Camara clicks to help Saints see the light

Southampton 4 - Norwich City 3
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The Independent Football

With three minutes remaining in an extraordinary contest, a kind of footballing Hell's Kitchen - at least where Norwich City's Delia Smith was concerned - substitute Henri Camara summoned from his repertoire the goal which may yet preserve Southampton's Premiership status. It was a splendidly executed drive, and, in truth was a winner which Southampton had no right to claim after a second half dominated by the visitors, but manager Harry Redknapp has been around long enough to know this game frequently pays scant respect to justice.

With three minutes remaining in an extraordinary contest, a kind of footballing Hell's Kitchen - at least where Norwich City's Delia Smith was concerned - substitute Henri Camara summoned from his repertoire the goal which may yet preserve Southampton's Premiership status. It was a splendidly executed drive, and, in truth was a winner which Southampton had no right to claim after a second half dominated by the visitors, but manager Harry Redknapp has been around long enough to know this game frequently pays scant respect to justice.

Southampton move out of the relegation places, albeit narrowly on goal difference. Norwich, who have replaced them as the bottom team, can only reflect on what could, and should, have been after an afternoon which positively crackled with tension.

An inspired substitution? That was the inevitable question to Redknapp as he appeared later, effecting a punch-drunk gesture? "Nah," he retorted. "It was luck, not clever. What do you do? You need a win, so you just throw him on. It was hit and hope. It dropped to him and he knocked it in."

And we thought it was all about technique and tactics. On an afternoon when two ill-disciplined defences contrived to make this such a compelling contest from the opening seconds victory was achieved as simply as that. The winner arrived minutes after Antti Niemi had performed heroically to deny the Norwich substitute Simon Charlton. In those two instants, Saints witnessed their fortunes transform. From a team seemingly stricken, their preservation was suddenly enhanced.

At the final whistle, Redknapp and Norwich's Nigel Worthington hugged on the touchline. Worthington insisted he had still enjoyed the game. On hearing this, Redknapp responded: "He must be a psychopath... no, I don't mean that, what's the word?"

Try masochist, Harry. "Yeah, that's it." He sighed. "Nah, this ain't a lot of fun. It's so tight. The good thing was that we scored with three minutes to go. If it had been 10 it might have been different."

The Saints manager revealed that on Friday afternoon neither Camara, nor Peter Crouch, his most influential player, was expected to participate because of hamstring problems. The irony was that the scorer, of Senegal, but more lately of Wolverhampton Wanderers, from whom he is on loan, had infuriated the Saints faithful with an errant cross just after coming on as a second-half substitute. The goal was some atonement.

For much of the match, it appeared as though Norwich would continue their impressive recent run. Since that infamous "Delia moment" at Carrow Road, midway through the home defeat by Manchester City, Nigel Worthington's men have responded with an indefatigable spirit. But they still could not win away, and the fact that could not be corrected here may prove their downfall.

Fourteen goals conceded in their last five games said everything about where Southampton's fault-line lay and Claus Lundekvam had paid the price for that failure, being dropped to the bench.

The visitors were determined to expose Saints' defensive frailties. They did so after three minutes. Leon McKenzie provided a deep centre, allowing David Bentley to force the ball home via goalkeeper Niemi and a post. The lead lasted four minutes, however. Nigel Quashie broke through the centre and his pass wide to Matt Oakley gave the midfielder the invitation to drive the ball wide of Robert Green. It was the response Redknapp required from his men, yet his rearguard still looked anything but secure, with Dean Ashton smacking his shot against a post.

The Saints had ammunition up front too and Crouch turned Rory Delap's low cross into the net with a fine volley. It was the striker's 15th goal of the season, and yet again, he demonstrated that he is considerably more than a head on stilts. He nearly punished City again on the half-hour, but Green reacted superbly. It was a crucial save because Norwich broke immediately, and Darren Huckerby, who throughout the first period had been allowed to fashion scintillating runs, was given space to cut in on the left. Though Ashton was poised to convert his cross, it was Danny Higginbotham who did the job for him with an own goal.

Norwich were in the ascendancy once more. Or so it appeared. Six minutes before the interval, Crouch nodded on a long free-kick, and Graeme Le Saux drove home his first goal of the season. But the first half had yet more to offer: Green's long kick was headed on by Ashton for McKenzie to equalise once again with virtually the last kick of the half.

Crouch and Phillips both missed with headers at the start of the second period, but City finished the stronger. An Ashton attempt found only Niemi's chest and the Finn was again defiant 10 minutes from time, reacting superbly to deny substitute Charlton's excellent header from Bentley's cross.

But Saints would not be denied. Kevin Phillips' clever back-heel was saved by Green, but the goalkeeper could not deny Camara. "We've done everything right but win the game," said a philosophical Worthington. "But don't write us off just yet. Football can be a strange game."

Yesterday illustrated that. It means that Southampton live on; Norwich, with the ostensibly easier programme, still live in hope.

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