Six things we learned from Norwich City’s defeat at Southampton
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
After the long unbeaten record of Norwich City manager Alex Neil was brought to an end at St Mary's, David Freezer assesses what can be learned from a disappointing loss against a strong top-flight side.
1 – Fighting fire with fire is not always a good idea against Premier League sides
We have already seen Alex Neil successfully fight fire with fire consistently as Norwich City manager but that is going to be much harder in the top flight.
Going to the team who finished seventh in the Premier League last season and trying to beat them at their own game resulted in City being knocked back down to Earth with a bump.
Encouraging home performances against Crystal Palace and Stoke, combined with taking full advantage of an atrocious Sunderland performance, had perhaps lulled the Canaries into a false sense of security. There was certainly a sense among supporters that Neil and his team could go to St Mary's and cause an upset.
The Saints had been knocked out of the Europa League on Thursday night and were being dogged by transfer speculation surrounding their best players.
It was clear that Ronald Koeman's team were too strong for this developing Norwich side though – even when they had 11 men on the pitch.
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However, the belief remains that, given time. Neil can start taking City towards those high standards which have been enjoyed on the south coast in the past two seasons.
2 – Make no mistake – errors are punished ruthlessly
There is very little margin for error in the Premier League, something which the experienced players in City's squad know all too well.
Had the normally reliable Jonny Howson not taken a risk late in the first half then Alex Neil would have welcomed his battling 10-man side into the dressing room at half-time.
The midfielder left his defence exposed though and City were punished for it by Sadio Mane.
After the break Robbie Brady backed off and Mane teed up Dusan Tadic, with substitute Andre Wisdom turning his back on the Serb's shot instead of putting his body on the line.
It was still a good, powerful shot from Tadic but one which was accepted all too meekly by the visiting defence.
Brady calling for offside when he was stood a yard off the bye-line for Tadic's second and Saints' third was just a sign of desperation from a battered side.
Whittaker's needless yellow cards made things so much harder but the standard of defending on display was not of the standard the Canaries require if they are to build on a bright start to the campaign.
3 – Sacrificing Hoolahan also sacrificed City's creative spark
Once referee Jonathan Moss had dismissed Steven Whittaker, it seemed City boss Alex Neil had little choice but to withdraw Wes Hoolahan.
The talented Irishman's lack of height and creative passing often means that his potential match-winning ability is allied with a risk of losing possession.
To make the pass that many would not have the vision to achieve, a risk simply has to be taken at times.
But down to 10 men, away at a quality side such as Southampton, that is a risk few managers would feel they could afford.
Hoolahan was replaced by on-loan Liverpool youngster Andre Wisdom in the 32nd minute and City finished a tough match after registering just one shot on target, thanks to a late effort from Bradley Johnson.
It is no secret that Hoolahan is key to City's attacking play but it was painfully obvious at St Mary's.
Jonny Howson and Nathan Redmond looked lost out wide and Cameron Jerome was so isolated that he could have taken his phone out with him to follow the game on Twitter.
With Alex Tettey and Graham Dorrans also desperately fighting a losing battle in central midfield, Hoolahan was having to watch from the sidelines.
4 – Mulumbu's return cannot come quick enough ahead of some tough away trips
In the era of social media, footballers seem to become better players in the eyes of supporters when they are not playing.
However, the return of Youssouf Mulumbu must surely be of top priority now for Alex Neil ahead of some tough away trips.
The combative summer signing broke his foot in pre-season and was ruled out for 'several weeks' by manager Alex Neil.
The 29-year-old Democratic Republic of Congo international posted an update on Twitter on Thursday, with a picture of him in the gym with the words 'I'll be back soon'.
It was thought that Mulumbu would work well in tandem with Alex Tettey in creating a defensive shield when City face the big boys of the Premier League this season.
Make no mistake, Southampton can be included in that category nowadays, and Mulumbu could have made a huge difference after Steven Whittaker's sending off.
Trips to Liverpool, Newcastle and Manchester City await in the next two months – that defensive shield will be badly needed.
5 – If it can happen to Chelsea, it can happen to anyone...
Although the taste of defeat returning is unwelcome for City, a sense of perspective must be maintained.
Just this weekend in the Premier League we have seen reigning champions Chelsea beaten 2-1 at home by Crystal Palace and West Ham win 3-0 away at Liverpool.
If two of the league's big boys can lose at home then the Canaries can certainly lose away to a talented team such as Southampton.
It is a reminder that the Premier League is thought of as the best in the world, not necessarily for its quality but for the levels of entertainment provided by unexpected and dramatic results.
It is undoubtedly the place to be and Alex Neil's side have already proved earlier this season that they are capable of producing football befitting of English football's top tier.
They now just have to keep believing that they will be on the right side of one of those unexpected results soon.
Trips to Anfield, The Etihad and Stamford Bridge await. Keep 11 men on the pitch and City too can soon be taking the national plaudits.
6 – Forget unbeaten away run and make Carrow Road a fortress
The remarkable unbeaten away record of Alex Neil as Norwich City manager has come to an end, lasting 13 away league games and stretching back to January.
It was highly impressive and a huge part of City's success under the Scot – but during that time the Canaries have lost four home matches.
As long as the points are flowing, it matters little where from, but surely making your home turf your position of strength is preferable?
After all, that is where City have around 24,000 supporters desperate to roar their players to victory, rather than a couple of thousand loyal away supporters.
That starts with an ideal opportunity to kick-start a good home record, when fellow promoted side Bournemouth arrive at Carrow Road on Saturday, September 12.
The Cherries have also won one, drawn one and lost two of their opening four top-flight matches. They are renowned for their smooth style of football but were unable to beat the Canaries on their way to winning the Championship title last season.
Secure victory over Eddie Howe's side and yesterday's defeat at Southampton will be forgotten in a hurry.