Southampton 0, Norwich City 1
Chris Lakey Norwich City's season just keeps getting better and better as their unbeaten run moved into double figures tonight. A Ched Evans goal on the stroke of half-time was enough to secure another three points towards the safety fund, built on the back of 10 Championship games without defeat.
Norwich City's season just keeps getting better and better as their unbeaten run moved into double figures tonight.
A Ched Evans goal on the stroke of half-time was enough to secure another three points towards the safety fund, built on the back of 10 Championship games without defeat.
And while City will be grateful to the woodwork - and Stern John's wayward accuracy from the penalty spot - there's no doubt their work ethic got them through.
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Having seen Leicester climb five places 24 hours earlier by ending Crystal Palace's own long unbeaten run, City clearly knew the importance of victory on the south coast.
It was City's first double of the season after they began their home campaign with a 2-1 win back in August. A lot of water has gone under the bridge since then - a lot of it murky and unpalatable.
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But City are a very different proposition nowadays under Glenn Roeder and while safety is nowhere near assured, wins at places like Southampton prove it will take an almighty effort from City's relegation rivals to overtake them.
Roeder kept faith with the side which was held to a goalless draw by Leicester in the last outing 10 days ago, although Darren Huckerby was on the bench after an injection last week to help solve a hip injury.
Saints were without centre-half Darren Powell, injured in the FA Cup win over Bury at the weekend, while Adam Hammill was dropped to the bench, with Rudi Skacel and John promoted from the bench.
Dion Dublin was left nursing a sore head after an early collision with Jermaine Wright but soon shook it off as Saints went on the attack. But the veteran was soon involved at the other end, setting up Ryan Bertrand down the left for a low cross which Saints cleared. However, there was concern as Dublin disappeared down the tunnel with just three minutes on the clock to have his head wound treated - and fellow striker Ched Evans appeared to be moving gingerly too. Bertrand showed a neat pair of feet in midfield to leave Jason Euell looking for the ball, but Evans was unable to control and the attack broke down.
It was a confident opening by the Canaries, even without Dublin's considerable presence, but Grzegorz Rasiak kept their on their toes, firing a shot against the post after a neat one-two with Bradley Wright-Phillips.
Dublin reappeared almost five minutes off the field and was straight into the action, knocking a neat ball into the path of Evans who, despite several attempts, just couldn't get it under control.
City right back Jon Otsemobor earned a corner when a long-range effort took a deflection on 11 minutes - and Dublin met Fotheringham's kick beautifully with his head only to see keeper Kelvin Davis beat it over the bar.
They're the chances that have been going begging far too often of late - but Saints were guilty of one of their own, Andrew Surman starting and finishing a good midfield move which ended with him side-footing an effort well wide.
Dublin looked the man lost likely for City and showed years of experience with a terrific effort, teeing up a little pass from Darel Russell, turning and shooting then from 25 yards - Davis tipping over for a corner which, inevitably, Dublin got his head to, Davis again catching it.
It had been something of a head to head between the two, but of more concern than their personal battle was the sight of skipper Fotheringham hobbling off after just 22 minutes, Matty Pattison coming into the centre of midfield.
Southampton began to up the pressure on the City penalty area and almost took the lead on 27 minutes when Skacel curled a lovely left-footed free-kick over the City wall - and on to the top of David Marshall's crossbar.
The City goal was living something of a charmed life, the busy Bradley Wright-Phillips causing problems with his movement and Wright and Skacel getting in some good crosses from the Saints' right flank.
City relieved the pressure again, without ever really looking like scoring, and it wasn't long before Saints were at it again, repeatedly pushing City back deep into their own half.
Marshall had to be quick to save with his legs as Skacel drilled in a left-footer towards the near post on 35 minutes, but the City keeper was rooted to the spot moments later when Stern John hit a brilliant volley from all of 25 yards which rocketed over his crossbar.
Talking of rockets - Roeder was probably busy preparing his assault on the dressing room walls by then, with half-time presenting a chance to re-organise.
But then, against all expectations, the manager's best laid plans went up in smoke when Evans fired City into the lead on the stroke of half-time. The teenager had already seen a header from Pattison's free-kick come back off the woodwork and then as the ball broke loose he fired straight at the keeper. City maintained that brief glimpse of momentum and when a third chance came Evans' way, he didn't waste it. Lee Croft was the architect, pulling the ball back from the right touchline to Evans, who kept his head as Andrew Davies challenged and fired a powerful shot past keeper Kelvin Davis. It may have taken a deflection and how much City deserved their half-time is open to debate - but no one in yellow and green was complaining.
Dublin reappeared for the second half with a bandage around his head, preparing for what was certain to be a tough second-half battle.
City came out of the block well, although Russell's poor shot was a poor return after a good move involving Pattison, Bertrand and Dublin.
The woodwork, though, came to City's rescue for the third time on 48 minutes when Rasiak broke down the inside left channel, beat Marshall with the shot but then watched in disbelief as the shot came back off a post.
It was a start which promised much, especially as Saints were committed to attack if they were to get anything from the game.
Wright-Phillips shot across goal - and past that troublesome post - on 55 minutes and then forced the excellent Jason Shackell into a good headed clearance from a cross. It signalled another period of pressure by Southampton, but Shackell and Gary Doherty were standing firm.
City sent on Jamie Cureton for Evans.
There were signs of frustration creeping into the home ranks, Rasiak furious when he got nothing after a tussle with Shackell and the crowd reacting angrily when Wright-Phillips shot high and wide.
But then it could so easily have unravelled for City as Doherty handled an Adam Hammill free-kick, harshly awarded against Shackell for a foul on John. Referee Andy Penn immediately pointed to the penalty spot but then consulted his linesman long and hard before eventually showing Doherty a yellow card. If that was fortunate, what followed was tremendous for City, as John stepped up - and then fired his spot kick horribly high.
With 20 minutes to go City had taken the breaks that came their way and once again Roeder made a bold move, taking left back Mo Camara off, pulling Bertrand back and introducing Huckerby on the left flank. With Huckerby, Croft, Dublin and Cureton on Roeder might have been taking a risk with his final substitution - only time would tell.
Jason Euell could have punished City but Russell intervened as he pulled the trigger in the area.
At the other end Huckerby used his pace to get into the area, but Saints cleared his pull-back and Doherty headed Cureton's cross over.
Nerves were beginning to fray as the match entered its final 10 minutes, especially as every decision seemed to be going in City's favour, which helped stoke up the atmosphere.
Russell had the ball in the net on 85 minutes, but was clearly offside - but City were doing an excellent job keeping the ball at the Saints end of the pitch When it did buzz around the City area, the visitors' defence was sound and Saints strikers wayward - and that's what wins football matches.