It is rare for an official to take pleasure from hearing supporters chant: "You don't know what you're doing," but, given what he has been through, Mark Clattenburg may well have been reassured by the abuse he received here last night. The 37-year-old has had to wait 31 days to take charge of a match again, having been accused of racism by Chelsea. But with his name cleared following a period of personal and professional torment this represented a welcome return to the derision-filled normality of being football's man in the middle.
The chanting, which largely emanated from a section of Southampton fans located in the Northam Stand, was somewhat cruel given the circumstances, as perhaps was the sarcastic applause that broke out whenever Clattenburg awarded the home side a free-kick.
However, much of what took place on a freezing night on the south coast would have been seen and heard many times before by the referee and, having re‑entered Premier League life as the fourth official during Spurs' win against West Ham on Sunday, Clattenburg can truly feel he is back where he belongs.
Not that his evening was free of controversy. Southampton took the lead in this largely uneventful 1-1 draw with a goal from Rickie Lambert that was clearly aided by a ricochet from his arm. The ball from Adam Lallana's 32nd minute free-kick struck Lambert before it bounced off Grant Holt and ran back into the path of Southampton's top-scorer for him to sweep home from close-range.
Holt appealed immediately, having seen the touch from his former Rochdale strike-partner. But Clattenburg was having none of it and the goal stood. It was an unfortunate moment, but the contact was slight and brief and, even without a month away from frontline duties, the referee may well have failed to see it.
The Norwich manager, Chris Hughton, was not best pleased but full of understanding. "In fairness it was difficult for the referee,'" he said. "They [Southampton] worked it well and there were lots of bodies around. I've spoken to the players and they're adamant it struck his arm. But it was great to see Mark back. He is an excellent referee and we need referees like him in our game."
It was a frustrating night for Hughton, who learned before the game that his goalkeeper, John Ruddy, will be out for three months due to the torn thigh he sustained in Saturday's draw at Everton.
At least the anger Norwich felt at the manner in which they went behind was eased soon enough when Robert Snodgrass equalised moments before half-time with a low free-kick from the edge of the area that Paulo Gazzaniga, the Southampton goalkeeper, allowed to slide under his arms. "It was a bad mistake and he knows he should have saved it," said his manager Nigel Adkins. "But we felt it wasn't a free-kick in the first place and given the timing it proved a real setback."
Adkins was less generous than his counterpart about the referee, noting that as well as the free-kick decision "there were also some interesting calls on some collisions in the first-half". But he too was sanguine, adding that "it's great to see Mark back, he's been through a tough time".
Ultimately, Southampton can take heart from a fourth match without defeat, even though they are still in the relegation zone, while Norwich have gone seven league games unbeaten, their best run in the Premier League since February 1994. For Clattenburg, the evening was equally satisfactory. Next up for him is Arsenal's hosting of Swansea on Saturday.