It took Dean Smith just 90 minutes to move Norwich off the bottom of the Premier League. Gone is the view that his new team’s number is already up this season.
A victory sealed by Grant Hanley’s 79th-minute header certainly seemed like a watershed moment at Carrow Road, the final whistle washing away the self-doubt that ruined the final weeks of Daniel Farke’s rollercoaster of a spell in charge.
It was also an occasion to savour for statisticians. Not since April 2016 had Norwich celebrated back-to-back Premier League victories, a 56-game span. That they did so after falling behind was even more remarkable as May of that year was the last time they even picked up a single top-flight point that way, a run of 51 games in which they trailed 37 times.
Smith also became the first Norwich manager to win his first Premier League fixture since Mike Walker in 1992. Eight others tried and failed including Farke, whose shortcomings at the highest level do not seem so egregious in such a context. Normal for Norfolk you might even say.
Smith, sacked by Aston Villa just over two weeks ago, has already bucked the trend but knows there are plenty of numbers still requiring improvement. Seven goals from 12 games and 27 conceded are divisional worsts but at least Newcastle have now let in as many – and more significantly find themselves one place and two points behind the Canaries.
Smith also made one of the worst starts to a managerial reign at Carrow Road as his new charges fell behind after exactly three minutes. Hanley was at fault for the move that allowed Che Adams to fire into the far corner.
Teemu Pukki headed the hosts level four minutes later but Southampton dominated the rest of the half, with Norwich requiring a good save from Tim Krul to prevent Adams from cashing in on another Hanley error.
Smith made his move at half time through word and deed. Todd Cantwell, exiled since August by Farke, was plainly lacking the required match sharpness and was replaced by Josh Sargent. The USA forward went on to the pitch as one of a host of underwhelming summer signings but left it having added significant energy to his side’s cause. The same applied to Milot Rashica.
Saints wilted and Hanley was able to rise highest from a corner to record his first Premier League goal in 3,612 days. The centre-back had last scored on the final day of 2011, for Blackburn at Manchester United.
Billy Gilmour, another player banished perplexingly from the starting line-up by Farke, supplied the cross and the Chelsea loanee was excellent overall.
Cantwell may have to wait for another chance but Scotland midfielder Gilmour, at 20 the youngest in the side, can expect to be busy until he returns to Stamford Bridge next summer.
“I went to watch him in one of his first games for Chelsea against Liverpool in the FA Cup and he ran the show,” Smith said. “He’ will be vital for us.”
Hanley agreed. “The ability he’s got, his attitude and mentality, you only see in certain players and those are the ones that at the top,” he said. “He’s probably the best every day in training and every time he plays.”
Ralph Hasenhuttl put Southampton’s second half dip down to post-international break fatigue but this was not the first time his side had been found wanting in front of goal while on top early on.
“To create the chances is great but we need to be more ruthless and clinical,” said James Ward-Prowse, the captain. “We stopped doing what we did in the first half – being brave on the ball, creating chances.”
Dean Smith enjoys instant revenge to spark Norwich survival hopes
By Jon West
Dean Smith began his Norwich tenure with victory at the first attempt thanks to Grant Hanley’s late header.
The man Aston Villa fired two weeks ago following defeat to Southampton was able to gain instant revenge thanks to his captain’s goal, which capped a stirring comeback.
Norwich were outclassed in a first half that saw Che Adams fire Saints ahead early on and Teemu Pukki equalise almost straight away.
But Hanley, on his 30th birthday, had the final say to earn Norwich a second successive victory and boost East Anglian belief that the relegation that seemed inevitable under previous manager Daniel Farke can be avoided.
“It was a good header from our captain,” said Smith, whose side are now off the bottom of the Premier League table. “It was a soft first goal we gave away, I thought Adams went through a couple of tackles a little bit too easy.
“Tim Krul made a really good save when Grant made a mistake as well but he made certainly amends in the end.”
Smith brought Farke outcasts Todd Cantwell and Billy Gilmour straight back into the fold, with both starting. Chelsea loanee Gilmour had been ignored since September; Cantwell a month earlier but only one of those gambles paid off.
Farke’s replacement knew he was inheriting the division’s leakiest defence but surely was not expecting it to subside after just three minutes.