Saints climb to ninth with third straight home win


An Oriol Romeu thunderbolt wrapped up the points as Southampton chalked up a fourth win in five games to climb to ninth in the Premier League table at the expense of bottom club Norwich.

The margin of victory should have been greater, as former Saint Angus Gunn kept his old club at bay with a number of saves on his first return to St Mary’s.

But Ché Adams forced the ball over the line to put the hosts in front late in the first half, before Romeu’s Exocet finally gave Saints breathing space two minutes from time, as another sell-out crowd celebrated a third successive home victory.

Ralph Hasenhüttl’s team news was simple enough, naming an unchanged side following the 2-0 home win over Everton last time out, even with Romain Perraud available again after recovering from Covid-19.

The Frenchman was included on the bench, but goalkeeper Willy Caballero was forced to miss the match with a back injury ahead of Wednesday’s Emirates FA Cup tie against West Ham.

Saints were quickest out of the blocks, forcing a couple of early corners, before Norwich carved out the first notable chance on 10 minutes.

Teemu Pukki outran Jan Bednarek in a footrace and cut the ball back for Josh Sargent, whose shot was blocked by Tino Livramento, before Mohammed Salisu diverted Billy Gilmour’s follow-up wide of the post.

The hosts’ first significant opportunity came virtue of Norwich overplaying, as Mathias Normann was caught on the ball by Armando Broja, but his shot from the edge of the box was tame on his left foot and comfortably held by former Saints stopper Gunn.

Hasenhüttl’s side were faced with a wall of yellow and green. By the midpoint in the first half, the corner count had risen to four, but attempts at goal were from distance, as James Ward-Prowse lashed over and Kyle Walker-Peters forced another simple save from Gunn.

When Bednarek cleared a Norwich corner and the visitors were temporarily exposed, Stuart Armstrong’s sloppy pass scuppered Saints’ momentum.

The Scot had scored in each of his last two home games, and an unusually wayward shot from 20 yards nearly came good when Bednarek instinctively flicked it goalwards, but Gunn stooped to gather.

The keeper made his best save to date on 34 minutes, as Ward-Prowse’s whipped cross was helped on by Broja for Mohamed Elyounoussi, whose drilled shot hit Gunn as much as anything, but still goes down as an impressive reaction stop.

Gunn would surely have been powerless to prevent Adams breaking the deadlock from the resulting corner had the striker connected properly with a free header from Ward-Prowse’s delivery, but he mistimed his leap and could not hit the target from six yards.

Saints were gaining momentum and finally had the opening goal nine minutes before half time, as Livramento surged into the area and produced a low cross that caused havoc in the six-yard box.

Gunn did cut it out but only succeeded in playing it off his own man, and the ball spun loose for Adams to force into the net at the second attempt for one of the untidier goals of his progressing career, but the sort he’d love to score more often.

Saints did have the chance to double their advantage before the interval when Adams took down a booming clearance from Fraser Forster and invited Armstrong to join in, but Elyounoussi dragged his shot wide when fed by his teammate on the left side of the box.

The dominance continued into the second period, with more Ward-Prowse corners causing problems, as Adams was kept out by a brave block from the same position he threatened to score from an earlier set-piece.

Norwich were second best but have an ever-willing runner in Pukki, who made another dart into the channel and this time picked out Kenny McLean, but the ball bounced up awkwardly and the midfielder could not keep his shot down.

By the three-quarter mark the game was just drifting along, devoid of incident, as if Saints were 3-0 up and the outcome was already decided.

But in reality the hosts needed a second goal to cement their superiority. Armstrong hit a clean strike that tested Gunn’s handling, before Elyounoussi teed him up for another chance that was blocked.

Armstrong was getting closer, as he whipped another effort wide soon after, but by then his deflected cross had also served up a clear sight of goal for the influential Walker-Peters, whose connection on the volley was perfect but again too close to Gunn who could beat the ball to safety.

But Norwich were hanging in there, and gaining hope even as time ticked on. Salisu made a crucial block from Pukki, before Grant Hanley headed wide from their best chance of the game.

Hasenhüttl was suitably concerned to sacrifice Broja in favour of Jack Stephens, beefing up his defence for the last 10 minutes, but in truth Saints should by now have been out of sight.

Ward-Prowse eyed up the top corner from a free-kick that dipped just too late while Armstrong kept plugging away, and might have had an assist for Elyounoussi only for Gunn to make another save, but he had no chance with Romeu’s clinching goal.

It was lucky 13 for Saints on the corner count, as the skipper sent in one more set-piece that was only half-cleared and invited Romeu to strike first time with an unstoppable half-volley that flew into the top corner.

The perfect way to sign off.