Norwich City were comfortably beaten at St. Mary`s on Sunday lunchtime by a Southampton side who looked anything but jaded by their Europa League efforts last Thursday. In the run up to the game, plenty of City fans on social media suggested that this would be an easy win against a Saints side that they thought were there for the taking.
Alex Neil fielded an unchanged side for the third game in a row but the game changed dramatically in the space of three first half minutes that saw Steven Whittaker receive two yellow cards in quick succession from referee, Jon Moss.
Whittaker got his first caution when he impeded Matt Targett after the City right back conceded a throw-in mid-way in the Norwich half. Targett wanted to take it quickly and Whittaker, knowing he was out of position, delayed him. There was no need to do it and Mr Moss pulled out a yellow card. A silly caution but perfectly reasonable from the ref.
Then, just three minutes later a long ball forward from Southampton saw Whittaker struggle with Tadic and pull him back near the half way line. The ball was running through to Ruddy in any case and Seb Bassong was also in attendance. Tadic immediately turned to the ref and waved an imaginary card at Mr Moss, who couldn`t get his cards out quick enough. Whittaker trudged off having seen a second yellow and then red, leaving his team mates with an hour to play and a numerical disadvantage. Alex Neil responded by replacing Wes Hoolahan with Andre Wisdom and Southampton seized the advantage.
If the truth be known, Norwich were second best by some distance even when the numbers were equal. There was no zip, no speed of thought or passing of the ball and as a result, Southampton were making all the chances. Before Whittaker`s dismissal though, Norwich had an excellent chance to score the first goal. Dorrans got forward on the right and was able to send a first time volleyed cross into the corridor of uncertainty. Jerome was there and lunged in with his head but only got enough contact to send the ball wide. It was a glorious chance.
I have to say that was a matter of timing. I may be being harsh on Jerome here but timing is all important and being in the right place at the right time is how the top strikers get their goals.
City finally conceded just before the break when Johnny Howson carelessly lost possession on the left. Sadio Mane sprinted forward and fed Graziano Pelle, whose first time shot beat Ruddy.
Ronald Koeman decided to go for the jugular in the second half and brought on Jay Rodriguez to join the attack. However, for the first 15 minutes of the second period City took the game to Southampton much more. They were gambling though, as they risked the counter attack if they committed too many men forwards but fair play to Alex Neil, he didn`t want to just sit back and just defend. The next goal in the game would be crucial though and if I`m honest, it was never going to come for Norwich.
On the hour mark, Tadic got that all important second goal and then added another with a tap in ten minutes later.
Three goals behind, Alex Neil wasn`t going to be able to do anything now but watch on uncomfortably. It could`ve been worse too, Ruddy denied James Ward-Prowse, Mane and Jay Rodriguez as Southampton dominated the game.
The Canaries were second best all over the park, even before Whittaker was sent off. In his post-match interviews, Alex Neil said he very disappointed and that his side had been poor. Having seen us play in our first three games, this performance was a world away from what we have shown we can do. The ball was moved on much too slowly and Southampton were better in every respect. I mentioned Jerome`s miss and as we all know, you don`t get too many chances in the Premier league.
Clinical finishing is a must and Dieumerci Mbokani would have fancied his chances of scoring in Jerome`s position – in two weeks` time, he may well be.
Before he went off, Whittaker struggled with Tadic and Wisdom then followed suit. The Liverpool loanee will be replacing Whittaker against Bournemouth and I`m desperately hoping that Koulibaly signs from Napoli to add some pace and strength to the defence. Martin Olsson will probably be fit by the time we face the Cherries, which should see Robbie Brady move forward into the position occupied by Howson on the left of midfield.
Neil will have plenty of options but with just 48 hrs to go, new quality additions will be most welcome.
In an ideal world, with one eye on being realistic too, I would like to see Koulibaly, Mbokani and Pritchard join with another striker as well because any more performances this bad and we`ll be in big trouble.