted his side rode their luck.

He said: "I said to the lads afterwards, because we are such honest people, we know we weren't at our best tonight. It is important to me that I am working with honest players because that's the only way to move forward.

"They get a pat on the back tonight for how hard they dug in. We rode our luck a little at times. You expect penalties to be scored, so we were happy to see that one sail over the crossbar by such a wide margin.

"Even allowing for us not being anywhere near as good as we were against Leicester, we had a number of chances. Dion Dublin had a couple and Ched scored a terrific goal. It just shows you the power he's got in his right foot. He ripped the net off. The goalkeeper dived but it was in the back of the net before he decided to take off to try to save it and we see that every day from Ched.

"We were under a lot of pressure in the second half because we are away from home and the longer the game went on, Southampton had nothing to lose and threw the kitchen sink at us.

"We were not at our best, but there were a lot of brave performances and no one could accuse us of not keeping going under severe pressure."

Fotheringham could still be fit to face in-form Preston at Carrow Road on Saturday.

Said Roeder: "He's got a dead leg. He got kicked on his calf in the first half and it tightened up straightaway. I thought at first it was a hamstring. Thankfully, it's not that. He wouldn't be ruled out of Saturday yet, knowing Fozzy. He's a real tough character and he'll be desperate to play. Maybe we'll be fortunate there because if it had been a hamstring it could have been up to a month and we can't afford to have anyone out for that length of time."

Darren Huckerby also returned as a second-half substitute less than a week after having an injection in an attempt to cure a hip problem.

"Darren has been happy with the reaction he's had from the injection in the hip," said Roeder. "But there wasn't any possibility when everyone was fit tonight of changing the team that played so well against Leicester. It would have been unfair to leave anybody out. He's the same as everyone else. He has to fight for his place. There are no guaranteed shirts available in the first team at Norwich and although we've got a tiny squad now, there's no one guaranteed a place. The couple of big signings that I hope we'll announce on Thursday will create more competition for places and if I can get one or two more it's going to be even better.

"There was not a chance of changing the team that played so well against Leicester, but I'm pleased to have him back."

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