If a mini mid-winter revival under Dean Smith offered Norwich City faint hope, this defeat saw them revert to type. On this evidence, the remainder of the season promises to be a slog and it would have been a travesty had Southampton only came away with a slender victory. Just as it seemed Ralph Hasenhüttl’s side would have to settle for what would have been tantamount to a one-nil battering, the midfielder Oriol Romeu smacked in a wonderful effort from the edge of the box with a couple of minutes to spare, building on Che Adams’s first-half strike. Southampton, who have lost just once at home all season, are keeping good company in the top half.
Eventually Southampton’s relentless pressure told. They huffed and puffed and then blew a creaking Norwich structure down. The home support were able to afford a communal chuckle at the slapstick manner of Adams’s 36th-minute strike but it made painful viewing from a Norwich perspective. Brandon Williams, who struggled at left-back, made a sliding intervention but inadvertently gifted the ball to the swarming Tino Livramento and the teenager sent a low cross into the six-yard box. Angus Gunn, the Norwich goalkeeper whose last Premier League game at this ground was for Southampton in the infamous 9-0 defeat to Leicester, skewered the ball with his right boot and it bounced off Max Aarons and to Adams. The Southampton striker made a mess of applying the finishing touch, swiping at thin air the first time around before finally scooping the ball over the line and setting off towards the corner in celebration.
Gunn endured a testing spell at St Mary’s and this was also the scene of Smith’s final game in charge of Aston Villa in November. Smith was encouraged by Norwich’s performance in defeats to Liverpool and Manchester City in recent weeks, so much so he named an unchanged starting lineup, but there was little evidence of any progress here as Southampton dictated the pace from the off. Gunn repelled a volley from Mohamed Elyounoussi after Armando Broja flicked on a devilish first-time cross by James Ward-Prowse, who put in another peerless performance in midfield, and saved instinctively after a Stuart Armstrong shot pinballed awkwardly towards him.
Smith stewed in the away technical area. Williams found the going tough against the roaming Livramento, allowing the full-back to earn Southampton an early corner after selling the subdued Milot Rashica short with a simple pass. Williams overcooked a simple pass into Mathias Normann and presented Broja with a sight of goal, but the striker dribbled his shot at Gunn. Rashica was twice brushed off easily by Southampton shirts and while Southampton overpowered Norwich, the visitors carved a couple of first-half chances. Livramento blocked from Josh Sargent after Teemu Pukki turned Jan Bednarek near the byline and Billy Gilmour sent the rebound wide. If the Norwich supporters felt short-changed by their team’s first-half display, they could at least enjoy the half-time entertainment, as a football freestyler exhibited his skills on the touchline.
Norwich came into this game with 16 league defeats from their first 25 top-flight games this season and only three teams in Premier League history have wriggled clear of relegation with those numbers, including Southampton in 1994. Norwich never looked like averting a 17th loss, with Southampton maintaining the heat in the second half. Armstrong slipped in Broja, played onside by Williams, but the Norwich defender Ben Gibson cut out his cross. Adams went close from the resulting corner, but a leaping Williams did enough. Pukki enjoyed the odd foray upfield – Kenny McLean skied a shot after the striker cut the ball back to the edge of the box – but he was a one-man band and his frustration caught up with him when he tugged at Livramento’s shirt. On the opposite flank Norwich could not live with the again brilliant Kyle Walker-Peters.
It seemed a matter of when and not if a dominant Southampton would double their advantage. Gunn kept out another Armstrong shot, and a volley by Walker-Peters with 20 minutes to play. Armstrong then flashed another shot wide. Gunn, whose father, Bryan, was in the stands, l ooked at the yellow shirts before him aghast. Southampton were stupidly comfortable and when Norwich did locate Rashica with a through pass Mohammed Salisu switched on the afterburners to steal the ball. Norwich roused now and then – Salisu stood his ground when Pukki swivelled neatly in the box with 15 minutes to play and Grant Hanley glanced wide unmarked to Smith’s pain – but with the final whistle approaching Romeu leathered in from the edge of the box.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism