NORWICH 2 - SAINTS 1

Daily Echo: COMING THROUGH! Graeme Le Saux shows his battling qualities as he is sent flying by the challenge of Norwich City's on-loan midfielder David Bentley - while still managing to hold on to the ball. Daily Echo picture by: Chris Moorhouse. COMING THROUGH! Graeme Le Saux shows his battling qualities as he is sent flying by the challenge of Norwich City's on-loan midfielder David Bentley - while still managing to hold on to the ball. Daily Echo picture by: Chris Moorhouse.

STEVE WIGLEY won't want to hear it.

The players could do without it, the fans don't want to worry about it and the media will eventually get bored of writing or saying it.

But Saturday's 2-1 defeat to Norwich has pretty much guaranteed the billing for next week's game against Crystal Palace.

Yes, everything points to another one of those so-called 'must-win' games for Saints and Wigley.

'Must-win' or everything points to a long-hard battle at the wrong end of the table.

'Must-win' or the position of the much-maligned St Mary's head coach will again be seen as precarious.

And 'must-win' or fans will sing rude songs about Rupert Lowe and probably boo on the final whistle.

We've been here before, of course. We are constantly compelled to return to the same unfortunate theme.

Why? Because this current group of Saints players are unable to string together consecutive performances of real strength and quality.

It felt like a new dawn after beating Pompey. An unwelcome cloud appeared to have been lifted from above St Mary's.

But, just as after games against Charlton and Arsenal, a rather disappointing display has ensured the cloud has not totally cleared.

They may have been unbeaten in four, but Saints really needed to put together a run of two positive results. By that, I mean four points from two games.

Yet despite taking the lead against Norwich, Saints could not feel particularly aggrieved with the result.

Yes, they improved as the match wore on and had enough possession to get at least a point. But that was largely after they had fallen behind at 2-1 when Norwich were getting men behind the ball.

When the match was up for grabs, they were often second-best - particularly in a frantic first 20 minutes which lifted the Carrow Road crowd and set the tone for the afternoon.

Looking for their first win of the season, Norwich were full of fire on a bitterly cold afternoon, with their venom constantly channelled through Darren Huckerby.

As a player who is always prepared to run straight at the opposition, the former Coventry striker is something of a dying breed. But constantly drifting out to the left, Huckerby caused Saints all kinds of problems, particularly for right-back Jason Dodd who was regularly being left exposed.

Saints survived a fierce penalty appeal in the 12th minute when Huckerby picked up the ball and made for the by-line.

Dodd flung himself back and blocked the cross with his outstretched arm. It was hardly deliberate, but Saints were riding their luck.

They made Norwich pay in the 24th minute with a James Beattie classic.

The big number nine had already tested Robert Green once and he left the home 'keeper scrambling helplessly across his goal with a pinpoint volley from a Rory Delap cross.

For all Norwich's energy, it briefly appeared that Saints' added quality could prove decisive.

But the lead lasted just four minutes.

The equaliser was predictably conceived from the left when Dodd miscued a clearance which allowed Leon McKenzie to surge forward.

He squared for Damien Francis, who coolly side-footed off the post past on-loan goalkeeper Kasey Keller.

Saints briefly lifted their game and twice went close just before the interval.

First Dexter Blackstock showed his strength to turn, shoot and force a decent save from Green, before Francis headed against his own bar following a Dodd corner.

Blackstock had another chance early in the second-half, but could only muster a somewhat tame shot after Anders Svensson had threaded him through with a cute pass.

Saints were made to rue missed opportunities with Francis again at the heart of the action.

His shot forced an excellent diving save from Keller and, from the resulting corner, the Norwich midfielder headed home what proved to be the winner.

The frustration from Keller said it all with Saints guilty of some slack marking as Francis slipped away from Blackstock.

Wigley made changes as he sought an equaliser. Kevin Phillips, Mikael Nilsson and Peter Crouch were all introduced, but to little effect.

Clearly jittery at the prospect of a first Premiership victory, Norwich defended deeply and looked to use Huckerby as an outlet to relieve the pressure.

It worked well, with Saints unimaginative going forward and rarely looking likely to unlock a dogged Norwich rearguard action.

The closest they came was a rather tame penalty shout when Phillips' shot cannoned into the arm of Simon Charlton at point-blank range and then Delap and Beattie were both near to converting a cross that flashed across the face of the goal.

Wigley could have done with the option of Leandre Griffit on the bench.

So the much-hyped 'November crunch month' is almost all over.

Saints so far have four points from a possible nine and they look set to finish it pretty much where they started.

Indeed, they remain pretty much where they have been all season.

And unless they can produce a sustained improvement in their form, it is pretty much where they will stay for the foreseeable future.

Crystal Palace at home? It's another 'must-win' game, you know.

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