Verdict: Saints 0 Norwich 1

Last updated : 30 January 2008 By Saint Bobby
Ironically, a display of sufficient quality to reaffirm Saints' play-off credentials was coupled with a result that reduces any chance of our involvement in the post-season to near mathematical impossibility.


Having played it safe against Bury, the caretaker management team opted for an adventurous 4-3-3 formation.

Andrew Davies was declared fit to partner skipper Wayne Thomas in the centre of defence. Vignal retained the left-back slot and with Ostlund yet to fully recover from injury, Jermaine Wright completed the back four.

Rudi Skacel was finally returned to the starting line-up with Andrew Surman on the right flank and Jason Euell taking on enormous responsibility in the centre of a three-man midfield. Stern John played through the centre and was flanked by Rasiak to his left and Wright-Phillips to his right. John Viafara - who was thought to have recovered from illness - did not secure a place in the sixteen.

Match report

Saints began to lay siege to the Norwich goal from the outset and a fiercely struck Rasiak effort thundered off the post after six minutes. The midfield trio linked together masterfully and soon began to involve the two full-backs in some neat build-up play.

Whilst Vignal was occasionally guilty of playing speculative thirty-yard balls when a simple pass would have been preferable, Jermaine Wright turned in another highly-competent ninety minutes.

It seemed only a matter of time before the home side opened the scoring, but once Skacel had grazed the crossbar with a direct freekick from 25 yards and Surman's shooting boots appeared to desert him, the crowd began to fear the worst.

A superbly controlled effort from Stern John flew just over from nearly 30 yards out. Then, in the dying stages of the first half, Norwich finally managed a short period of attacking pressure. Having hit the post themselves, it looked like being goalless at the break until a poor sliced clearance from Vignal fell kindly to the visitors and they secured a 1-0 advantage at that crucial psychological moment - just seconds before the interval.

Such had been Saints' dominance, however, that a home win still felt like the most probable outcome if the team just stuck to their game plan in the second period. Rasiak smashed against the woodwork again just four minutes after the restart. And Bradley Wright-Phillips - who was by now looking a little unsure as to whether to play as a winger or a centre-forward - missed two further chances around the hour mark.

When the completely hapless referee failed to give a stonewall penalty for a tug on Rasiak after 64 minutes, the "it's not our day" feeling became irrepressible.

A double substitution immediately followed. Hammill was thrown on for Wright-Phillips, with Surman tucking in to form a more traditional 4-4-2 formation. Aston Villa loanee O'Halloran came on as a direct replacement for the increasingly shaky Vignal.

With twenty minutes to go, Southampton were given a golden opportunity to take at least a share of the points. A push on Rasiak secured a penalty, which following the Pole's lamentable - but ultimately successful - effort against Bury was taken by Stern John. Inevitably, he skied it over the bar.

Creditably, Saints refused to relent and both Skacel and Hammill proved they had the better of a flustered Norwich back-line. Only when Andrew Davies was outrageously yellow-carded for a superbly-executed tackle on seventy five minutes did ill-discipline start to set-in.

The home side now seemed to focus their energies on arguing with the alleged referee, Andy Penn, rather than on snatching something from a match they should have had wrapped up within the first half hour.

Idiakez replaced Surman with seven minutes left, but to little effect. And - with the exception of a last ditch shot from the tenacious Hammill, the game just petered out. Saints were seemingly overcome by the rank unfairness of their plight.


Whilst the team were sportingly applauded off at the end, this surely marks the end of this year's league campaign. Southampton have too much about them to worry unduly about the relegation battle, but now need an implausible and miraculous run of results to sneak into the play-offs.

We are now - to misuse a cliché - free to concentrate on the Cup. This was a desperately frustrating night on the south coast. But maybe - just maybe - there was enough here to suggest that the new manager will inherit a squad brimming with potential rather than a poisoned chalice.