Norwich City 0, Southampton 1

DAVID CUFFLEY Norwich City’s home campaign ended in disappointment as play-off hopefuls Southampton secured a 1-0 victory at Carrow Road. On the day that football remembered World Cup hero Alan Ball, it was the team with Best and Pele in their line-up who took the three Championship points on offer.

DAVID CUFFLEY

Norwich City's home campaign ended in disappointment as play-off hopefuls Southampton secured a 1-0 victory at Carrow Road.

On the day that football remembered World Cup hero Alan Ball, it was the team with Best and Pele in their line-up who took the three Championship points on offer.

Leon Best struck the decisive goal after 29 minutes when he fired home from a centre from 17-year-old Gareth Bale to give Southampton three vital Championship points in their pursuit of promotion.

It was a below par display from Peter Grant's Canaries and although player of the year Darren Huckerby and Robert Earnshaw went close to finding the net, City could have few complaints about the result.

There were two changes to the City line up from the 11 who started last Sunday's derby match against Ipswich.

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Midfielder Simon Lappin returned after missing three matches with a broken thumb, an injury which required an operation.

Chris Martin, who appeared as a second half substitute against Town, was now included in the starting line up.

Winger Lee Croft missed the clash with the Saints because of a badly bruised shin, while Michael Spillane was relegated to the substitutes' bench.

Southampton showed three changes to the side who started last week's 1-0 home win over Leeds. Gareth Bale, the 17-year-old Wales international, returned after recovering from a calf injury. Also included were Alexander Ostlund and Leon Best.

Rudi Skacel reverted to the bench, while there was no place in the squad of 16 for either Inigo Idiakez or Grzegorz Rasiak.

Before kick-off, there was a minutes' applause in memory of England World Cup hero Alan Ball, who died during the week at the age of 61 and whose clubs included today's visitors, Southampton. Both sides were wearing black armbands in honour of the former England star.

The Saints kicked off and a cross from Viafara flew across the Norwich area and, to the relief of the home side, out for a goal kick.

The Saints threatened again when Bale got the better of Martin wide on the left but his final cross fell behind Warner's goal.

When Norwich pushed forward, Huckerby attempted to put Earnshaw through but the little striker had strayed offside.

The Canaries appeared to be operating in a 4-4-2 formation with Martin taking up the right sided role normally occupied by Croft and Lappin restored to his usual position on the left.

With eight minutes gone there was a moment's alarm for City when Lappin was caught in possession by Guthrie. Best went in pursuit of Guthrie's through ball and tumbled under challenge from Dublin, but half-hearted appeals for a penalty were turned down.

As the Saints pressed again, Best tried his luck with a shot from outside the box, but was well off target.

City were struggling to make any real headway in the early stages and when Huckerby appeared to get the better of Ostlund, he was penalised for a foul.

Drury made an important interception as Southampton pushed forward from the resulting free-kick, the City skipper just getting ahead of Best to usher the ball back to Warner.

The Saints seemed lucky to escape any punishment when Earnshaw was clearly obstructed as he chased a ball from Lappin and there was a further collision in the Southampton penalty area when Ostlund blocked Drury's path, but the referee again saw no infringement.

The visitors were enjoying slightly more possession in and around the danger area but one neat passing move came to a halt when Guthrie fouled Huckerby just outside the Norwich box.

A back header by Pele gave the Canaries their first corner but it was taken short and rather wasted, which summed up much of the action so far.

A misplaced pass by Drury deep in the Southampton half enabled Viafara to burst clear on the right flank and he curled a cross into the Norwich area, where Jones rose well but sent a glancing header the wrong side of the post.

Earnshaw had to forage well into his own half to win possession but spoiled one good piece of work with a poor pass to Drury, who was unable to keep the ball in play.

With 21 minutes gone, things livened up a little when Baird advanced into home territory and let fly with a right foot shot that Warner dived to his left to save. Ostlund was next to try the long range option with a curling left foot drive, which was just over the top.

As City broke, Earnshaw latched on to a Dublin clearance and homed in on goal but his low left foot shot was beaten away by Bialkowski.

Warner was brought into action with 25 minutes gone following a move started by Jones. He found Surman on the left and his centre drifted beyond the far post, but Viafara returned it to the danger zone where Warner was grateful to gather it with some difficulty at the second or third attempt.

Jones, getting more into the game, then tested Warner again from outside the area but the keeper was right behind his effort, making a fairly routine save.

The visitors finally made a promising spell count when they moved ahead after 29 minutes through Best. Surman was the architect of the goal when he found Bale on the left and the youngster's low centre was met with a first time left foot shot from Best into the roof of the net.

While the 2000 visiting fans were celebrating this boost to their play-off chances, the Canaries could have no real complaints after a fairly lacklustre opening half hour.

Three minutes later, a foul by Drury gave Bale the opportunity to stretch Southampton's lead with a free-kick from just outside the box and his curling shot was tipped over the top by Warner.

As City tried to rouse themselves, Etuhu sent Huckerby clear and his surging run into the area threatened trouble for the Saints before his low centre was blocked by Bialkowski, whose team mates managed to scramble the ball clear.

At the other end, an in-swinging free-kick from Bale was headed clear by Shackell, under pressure from Jones and although the City defender took a bang on the head, he was soon back on his feet to head clear from the resulting Bale corner.

The Barclay crowd were becoming irate at one or two decisions, notably when City felt they should have had a corner and manager Grant had an angry exchange with the fourth official.

Four minutes before the break, there were ironic cheers when referee Probert correctly awarded City a throw in. Earnshaw took it quickly and found Martin but when the youngster tried to create space for a shot, it was actually blocked by Earnshaw running across his path.

Huckerby, having switched to the right for much of the half, almost carved an opening two minutes before the interval when he collected a pass from Hughes and wriggled his way into the Southampton area, but his final ball was just too strong for Earnshaw and the visitors could breathe again.

In the one minute of stoppage time allowed by the officials, Bale tried his luck from all of 35-yards with a powerful left foot shot, but Warner was right behind it.

Half-time: Norwich City 0, Southampton 1.

In the first minute of the second half, the Saints won a free-kick midway into the Norwich half when Shackell fouled Jones. The ball was played short to Bale, and his ball into the box found the head of Best, rebounding to Jones, who let fly with a powerful volley, forcing Warner to dive to his right to keep it out and prevent the visitors extending their lead.

Dublin was way off target with a miscued shot as City ventured forward, now appearing to have adopted a 4-3-3 formation with Martin on the left and Huckerby on the right of their three pronged attack.

Four minutes into the half, Lappin won a corner on the left and Etuhu met the midfielder's flag kick with a toe poke into the six-yard area, where the ball was hastily hacked away for another corner. This time, Lappin's kick was headed over the top by Shackell.

Best ran at the home defence as the Saints switched to attack but his final shot from the edge of the box drifted harmlessly wide.

Eight minutes after the break, Best had the ball in the net again for Southampton but this time it didn't count. A through ball by Ostlund was missed by both Etuhu and Shackell, enabling Guthrie to cross into the six-yard box, where Best side-footed home, but the flag was up for offside.

As Norwich counterattacked, Huckerby was blatantly blocked by Bale, who earned a yellow card for his trouble. Huckerby reacted angrily to the challenge but escaped any punishment for a shove on Bale in retaliation. Fotheringham took the free-kick, which was headed clear as far as Lappin, whose long range volley was easily gathered by Bialkowski.

Guthrie seemed rather fortunate to escape punishment for a late tackle on Martin which the referee and linesman seemed to miss and the home crowd were becoming irritated by one or two decisions.

Martin showed good footwork and awareness to pick out Earnshaw with a diagonal pass but by the time Earnshaw had created enough room for a shot at goal, it was blocked, ironically by Martin who had made up ground into the penalty area.

Home fans had seen the last of Martin for this season, however, when he was replaced after 61 minutes by Spillane.

Ostlund earned a quick word from the referee for an over enthusiastic challenge on Shackell which knocked the City defender into touch. Typically, Shackell made little fuss and it was Spillane who tried to get City going by creating space for a long range shot which flew wide of the target.

With 20 minutes of the second half gone, Bale was given another dead ball opportunity when Fotheringham was adjudged to have fouled Viafara just outside the area, but the full back's effort was easily saved by Warner.

Surman glanced a header wide from a cross by Viafara but play was then held up while Jones was treated on the halfway line, giving both sides a welcome drinks break on a warm afternoon.

When play resumed, Jones immediately departed to be replaced by Wright-Phillips.

With just 20 minutes to go, 16-year-old Renton came on for his home debut for the Canaries in place of Lappin.

A through ball from Spillane almost dropped kindly for Huckerby in the Southampton area and Bialkowski had to race out to clear into the crowd to alleviate the danger.

There was a bit more urgency about Norwich's play now and crosses from Drury and Hughes had the visitors' defence at full stretch. Then an astute through ball from Etuhu was only just too strong for Earnshaw to take advantage.

Spillane was penalised, perhaps harshly, for a challenge on Bale on the left edge of the Norwich area and the youngster had lengthy treatment before the Saints carried on with 10 men. Bale was hobbling when he returned to the action but received little sympathy from the home crowd when Huckerby robbed him with a strong challenge only to be upended himself by Guthrie, but the referee waved play on.

Spillane won the approval of the crowd with a couple of excellent tackles and, with a chorus of On The Ball City, the Barclay choir tried to inspire their team to end their home campaign on a high note.

Dublin was still showing some quality touches and produced excellent footwork to tidy up at the back before aiming a long ball towards Renton, who won the aerial challenge but whose header fell unkindly for Earnshaw.

There were appeals for handball against Bale when Spillane tried to hook the ball over his head but these were waved aside and as Southampton broke; Guthrie setting up Best, who might have done better than aim a tame side foot shot straight at Warner.

As the game entered the final five minutes, Southampton earned a series of “Ole” shouts from their fans as they tried to taunt City with a succession of short passes, but when the move broke down Norwich pushed forward and Etuhu brought Bialkowski into action with a volley.

Saints forced a corner through the persistence of Bale, but Guthrie's kick was an easy catch for Warner.

Dublin had moved into attack for the closing minutes and nodded back a Hughes centre towards Earnshaw, but the striker's volley was well wide of the target.

Hughes aimed another long ball towards Dublin and he again got in a telling header towards Etuhu but the big midfielder hooked his effort into the crowd.

Result: Norwich City 0, Southampton 1.

MoM: Dion Dublin

Norwich: Warner, Hughes, Dublin, Shackell, Drury, Huckerby, Etuhu, Fotheringham, Lappin, Martin, Earnshaw. Subs: Gallacher,

Colin, Eagle, Spillane, Renton.

Southampton: Bialkowski, Ostlund, Lundekvam, Baird, Bale, Viafara, Pele, Guthrie, Surman, Best, Jones. Subs: Davis,

Skacel, Wright-Phillips, Belmadi, McGoldrick.

Referee: L Probert (Gloucestershire)

Attendance: 25,437