|I have always had a bit of a soft spot for Norwich, always thinking they were a similar club to Saints. Mick Channon played for them, so they can't be all bad! Plus, having national treasure Delia Smith heavily involved with the club for so many years can't be so bad and who would forget her meltdown on the pitch at halftime in that match when perhaps after one too many sherries, she implored Norwich fans to "Let's be havin' you!" Priceless.
There have been some cracking matches down the years. Nobody who was there could possibly forget the Premier League match at St.Mary's in April 2005, when Saints won 4-3, with Henri Camara scoring the winning goal in the 88th minute. The stands were vibrating from the noise, something I haven't experienced since. My head was still ringing when I got home.
Southampton have won their last four home league meetings with Norwich City, all in the Premier League between 2014 and 2022. However, this is the first league meeting between the two clubs outside the Premier League since a February 2010 game in League One, won 2-0 by the Saints under Alan Pardew.
Southampton manager Russell Martin has won eight of his last 10 Championship matches across spells with Swansea and Saints. He is looking to become the first Saints boss to win his first two league games in charge since Glenn Hoddle in 2000.
As everyone by now knows, In their 2-1 win at Sheffield Wednesday, Southampton completed 930 passes, the most by a team in a Championship game since Fulham completed 935 against Millwall in August 2019.
And in a strange twist of fate, the referee is to be Darren England, who managed our last home game in the Premier League against Liverpool which ended 4-4.
|The team news was not that surprising given the imminent departures of Ward-Prowse and Lavia. This was another step on the way to the 2023-24 version of Saints. Bazanu was back in goal again with a back four of Walker-Peters, Bednarek, new club captain Jack Stephens and Manning.
Then we had the middle three of Alcaraz, Smallbone and Stuart Armstrong and finally a front three of Tella, Armstrong and Edozie.
Much as I like the individuals in the midfield, I just feel that they look a little lightweight. I am guessing that maybe this is one of the areas where we will see a new signing, or two?
Saints wear the red and white striped home kit, with black shorts and white socks.
Adam Armstrong scoring the second of his two penalties conversions in the 97th minute
|That was as exciting a match as I have been to in a long time. Well, at least since the last match of last season against Liverpool, which also finished 4-4 and even had the same referee. I have heard the match described as reminiscent of the Nichol era, but I think back to the days of Ted MacDougall & Phil Boyer (both ex-Norwich), where the forwards were desperately trying to score more goals than the defence let in! Whichever it is, this match was miles better than the sterile, tedious football we have had to endure at St.Mary's for the past couple of seasons.
As we walked towards the stadium after a long lunch in the centre of town we wondered what sort of game we were going to see after the highs & lows of the first couple of matches. The team selection certainly seemed pretty strong, although it was odd not to see JWP mentioned any more. The new TV screens were in place above the Northam and Chapel ends. They seem a huge improvement and have genuine widescreen video. The graphics seem light years better than what went before. So, that was a good start.
I think the crowd's nervousness was shared by the players, which was hardly surprising after last season and Norwich came out of the blocks quickly. They seem a big, quick and well-coached team and were deservedly 0-1 up before Saints had even settled. Norwich right back, Stacey got to the byline on the right, before crossing where the impressive American No.9, Sargent rose unchallenged to send a bullet header into the net.
That's when I realised there was something different this season. There was a brief period of silence from the Saints crowd and then they were loudly urging the team on. That is something else that has been missing from St.Mary's for far too long. Last season there would have been a collective shrug of the shoulders as we settled in for yet another loss, or maybe on a really good day, a draw. This season though the team seem to be made of sterner stuff and they gradually worked the nervousness out of their system.
Ten minutes after the opening goal Walker-Peters got down to near the byline and sent in a teasing cross to the area, which was met by Stephens, whose goalward header was punched clear by Gunn. However, the ball only travelled as far as Bednarek whose left-footed shot arrowed past Gunn. 1-1.
We hardly had time to process that before Saints won a free kick over on the right. Smallbone took the kick and sent the ball right into the area where there was a mass of both home and away players. The ball bounced around, without anyone getting anything like control. We couldn't really see from our vantage point what had happened, but suddenly play stopped and everyone turned to the ref who indicated handball and pointed to the spot.
Adam Armstrong took the ball and carefully placed it on the spot, alone with his thoughts. When Darren England was satisfied he blew the whistle and Armstrong shot hard about waist height to the far right of the goal, with Gunn moving too late to stop Saints taking the lead. 2-1.
This time we hardly had time to breathe before the next goal came. From the kick-off, Norwich worked the ball forward between several players until it came to Gabriel Sara on the edge of the penalty area and avoiding an attempted tackle from Smallbone he unleashed an absolute piledriver across the face of the goal into the top far corner. Bazanu had absolutely no chance of stopping that! 2-2 and only 23 minutes on the clock. Already my prematch meal prediction of a 1-1 scoreline was looking slightly wrong...
Things calmed down a bit, as Saints stuck to their possession-based game plan and slowed the pace of the game. It all unravelled just before the break, as in time added on (what used to be injury time, but is now time wasted added on!) when a corner won and taken by Sara, was headed in by the unmarked Rowe. The Saints players were left standing looking at each other. I am not a fan of zonal marking, which unless done properly just leads to this sort of thing. It was noticeable in the second half that Saints were man-to-man marking and the defence looked better for it. Still, 2-3 to Norwich and it was halftime.
Lots to talk about on the terraces during the break, but everyone seemed in agreement that it was exciting, but would be better if we didn't concede quite so many goals, but at least Saints were scoring goals again.
At the start of the second half, there was an enforced substitution as Edozie, who had had a good game, in spite of regularly being clattered by the Norwich defenders, went down again and stayed down. Adams came on in his stead and the formation was changed with Adams now the central striker and Adam Armstrong taking Edozie's place on the left.
I don't know whether it was the addition of Adams, Adam Armstrong being better suited out wide, the switch to man-to-man marking, or a combination of all three, but they looked like a much better-balanced unit.
We didn't have to wait too long for the next goal, with a nice bit of interplay between the Saints forwards, ending with a good goal from Ché Adams, running from left to right across the face of the goal and shooting back across the goal, beyond Gunn into the far corner. 3-3!
Stuart Armstrong then had a decent crack at goal, but his shot went just wide before Saints had a let-off when Bazanu made his only mistake of the afternoon. Norwich won a free kick in what we used to call JWP territory. Although Bazanu covered the shot which was going to the bottom corner, he misjudged the bounce of the ball and instead of pushing it around the post, he only managed to push it back into play. The ball bounced around a bit and ended up in the net, but the linesman/ assistant referee put his flag up immediately for offside and it was ruled out. None of that VAR nonsense in the Championship!
Pretty soon after Bazanu made up for that mistake by saving an almost certain goal from Norwich substitute Fassnacht, falling over Walker-Peters in the process, getting back up and retrieving the ball before anyone else could react. I don't care what anyone says, there is a decent goalkeeper beginning to emerge from the wreckage of last season.
The goals continued though, when Norwich must have thought they had won the game. In the 84th minute they scored after a quick break which saw Manning make a mistake under pressure and instead of clearing the ball, he managed to push it into the path of Fassnacht, who made no mistake, slotting the ball past Bazanu. 3-4 and strange to say none of the four goals could be blamed on the keeper.
The 90 minutes came up all too quickly, but one thing you can be sure of these days is that a whole hatful of minutes will be added on, and they were here. The crowd urged the team on and they redoubled their efforts, but there was some pretty desperate defending from Norwich.
And then Walker-Peters went surging into the area, having been put through by Amo-Ameyaw and was flattened by Giannoulis. The commentators said he fell/he was looking for it, which was hogwash. He was pushed down by the Norwich player. Minute 97 and Adam Armstrong steps up for his second spot kick of the afternoon. No question, Gunn dives one way, and the ball goes the other. 4-4.
There was still time for Alcaraz to take a pot shot at the Norwich goal, which went just wide. Just imagine if it had gone in...
What a finish! Next up, Plymouth Argyle away. Up as Champions of League One and currently sitting ahead of Saints in the League table
This team is coming together, no question. The only question for me is what the team will look like once the transfer window closes. The rest of the season is going to be a heck of a ride though.
For sheer determination not to be beaten, you could make a decent case for at least half the team, but I am going to be controversial and nominate Gavin Bazanu, simply for the surprise at the change in him in such a short time. He is not the finished article by any means, but he symbolises the upswing of confidence after the chaos of last season.