The Canary faithful tonight found themselves a new teenage hero as Nathan Redmond’s 68th minute strike proved enough to bag all three points against Southampton at Carrow Road.
A decent home draw against Everton on the opening day of the season had been followed by that disappointing 1-0 away defeat at a ten-man Hull; together they had made sure that this weekend’s home game against a side of similar hope and ambition was one to be won.
After a tight opening half in which Saints skipper Adam Lallana rattled the frame of John Ruddy’s goal, it needed a moment of genuine class from 19-year-old Redmond to separate the two teams as the one-time Birmingham City starlet darted in off the left touchline and drove low and true inside Artur Boruc’s right-hand post.
The result was enough to propel the Canaries into the top half of the Barclays Premier League table ahead of tomorrow’s round of fixtures; more importantly it keeps Chris Hughton’s men well away from that bottom gaggle where the pressure to dig yourself out of the bottom three or four is both intense and immediate.
With Spurs (a) next on the agenda following the forthcoming international break, Norwich can now head to North London on September 14th with big points on the door and a new, young Premier League star in the making.
One look at the City team-sheet would suggest that boss Hughton was not too far away from naming his strongest starting XI as he set his stall out with genuine attacking intent; the one notable absentee would be Gary Hooper, whose pre-season shin injury continued to dog his start to his new, Canary career.
Otherwise, the big buys were centre stage – as they were for Southampton with manager Mauricio Pochettino handing club-record signing Dani Osvaldo his first start alongside new England hero Ricky Lambert.
Formation-wise, it was also about as close to 4-4-2 as Hughton was likely to get as Johan Elmander was handed his first start, Leroy Fer dropped back into central midfield alongside Bradley Johnson with a restored Robert Snodgrass and the sparkling Redmond adding the width.
It took young Redmond less than four minutes to again state his worth as the England Under-21 winger cut inside his marker and drove low at the Saints goal from some 22-yards out; the ball flicking off the side netting as the teenager rocked the visitors onto the back foot.
It would be a ploy he would repeat after the interval, only to rather more telling effect. But Southampton had been warned.
The biggest chance of an even early spell arrived to Fer on 16 minutes as Dutch pal Ricky van Wolfswinkel flicked on a deep Snodgrass free-kick for the 23-year-old to latch on to. A stretching stab some five yards out found Boruc spreading himself on his line to smother the ball out and away off a lurking Elmander.
That said, Norwich had a huge let off three minutes later when Lallana cut in off their right and drove goalward; Bradley Johnson – arms raised head high – blocked the shot with his forearm. Those are certainly given.
Come the half-hour and Norwich were knocking on the door again as Snodgrass and Steven Whittaker broke with fresh menace down the right. Van Wolfswinkel met the first cross with a decent far post header only for the ball – potentially via another hand – to fall to Fer, whose shot was bravely charged down to safety.
Saints – in keeping with the bright and open tone of the contest – would respond with genuine menace; not least when the ever-sharp Lallana smashed Ruddy’s right upright from 24-yards off a half-cleared free-kick.
And in a young man called James Ward-Prowse the visitors also had a player with a dead-ball delivery on him. He was proving another danger as the half-time whistle went.
The re-start found Southampton maintaining their momentum as Osvaldo forced England No1 contender Ruddy into a hurried save to his right before Ward-Prowse saw his effort deflect wide for a corner.
To their credit, the home picked up the gauntlet and in first Redmond and then Snodgrass poked and probed either side of the Saints box without anyone ever being granted a wholly clear sight on goal.
Until Redmond made it for himself.
The teenager had already made the brightest of starts to his new career in Norfolk; he took that start to new heights on the 68th minute mark when he picked the ball up away on the left, darted inside both Calum Chambers and Ward-Prowse before picking his spot perfectly low inside Boruc’s right upright.
It was a fine finish from a young man blossoming on the highest of footballing stages as the Canaries helped themselves to that all-important opening strike.
With the game so finely balanced beforehand, the question now was whether or not the first goal wins…
It should have been two before the end – or at least a penalty to the home side – as Jose Fonte threw himself right across Snodgrass as the Canary winger ducked into the penalty area deep into stoppage time.
It was a stone-waller – that referee Howard Webb waved away. Fortunately, it came to matter little as two minutes later Norwich celebrated their first win of the 2013-2014 season.
Narrow it may have been, but between teams of such similar ilk the narrowest of margins are all that matter. Job done.