02/01/2016: Norwich 1-0 Saints
Saints suffered another disappointing away defeat, this time to Norwich. Ronald Koeman's side edged the first-half, but we're beyond abysmal after the break. Saints are now down to 13th, with the teams below closing the gap.
Saints started with a fairly flexible formation, with Victor Wanyama often dropping back into central defence to form a back three, with the full-backs pushing on. Saints reverted to a 4-2-3-1 soon enough, with the attacking trio behind Shane Long regularly switching roles.
Saints had more meaningful possession than Norwich during the first-half and created plenty of chances, even though much of the attacking play was quite pedestrian. Long headed over after Dusan Tadic's cross had deflected up in the early stages. On 10 Wanyama planted the ball well over, before Norwich immediately went up the other end and shot wide. James Ward-Prowse then hammered the ball into the ground and straight at Declan Rudd following good work from Ryan Bertrand on the left.
On 20 a mix-up in the Saints defence presented Norwich with a good-opening, but Wes Hoolahan's cross failed to connect with a yellow shirt. Ward-Prowse's 26th minute free-kick flew over everyone. A few minutes later Bertrand shot well wide after being brilliantly teed up by Jordy Clasie. On 32 Saints had what might have been their best chance of the game, with Long hesitating too long after going one-on-one with Rudd. The same player forced the keeper into a good save from the resulting corner. Virgil van Dijk twice went close from corners, before Dieumerci Mbokani threatened at the other end.
Norwich looked a lot more composed on the ball as the second-half began, although much of the action was still quite scrappy. Saints struggled to maintain any sort of fluency in possession and chances were scarce. Stekelenburg struggled with a 64th minute corner before Tadic missed a good opportunity at the other end.
Neither side displayed much quality, but on 73 minutes the game swung in Norwich's favour when Wanyama was sent off for a needless foul in the centre of the park. Sure enough the home side were ahead just a couple of minutes later. Vadis Odjida-Ofoe cut in from the right, before squaring it to Alex Tettey, who placed the ball into the top corner from just inside the penalty area. Saints offered absolutely nothing in response during the closing stages. Bizarrely Koeman seemed reluctant to make any changes to personnel or tactics until the 80th minute when Sadio Mane and Harrison Reed came on. By that time it was too late. Norwich saw the game out comfortably.
Just as it seemed as if Saints were making a little bit of progress the team reverted back to pre-Christmas form. Saints did have several key players out, but the poor performance wasn't just down to being under strength. The team played like a bunch of strangers for much of the match. Going forward nobody seemed to be on the same page, with several players getting visibly angry at their teammates when moves broke down. The team shape at the back seemed to be almost non-existent at times, particularly after Wanyama was sent off.
Once again there was no cutting edge in the attacking third. Nobody seriously believed Saints would get back into it after going behind. Koeman was far too slow in making his substitutions. The team was crying out for Mane and Gaston Ramirez long before they were introduced. You can certainly understand Koeman's position on Mane after the player turned up late to a team meeting, but with the squad already stretched it kind of feels like we were cutting our nose off to spite our face. Either way it doesn't appear to be a very happy dressing room at the moment.
Stekelenburg: 5. Kicking often poor and unconvincing claiming crosses
Martina: 5. Seemed out of sync with the rest of the team at times. Tendancy to play the ball back every time a bit frustrating
Fonte: 5. Made a few errors
van Dijk: 6. Not brilliant defensively, but threatening at attacking set pieces
Bertrand: 5. Made a few good bursts down the left flank in the first-half, but delivery mainly dreadful
Wanyama: 5. Sluggish throughout. Didn't do the team any favours with the rash tackles which led to his dismissal
Clasie: 6. Put in a few crunching tackles and a fairly good range of passing
Ward-Prowse: 6. Really bright early on, but faded in the second-half. Set piece delivery mainly disappointing
Davis: 6. Looked Saints' most creative player in the first-half, but influence diminished later in the game
Tadic: 5. Made a few good runs in the first-half, but otherwise ineffective
Long: 5. Missed some good chances, and general play mostly frustrating
Mane: Unable to make any sort of impact
Reed: Tidy on the ball
Ramirez: Not on long enough to have any sort of influence on the game
Norwich: Tettey (76)
Referee: Mark Clattenburg
Norwich line-up: Rudd, Martin, Bennett, Bassong, Brady, Tettey, O'Neil, Redmond (Odjidja-Ofpe 63), Howson, Hoolahan (Olsson 81), Mbokani (Jerome 81)
Subs not used: Ruddy, Whittaker, Dorrans, Mulumbu
Saints line-up: Stekelenburg, Martina, Fonte, van Dijk, Bertrand, Wanyama, Clasie (Reed 80), Ward-Prowse (Ramirez 87), S Davis, Tadic (Mane 80) Long
Subs not used: Gazzaniga, Yoshida, Targett, Seager