Having made hard work of First Division opponents in the last round – Southampton required a replay to dispose of Millwall – Gordon Strachan's men were slightly more clinical against Norwich City yesterday, as they booked their place in the last eight of the FA Cup for the first time since 1992. This victory was all the more enjoyable for Southampton because they lost that quarter-final 11 years ago to... Norwich.
"I'm just pleased we got through," said a diplomatic Strachan. "There is no doubt that the draw is opening up, and we must now feel we have a chance." Nigel Worthington, his opposite number, agreed: "I can certainly see why they're in the top six or seven in the Premiership," he said. "We acquitted ourselves well, but they're a good side."
With three minutes gone, Chris Marsden cleared his lines with a hopeful punt up-field. Malcolm Mackay, the Norwich centre-back, seemed well placed to deal with the situation but he misjudged the flight of the ball and allowed Brett Ormerod to run in on goal. The Southampton striker looked odds-on to score but was denied by Robert Green's post. James Beattie, back from his first taste of international football at Upton Park in mid-week, then made a mess of the rebound.
Norwich were rattled, but intent not to fold under the home side's pressure. After 15 minutes, they finally produced their first effort at goal, a 25-yard skimmer from Paul McVeigh that fizzed past Antti Niemi's right-hand post. Nine minutes later, it was Beattie's turn to threaten from distance, but his 30-yard free-kick was well tipped over by Green.
The longer the half went on, the more Southampton came into their own. Paul Telfer, preferred at right-back to the ageing Jason Dodd, galloped down his flank before delivering an excellent cross into the area. Beattie rose highest, but his on-target header was too weak to beat Green. The Southampton No 9 wasted an even better chance when he scooped Matt Oakley's driven corner high over the bar.
Following the hard-fought, if rather boring first half, the fans were in desperate need of some entertainment. They were duly rewarded when, minutes after the restart, McVeigh tried to twist and turn past a couple of South-ampton players, but ended up sending himself into a spin instead and finished in an embarrassed heap on the ground.
Within seconds, Southampton had nearly taken the lead at the other end. Fabrice Fernandes, who came on for the injured Rory Delap late in the opening period, floated in a corner at the near post, which Danny Higginbotham flicked on towards Michael Svensson. The Swede is usually a lethal header of the ball, but his effort was too close to Green.
Still, at least Southampton were showing the panache expected of them. But with Strachan barking orders from his favourite position on the edge of the technical area, they had no choice but to pick up the tempo. Imagine the shock around St Mary's, then, when McVeigh decided to try another of his dribbles and was nearly rewarded with a goal as his curling shot beat the diving Niemi but rebounded off the post. "For a second there," Strachan admitted, "I thought, 'Oops, we're out of the Cup'."
What happened next was all too predictable. Having gone close one minute, Norwich were punished the next. After 70 minutes, Marsden crossed from the left, Ormerod cushioned his header down and Anders Svensson applied the finish to give Southampton the lead. Too easy. Moments later it was 2-0 to the home side as substitute Jo Tessem scored with his first touch, Green having spilled Marsden's shot.
Southampton 2 Norwich City 0
Svensson 71, Tessem 74
Half-time 0-0 Attendance: 31,103
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