Southampton 4 Norwich City 2
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Norwich City’s late fightback proved in vain in a 4-2 Premier League defeat at Southampton that plunged them further into relegation trouble.
The Canaries looked to be heading to an embarrassing defeat when Morgan Schneiderlin, Rickie Lambert and Jay Rodriguez rifled the Saints into a comfortable lead, but Johan Elmander slotted his first for Norwich in the 85th minute before Robert Snodgrass slammed home a second a minute later.
City surged forward in a desperate search for an equaliser only for Alex Tettey’s calamitous slip on the half way line triggering a rapid counter which endd with Sam Gallagher lifting over John Ruddy.
Norwich remained four points clear of the bottom three but wins for West Brom and Fulham and a goalless draw between Sunderland and Crystal Palace turned up the heat on the Canaries.
Chris Hughton made five changes from the starting line up that drew 1-1 against Stoke City at Carrow Road. Ryan Bennett and Steven Whittaker were preferred in defence for team captain Seb Bassong and club captain Russell Martin. Jonny Howson’s return to the first XI came at the expense of Wes Hoolahan with Gary Hooper spearheading the attack in favour of Ricky van Wolfswinkel.
Anthony Pilkington was also recalled for Nathan Redmond on the left flank. Saints’ chief Mauricio Pochettino kept Lambert in reserve with James Ward-Prowse replacing the injured Jack Cork (ankle) alongside Schneiderlin.
Howson appeared to be deployed as chief support to Hooper when Norwich were in possession, but it was the Saints who threatened first when the unmarked Gaston Ramirez headed over Ward-Prowse’s corner.
Whittaker’s counter-attacking foray ended frustratingly for the Scot and the Saints took the lead in the fifth minute when Schneiderlin raced free to clip beyond the advancing Ruddy after Adam Lallana and Ramirez had cut the visitors’ open.
England international Luke Shaw was then hauled back by Snodgrass but Steven Davis’ glancing header drifted wide. Lallana’s pinpoint diagonal pass dropped at the feet of Ramirez in the 16th minute but the experienced Joseph Yobo did enough to hold up the Uruguayan.
City’s best form of defence in the opening quarter looked to be sporadic attacking incursions, with Hooper sensing a half-chance inside the Saints’ box before Dejan Lovren capitalised on a heavy first touch from the Norwich striker.
Southampton looked collectively quicker and sharper in the sunshine at St Mary’s with Davis anticipating the flight of Lallana’s cross ahead of Martin Olsson but the Northern Irishman dragged a left-foot strike wide.
Referee Friend summoned captain Ruddy 40 yards from his goal for a lecture after apparent back chat from Bradley Johnson seconds after Hughton aired his grievances towards the fourth official after what he felt was a series of questionable decisions.
Hooper dragged wide 12 yards out on the angle after Snodgrass’ slip pass freed the former Celtic striker before Davis was the first player cautioned for a sliding challenge that caught Olsson on the knee. Pilkington’s goalbound lash from Snodgrass’ deep free kick struck a home defender with the City midfielder thrusting his hands to his head in frustration.
Bennett was then inches from connecting with the Scot’s inswinging free kick three minutes from the interval but Lovren did enough in a muscular duel six yards out.
Ruddy went full length to deny Ward-Prowse 25-yards out five minutes after the restart when City allowed the Saints to advance through midfield. The England keeper deserved his slice of fortune shortly afterwards when he got nowhere near a Ward-Prowse corner but Lallana’s flick dropped wide.
That respite proved temporary when Lambert marked his arrival from the bench by turning inside Yobo to slot past Ruddy from eight yards after Bennett was attracted to the initial ball won in the air by Ramirez.
Hughton made a triple change in response but the arrival of Elmander met with an angry reaction from large sections of the travelling support who vented their frustration towards Hughton.
Southampton continued to probe with apparent freedom and Lambert screwed wide from the edge after Guly Do Prado burst through the City midfield.
Rodriguez lashed home a third in the 72nd minute which spoke volumes for the fragility in the visiting ranks after Do Prado reacted quickest to slam at Ruddy before Lambert picked out his fellow substitute to lash home from eight yards.
Rodriguez then hammered against the top of the bar in the 82nd minute from fully 25 yards with Ruddy beaten but the City number one denied Lambert a fourth when he kicked away with his right foot after the striker was picked out yet again by the Saints’ dominant midfield.
But Norwich produced a stunning riposte with two goals inside a minute. Elmander barrelled his way through to roll underneath Artur Boruc following Jose Fonte’s weak pass before Snodgrass slotted after the Pole could only parry van Wolfswinkel’s initial strike.
City pushed forward in search of an unlikely equaliser spurred on by the away support with Snodgrass’ slip pass just evading Nathan Redmond. Lovren was forced to depart through injury with Southampton having made their three substitutions deep in five minutes of additional time, but it was the hosts who settled the game when Tettey’s slip on halfway allowed the Saints to race clear and Gallagher cooly applied the final touch.
• Southampton: Boruc, Clyne, Fonte, Lovren, Shaw, Schneiderlin, S Davis, Ward-Prowse, Lallana (Lambert 56), Ramírez (Guly 61), Rodriguez (Gallagher 90). Subs (not used): Gazzaniga, Yoshida, Chambers, Hooiveld.
• Booking: Davis (foul on Olsson, 35)
• Goals: Schneiderlin (5), Lambert (57), Rodriguez (73), Gallagher (90)
• Norwich: Ruddy, Whittaker, Yobo, Bennett, Olsson, Tettey, Johnson (van Wolfswinkel 64), Howson, Snodgrass, Pilkington (Elmander 65), Hooper (Redmond 65). Subs (not used): Bunn, Martin, Bassong, Hoolahan.
• Bookings: Pilkington (handball 44); Snodgrass (foul on Shaw, 60);
• Goals: Elmander (85), Snodgrass (86)
• Added on time: 2 minutes / 5 minutes
• Referee: Kevin Friend (Leicestershire)
• Attendance: 29,828 (2,294)