Six things you might have missed from City's rejuvenating home win over Southampton
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
After a rejuvenating 2-1 home win over Southampton for Norwich City, David Freezer takes a look at six things you might have missed as the Dean Smith era started in satisfying style.
1 – First impressions
You never forget your first time and Dean Smith certainly won’t forget his first experience of Carrow Road as Norwich City head coach.
Beating Saints represented the club’s first back-to-back wins in the Premier League since April 2016, 56 games ago, and coming from behind to win for the first time since a 4-2 victory over Watford in May 2016, 51 matches ago.
Both of those achievements had eluded Norwich during Daniel Farke’s reign and only once did City score two headers in a game during the German’s 208 matches in charge, with Teemu Pukki and Grant Hanley matching Mario Vrancic and Hanley in a 3-2 home win against Reading in March 2018.
Beyond being the first home Premier League win of the campaign and the first time City have scored twice at Carrow Road in the league this season, Smith also joins Mike Walker and Ken Brown as the only Canaries bosses to win their first top-flight game.
2 – Second-half surge
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Expectation of victory wasn’t high at half-time though, when City had managed just one attempt at goal, thanks to Pukki’s equaliser.
A pitchside half-time interview with Canaries legend Darren Huckerby drew cheers from the away fans as he admitted Saints had been “excellent” and “the better team”. Huckerby ended by saying “we can do a lot better than that” and he was right.
Todd Cantwell may have been rusty but he wasn’t solely to blame for the disjointed first half. Smith brought Josh Sargent on to help protect Max Aarons and moved Milot Rashica to the left. The balance was better but so was the mentality, energy and intent throughout the team.
Seven shots in that second half, four of which were on target, emphasises just how stark the difference was. A classic game of two halves.
3 – Returning Sargent
It’s been a testing time for Josh Sargent ever since that unforgettable miss against Brighton, losing his place in the USA squad and eventually his starting role for City. He emptied the tank for his new boss on Saturday though.
That was exemplified at the start of injury-time as the 21-year-old sprinted back to get goal-side of the ball and hold up a Saints attack – one of several such wholehearted efforts from the City players that brought roars of appreciation from the supporters.
He kept things simple and worked hard but is having to rebuild confidence in front of goal, as shown after stealing possession and charging forward in the 56th minute but passing to Pukki to his right rather than try to test the keeper.
One snap-shot did win a corner but the American will need to combine quality with that commitment to thrive at this level.
4 – Bullish Billy
It was a similar story for Billy Gilmour, after another largely forgettable 45 minutes in a Norwich shirt as Southampton rampaged and the Chelsea loanee didn’t get enough of the ball, seeming to mostly chase shadows defensively.
Once his team got on the front foot, pushed higher up the pitch and increased their intensity though, the Tartan Army’s great hope re-emerged.
The 20-year-old has the ability to take the ball under pressure, turn in tight spaces and push into areas where he can create. That’s what he does for Scotland.
His tenacity and skill to set up Pukki’s chance shortly before the winner was precisely what City need from him and he wrestled corners away from Rashica to claim his first Premier League assist with the curling delivery that Hanley nodded in.
The standing ovation he received in the 86th minute showed that Canaries fans can see the ability is in there if he can find the confidence to express it.
5 – Building steadily?
I appreciate I’m clutching at one particularly big straw here but if you take a look at City’s last six games and ignore the 7-0 capitulation at Chelsea, there is an encouraging seam of form there.
Two wins, two draws and a one-goal defeat, to Leeds, have seen Norwich take eight points from a possible 15 while scoring five and conceding four.
That is very much survival form and is more impressive for being built on the back of a draining six successive defeats at the start of the season.
Clearly the Chelsea embarrassment can’t be totally ignored, even with the vast financial disparity between the clubs, and performances in those six games haven’t been convincing.
Yet Saturday’s second half is why there was pressure on Farke, from knowing that this squad is capable of more than it had been showing – and is still yet to produce a consistent 90-minute display since promotion.
6 – Welcome context
Grant Hanley’s first top-flight goal for Norwich was also his first in the Premier League for almost 10 years, since a headed winner at Manchester United for Blackburn on New Year’s Eve of 2011.
The Scottish skipper was also celebrating his 30th birthday on Saturday, notching his fifth goal in 118 games for Norwich to overcome a couple of horrible moments in the first half, alongside plenty of important defensive work.
Pukki’s 15th Premier League goal means just three players (Chris Sutton 39, Grant Holt 23 and Mark Robins 20) have scored more top-flight goals for City since its rebrand in 1992. The Finn is still 11 short of moving into the club’s all-time top 10 for the top flight though.
The three points also provide some very welcome context, with the Canaries now having a point more than after 12 games of 2019-20 and level with the class of 2004-05, but still five and six fewer respectively of the survival seasons of 2011-12 and 2012-13.