Southampton-Norwich City Preview
Norwich host Southampton at Carrow Road on Saturday with the season of both clubs still hanging in the balance.
Alex Neil's Norwich (5-5-9) beat Aston Villa 2-0 in their final game of 2015 to take them up to 20 points and halfway towards the usual total needed to avoid relegation.
Despite the Canaries' strong first half of the season, they are still just three points clear of the drop zone and will be looking at this home game against an out-of-form Southampton as a great opportunity to pull further clear of trouble before they strengthen the squad in the January transfer window.
"The result was absolutely crucial against Villa," the Norwich boss said. "The performance was always going to be secondary. The fact that we've hit the 20 point mark at the halfway point in the season suggests that we're bang on track to hit the 40 points. It's not a bad return - we'd hoped for better - but it's not a bad return.
"We've got a bit of work to do to help the squad in January, and I'm hoping we'll kick on from here. The lads are under enormous pressure. They know what survival in the league means, not just to them, but to the fans and the club. To go and perform in such a key match under those circumstances, they need to take a lot of credit for that."
Visitors Southampton (6-6-7) have slipped away from the form that enabled them to qualify for the Europa League last season. A 2-1 defeat to West Ham United on Monday means the Saints have picked up just one win in seven and are still in danger of being dragged into a relegation scrap in the second half of the campaign.
Ronald Koeman's side surrendered a halftime lead against the Hammers, but the Dutch manager refused to cite fatigue as a factor, instead blaming a lack of ruthlessness that has stunted the Saints for much of the season so far.
"I think it was not a physical problem because we had a good reaction after going 2-1 down," Koeman said. "The players showed the right physical level until the last moments of the game and we gave everything until the last second.
"The team are beginning to get the confidence they need, we showed that for 45 minutes, but still one of our problems is that if you are so dominant on the pitch and it`s still 1-0 you give the opposition a chance to come back. That we have to change, but it needs time."
Southampton's lack of ruthlessness wasn't helped by the absence of first-choice centre-forward Graziano Pelle with a knee injury, and the striker will miss this match. However, Shane Long is likely to start in Pelle's place, and the Ireland international has six goals in his last nine league games against Norwich.
Jay Rodriguez (ankle) and Fraser Forster (knee) also remain unavailable for the Saints due to injury, while Norwich have doubts over the fitness of Andre Wisdom and Matt Jarvis.
The Canaries have won just one of their last 10 meetings (1-4-5) with Southampton in all competitions.