City boss Paul Lambert was left keeping his fingers firmly crossed that common sense will prevail this week – and Darel Russell’s 64th minute red card will be overturned on appeal.
Whilst readily admitting that his table-topping Canaries were firing on less than all cylinders in yesterday’s 2-0 home defeat by Southampton, the post-match Press conference was dominated by the likely fall-out from Russell’s latest brush with the authorities.
In the past, the City midfielder has been guilty of the odd rush of blood to the head.
This weekend, however, and the look of incredulity on his face as referee Russell Booth raced for his red card was shared by nigh-on every one present – including Saints chief Alan Pardew.
Lambert was all but lost for words – well aware that the punishment for a straight red and ‘violent conduct’ is likely to be a three-match ban.
Their lordships at Soho Square have the power to make that four if any Norwich appeal goes seriously awry.
“Once I see it again [on the video], I’m very likely to appeal,” confirmed Lambert last night.
The City chief did, it appears, speak to the official afterwards.
“What did he say? He said he was brilliant,” said Lambert, seemingly getting little or no change in that direction.
“It’s just a woeful decision. Woeful. He’s not even looking at the late – no, I’ll stick up for Darel all day long.
“I don’t think it’s worthy of a red – I don’t even think its worthy of a yellow. A free-kick? Maybe.
“But he said, in his opinion, it was a red card. And he said he was in charge of the game. And his decision was to give him a red. But if he’d have looked at the lad and then really, really caught him it would have been different,” said Lambert, not giving up the debate lightly.
“Then I’d have held my hand up and said: ‘He deserved that…’ But I think everybody’s reaction in the stadium was disbelief.”
The price could yet be high; at least if it is a three-game ban, Stephen Hughes is fit and ready to step up to the plate.
“If it’s a straight red, then they normally go for three,” said Lambert, still shaking his head in bewilderment. Morgan Schneiderlin had arrived from behind the City star.
“He can’t see him. That’s the thing. If Darel could see him he’d be playing for Real Madrid; he’d have to have eyes in the back of his head. It’s bizarre.”
It did, inevitably almost, come to over-shadow what was an off-colour performance by Norwich’s usual high standards.
Gunning for a record-equalling 12th consecutive home league win, the Canaries huffed and puffed manfully enough but never really caused Saints too much undue alarm.
Korey Smith came closest as he saw ex-Town keeper Kelvin Davis brilliantly tip his deflected shot onto the underside of the bar.
At the other end and Fraser Forster needed to come to Norwich’s rescue with a wonderful one-on-one save as Jason Puncheon threatened, while the width of an upright denied a luckless Adam Lallana in the space of 90 second-half seconds.
In the end it was Lee Barnard’s strikes either side of the interval that – rightly – gave Southampton a prized away-day scalp.
“I don’t think we deserved to get anything out of the game – I don’t,” said Lambert, simply.
“There’s not too many times when I’ve said that we haven’t deserved to win a game, but sometimes you’ve got to hold your hands up and say that on this particular given day, the better team beat us. But will we come back.”
On Tuesday when – helpfully – Norwich play host to Southend United. With or without Russell.
“The crowd will come roaring back again; they’ll lift us again. And we’re still top,” stressed Lambert.
“These days happen. It happened to Barcelona the other week,” said the former European Cup winner.
“And if it can happen to them then it can happen to anybody. It happened to Manchester United today. And they’d just beaten Milan.
“Every team in the world gets beat. Every team. So I’m not going to let it dampen what the lads have achieved for me.
“The lads have been absolutely brilliant for me – and we’re still at the top. That’s the bottom line. We’re still at the top.
“And if you’d had said to me that with a few months of the season left you’re going to be sitting on top I’d have bit your hat off.”