Southampton 2, Norwich City 1
DAVID CUFFLEY The Canaries suffered their third successive Championship defeat despite taking the lead against Southampton at St Mary’s Stadium. Robert Earnshaw’s 14th goal of the season had given them the advantage when he struck after 20 minutes with a right-foot shot from just outside the box.
The Canaries suffered their third successive Championship defeat this afternoon despite taking the lead against Southampton at St Mary's Stadium.
Robert Earnshaw's 14th goal of the season had given them the advantage when he struck after 20 minutes with a right-foot shot from just outside the box.
The Saints levelled five minutes before half-time when Gareth Bale scored direct from a free-kick after Dickson Etuhu had been harshly adjudged to have fouled Rudi Skacel.
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The decisive goal came after 65 minutes when Kenwyne Jones headed home from a corner by Jermaine Wright.
The Canaries, with Lee Croft on as a substitute in the second half, produced a stirring late rally and Peter Thorne, Etuhu and Gary Doherty all went close to grabbing an equaliser and salvaging a point.
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But the result leaves City with just four points from their last six matches.
Manager Peter Grant made three changes to the side beaten 2-1 by Sheffield Wednesday last week, two of them unavoidable.
Paul Gallacher returned in goal after missing three matches with an ankle injury after on-loan Lee Camp returned to Derby. Gary Doherty, sidelined since the 3-1 defeat at Ipswich four weeks ago, was back in the centre of defence in place of the suspended Jason Shackell. And there was good news for Grant with leading scorer Robert Earnshaw passed fit after a knee injury and returning in attack in place of Ryan Jarvis. Dion Dublin recovered from a groin strain to keep his place in defence.
Among the substitutes were winger Lee Croft, back after missing eight matches with an ankle injury, Youssef Safri, available again after a one-match ban, and defender Craig Fleming, out since the end of October with hamstring trouble.
Southampton manager George Burley also made three changes to the team beaten 2-1 at Southend. Alexander Ostlund returned in defence in place of Chris Makin, while Pele and Kenwyne Jones were both recalled in place of Inigo Idiakez and Bradley Wright-Phillips.
Southampton attacked straight from the kick-off and a cross by Ostlund was only just too strong, drifting out beyond the far post.
A cross from the opposite side by Bale set up Jones and his left-foot effort was deflected for the first corner of the match.
The flag-kick was no problem for the Canaries but the Saints pushed forward again and another centre from Bale reached the six-yard box where Gallacher was grateful to collect it unchallenged.
There was a brief hold up after five minutes when Jones needed treatment for a bang on the head but he was soon able to resume.
The Canaries were under a bit of pressure early on as a through ball from Surman caused momentary alarm before City were able to relieve the pressure.
A surging run by Pele was brought to a sudden halt when Doherty brought him down just outside the Norwich area. From the resulting free-kick, Bale curled a left-foot effort onto the roof of the net.
It was all Southampton up to now and Skacel was next to let fly from the corner of the penalty area and his left-foot shot was not too far over the top.
Jones and Wright combined to set up a shooting opportunity for Pele in the next attack, but his long-range effort was so poor, it went out for a throw-in.
In a rare City attack, Huckerby's cross was headed away by Lundekvam, but the visitors had not really got into their stride.
Doherty made an important block moments later when Wright struck a powerful drive from outside the box.
Then a neat move involving Ostlund, Surman and Wright ended with Rasiak firing just wide with a shot on the turn and City breathed again.
The Saints won their second corner after 19 minutes, conceded by Huckerby, and Doherty twice had to produce important headers to clear the danger from Skacel's flag-kick.
With 20 minutes gone, and almost out of the blue, City took the lead when Earnshaw struck his 14th goal of the season. There seemed little immediate danger when he latched on to a loose ball on the edge of the Saints' area, but he swivelled to fire a low, right-foot drive beyond Davis and just inside the keeper's left-hand post.
Surman twice pressed forward as the Saints looked for an immediate reply and on the second occasion, Dublin did well to get his head in the way of the midfielder's stinging drive.
The Saints were not shy about shooting from a distance but Bale was well off target with his next effort from some 30-yards.
Thorne had not had too much joy up to now and when Dublin aimed a free-kick towards him in the box, the striker was penalised for pushing.
Referee Rennie stopped play on the half hour to lecture Huckerby when the City forward felt he should have been awarded a free-kick and protested to the official, but so far there had been no yellow cards on show.
As the Saints pressed again, Gallacher came out bravely to gather a cross from Jones and seemed none the worse for colliding with team-mate Doherty.
Thorne was next to get a ticking off from the official for hampering the attempt of Davis to take a drop kick, although the City man had made no contact with the keeper and it seemed over fussy in the circumstances.
The game had entered something of a lull since the goal and City were looking more composed, having taken some of the sting out of the home side's early assault.
A foul by Robinson came Southampton a free-kick on the edge of the box eight minutes before the break and many in the home crowd seemed to think they had equalised when Bale's kick struck the stanchion behind the goal and rolled along the back of the net, but their celebrations were soon cut short.
The Saints produced a bit of flurry again and both Dublin and Robinson had to make important blocks to relieve the pressure.
Just when it seemed City might go in to the interval with a valuable lead, they were stung by an equaliser from Bale.
With less than five minutes of the half remaining, Etuhu was adjudged to have fouled Skacel just outside the box and Bale stepped up to curl a perfect left-foot shot beyond Gallacher into the net.
It was a blow for the visitors just as they seemed to have settled down and the Saints pushed hard to try to increase their advantage.
There was a brief exchange of words between Ostlund and City boss Grant on the touchline after the fullback had tangled with Huckerby and referee Rennie called Ostlund over for a chat.
Drury made a couple of timely challenges at the start of the second half as Southampton began brightly and just two minutes into the second period, Rasiak was only just off target when he managed to get his left foot on the end of a cross from Bale and watched the ball roll only a foot past Gallacher's left-hand post.
A minute later Bale threatened again with another menacing centre after getting away from Hughes and Rasiak's header was not far off target.
There was a momentary scare when Dublin kicked thin air after Jones had nodded on a through ball but Gallacher was able to gather.
Other than the goal, City's front pair had not had too much joy and when Hughes aimed a cross towards Thorne it was too close to Davis and the keeper gathered it easily.
Ostlund was next to try his luck from long-range and brought a roar from the home crowd when his half-volley from 25-yards just whistled over the top.
Every cross from Bale seemed to spell danger for Norwich and his next one was met with an acrobatic scissor kick from Skacel, just past Gallacher's left-hand post.
Ten minutes into the half, City made their first change when Croft was brought on for his first senior appearance for six weeks, replacing Colin, with Hughes switching to right-back in place of the Dutchman.
A driving run from Huckerby earned City their first corner of the match and when Robinson's flag-kick was curled to the edge of the six-yard box, it appeared to brush the head of a home defender before Doherty headed just over the top.
Yet another Bale cross got as far as Rasiak and the big striker met it with a left-foot flick which, once again, was not too far off target.
Croft set off on a mazy run on the hour and earned Norwich another corner when his final ball, intended for Earnshaw, was cleared behind. Etuhu rose to get his head to the kick but the Saints were able to clear, although a little raggedly.
Earnshaw was shown the first yellow card of the afternoon when he went down under challenge from Wright just outside the Southampton area and referee Rennie decided, it seemed rather harshly, that the striker had dived.
Southampton pressed forward again and a close-range effort from Surman deflected off Hughes and went for a corner. From that flag-kick, the Saints took the lead through Jones. Wright curled his corner into the six-yard box and with neither Gallacher nor his defenders coming to meet it, Jones scored with a fairly simple header.
The home crowd were now roused from their comparative slumber and when a cross from Skacel came in, there were appeals for hand-ball by Dublin before the City man was able to clear.
Some neat footwork by Huckerby took him past two or three challengers into the Saints area as City looked to get back on terms, but Huckerby's shot struck Thorne and Southampton were able to hack the ball away.
With 20 minutes left Huckerby almost delivered the goods with a through ball which seemed to catch the home defence unawares, but Davis was quickly out to smother the close-range effort from Thorne.
Southampton made their first change when Wright-Phillips was sent on in place of Rasiak after 72 minutes.
Croft was looking eager to get into the action and sprinted to the edge of the area before picking out Earnshaw, but if he was hoping for a return pass, the little striker instead took one touch too many and ran into trouble.
A timely interception by Robinson from Skacel set Croft on his way again and although his first cross was blocked, he followed up with a centre to the far post, where Earnshaw just headed wide.
With 14 minutes to go, Grant made another change when Fleming was sent on in defence and Huckerby was, surprisingly, the man to make way. Dublin was pushed forward into attack and Robinson appeared to drop further back to play in a threesome with Fleming and Doherty.
Saints manager Burley made another change with 11 minutes left when Viafara replaced Skacel.
As City showed a little more urgency, Etuhu attempted a curling effort from outside the box and was just off target.
Robinson was being kept busy in his new defensive role and conceded a free-kick with a foul on Jones on halfway.
Jones took revenge at the next opportunity with a foul on Robinson which earned the Southampton man a yellow card.
Croft was looking lively and he burst forward again before setting up Hughes for a cross to the far post which Thorne was able to get his head to, but there was no one on the spot to take advantage.
City had really stepped up the pressure for an equaliser and when Dublin nodded back Doherty's free-kick, Etuhu struck a fierce shot which was blocked by a Saints defender.
Doherty was then just off target with a headed, and Thorne brought Davis into action when his header from Drury's cross was saved.