After 90 turgid, goal-less minutes, it just came down to a shoot-out between Artur Boruc and Grant Holt. With Holt’s attempt at giving him ‘the eyes’ failing miserably, Boruc’s fine save to his right earned his side a deserved point – in fairness, the least they deserved.
Despite the post-match deliberations centring around how poor City were as an attacking force they didn’t lose. Still picked up another priceless point. Edged ever closer to safety.
Did Southampton deserve three points on the balance of play? Did they miss the two most clear cut chances of the game? Did they pass the ball better than City? Hard to argue really… but Mark Bunn’s clean sheet – his third in the last five games – rendered the stats meaningless.
With Chris Hughton opting to go two up top – Kei Kamara getting the nod ahead of Luciano Becchio – he answered the prays of many who have been decrying the use of a single striker, particularly at home. Alas such changes come at a price – the unfortunate Wes Hoolahan being the sacrificial lamb – and the gaffer’s preference for playing two wide players meant the crucial central midfield area became the twin responsibility of Bradley Johnson and Jonny Howson.
With City’s midfield – for that reason – being stretched a little thin, it was the visitors who enjoyed the dominance in that part of the pitch; City more often than not being forced to feed off scraps rather than enjoy quality, controlled possession. And when they did get the ball it was a case of hot potato syndrome; too many wayward passes, too often the passing breaking down under pressure.
Instead Lallana, Ramirez and co made hay out of the extra body in midfield and generally looked the greater threat in the attacking third – especially in the first half. To City’s credit none of the chances Saints created were of the clear-cut variety and, when called upon, Mark Bunn again demonstrated what an able deputy to John Ruddy he has become – his finger tip save from Lallana’s thumping drive coming from the top drawer.
City’s only two real efforts in the first 45 came courtesy of a swerving Robert Snodgrass free-kick that was saved by Boruc, and a Michael Turner header that squirmed across the face of the goal on the stroke of half-time. In addition, Holt thought he’d been impeded by Shaw, when trying to get on the end of a Snodgrass cross, but referee Mark Clattenburg waved away the appeals.
The second 45 was a more even affair with City just about giving as good as they got, but with Saints carving themselves two very presentable early chances. Lallana was first to blaze over when well-placed and Lambert soon followed suit after Bunn had saved well from Rodriguez.
The missed penalty aside, City’s best chance of the match fell to Snodgrass, when trickery from Hoolahan – on for the injured Anthony Pilkington – ended with his slide-rule pass putting the Scotsman through one-on-one with Boruc. After side-stepping the Saints keeper he looked almost certain to slide the ball home, but was denied by a superb last-ditch block by Yoshida.
Holt had earlier also looked on odds for a tap-in from a Snodgrass cross, but again Yoshida was the Saints saviour as he slid in to block it en-route to the City skipper.
So after a fairly one-sided first half the second was more even, with both sides having chances to break the deadlock.
In the end it came down to the Boruc-Holt show – the duel ultimately won by the Pole – with the penalty being awarded, after lengthy deliberations, for a questionable foul by Shaw on the City skipper.
Perhaps it was the surprise of being awarded the first penalty of the season, or maybe it was the shock of being on the positive end of some Clattenburg showmanship but, whatever the reason, the penalty chance was spurned in anti-climactic fashion by an off-colour Holt.
Not the end of the world – the gap between City and the bottom three now nine points, albeit with Wigan having played a game less – and, given the overall performance, very much a point gained.
On a positive note, the City back-four – for the most part – looked calm and assured, and afforded Lambert and co few glimpses of the whites of Bunn’s eyes. While the match sponsors rewarded the industry of Bradley Johnson with the man of the match champagne, the performances of Bunn and Michael Turner were of the highest order – the latter revelling in the rain, sleet, snow and surface water of a bleak Carrow Road.
With 33 points on the board and nine games remaining there is still work to be done, but City are getting there… slowly.
With the Stadium of Light being the next stop, where better to make it 36 with eight to go.
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