City boss Paul Lambert accused referee Russell Booth of reaching for his red card “quicker than Paul Daniels” after Darel Russell’s 64th minute dismissal against Southampton this afternoon.
The Saints duly went marching off with a 2-0 win and thereby ended the Canaries 11-game winning home run.
Though they remain top of the League One table tonight, Norwich now face the prospect of losing Russell for three games – for a crime that only one person saw him commit.
“The whole point of the matter is that Darel Russell cannot see the lad coming from behind him,” said Lambert, after the City midfielder clashed with Morgan Schneiderlin – taking the ball first; player an inadvertent second.
“How the referee thinks that’s a red card – it’s absolutely bizarre,” added Lambert. “Sometimes you get a game that’s too big for some people and I think that was too big for him.
“He pulled that card out quicker than Paul Daniels. I’m telling you – I’ve never seen a card come out of someone’s sleeve as quickly as that.”
The City chief confirmed the club will launch an immediate appeal; Southend are due at Carrow Road on Tuesday night.
That all said, Lambert was swift to acknowledge that Norwich had been second best for most of the afternoon as two strikes from Lee Barnard either side of the interval settled the contest.
“I don’t think we deserved to get anything from the game,” he admitted. “Sometimes you’ve got to hold your hands up and on this given day, the better team beat us.
“But we will bounce back.”
Despite some early invention, Norwich failed to muster a single shot on target in the game’s opening 20 minutes – an achievement they would then repeat in the next 25.
Korey Smith almost squeezed through following a smart one-two with Holt, only for Jose Fonte’s last-gasp intervention to slam the door shut in the youngster’s face.
Wes Hoolahan, too, had his moments; almost flicking the ball into the path of Chris Martin through the inside-right channel. Almost.
Southampton, by contrast, pinged half a dozen shots goalward in the opening exchanges; Jason Puncheon had the best – or worst – when he drilled a decent, 15-yard chance wide of Fraser Forster’s left upright in the 21st minute.
Barnard came closer in the 27th minute with a well-judged run and header in front of Michael Nelson that Forster had to catch alertly.
Four minutes later and the visitors got their due reward for carving out the greater number of chances; Rickie Lambert drove an astonishing 35-yard free-kick onto the underside of Forster’s bar.
Down the ball bounced; up the arms went in an appeal for a goal. That and a push on Nelson.
As all eyes turned towards the distant linesman for his verdict, Barnard simply played on and headed the rebound into an empty net.
The words ‘play’ and ‘whistle’ sprang to mind as Norwich’s hopes of a 12th straight home league win suddenly took a hefty knock.
Before the break and Barnard would lift another half-chance up and over as the visitors continued to find all sorts of space behind Michael Rose; not that he was the only culprit.
Possession was being given away all-too cheaply right across the park.
Lambert would need to work his magic in the dressing room if Southampton were to be denied an all-too rare away success.
Nelson at least got the second period off to a decent start with a shot. Low to Davis’ left, it merely heralded a frantic passage of play in which both keepers excelled.
Forster pulled off a superb, one-handed save at the feet of Jason Puncheon before Davis went one better and finger-tipped a deflected Korey Smith 25-yarder onto the underside of his bar.
This time the ball neither crossed the line nor was headed back into an empty net as Southampton continued to ride their luck in the face of a much-improved City performance.
All of which counted for very little as the game took an extraordinary turn with that dismissal.
Russell can rightly consider himself very hard done by as he took the ball away from Schneiderlin. At chest high, fair enough; but with the side of his foot as the Saints midfielder dropped his body into the challenge.
A yellow would have been rough; a straight red was, frankly, ridiculous.
On such decisions are seasons made or broken.
The fact that Adam Lallana would twice hit Forster’s left upright in the space of 90 seconds before Barnard grabbed his second of the game 14 minutes from the end was almost an irrelevance.
The points, the luck and that 11-game winning sequence were long gone.