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Southampton 1 v 1 Middlesbrough
SkyBet Championship
Friday, 29th March 2024 Kick-off 15:00
Southampton V Middlesbrough The Preview
Friday, 29th Mar 2024 08:16

Saints now have 10 games left in the final 5 weeks of the season and the Easter weekend will be crucial in deciding whether it will be automatic promotion or the lottery of the play offs.

A quick look at the table doesn't look good for Southampton supporters, but if we win our two games in hand then it will show that it is still tight at the top.

But the two games in hand will mean nothing if we don't keep winning the other games and any result other than a win is unthinkable.

But it won't be easy, Boro have been in form of late, although they drew their last game, three straight wins before that have taken them clear of the relegation pack and they now harbour hopes of a late push into the play off spots.

Their trip to St Mary's will be a little bit of last chance saloon for them in that respect though, if they fail to win then they could find themselves 10 points adrift of the final play off spot with only 8 games left and all hopes dashed.

Russell Martin has claimed that long term injuries aside he has a full squad to pick from, including Ryan Fraser who is back after 5 weeks out, but due to FA Cup fixtures and the fire next to St Mary's Stadium, he has only missed 2 League games in that period.

David Brooks is also said to be fit after suffering from injury, but the dilemma for Martin is whether he risks either of them from the start, my thoughts are that he might well put Fraser back in the side as he has been in full training for the week and fit and ready, whereas Brooks may not have his full strength back after his illness, so will be on the bench.

All eyes though will be on the back four, Kyle Walker Peters has been back in training for over two weeks and is fit and he will surely be straight back in given that he has been one of the key players this season, but will Russell Martin continue with his bizarre tactic of trying to play Jack Stephens at all costs.

This means that we could well see Stephens shoe horned into any of the back four positions, he could play right back with KWP shifted to the left, but then again he could play left back with Ryan Manning dropped, or he could start in the centre of defence with Taylor Harwood Bellis at right back and KWP on the left.

The options for the manager along the back line are many, but the simple choice is keep it simple, KWP, Harwood-Bellis & Jan Bednarek have been outstanding this season, they have to be played in their usual positions, and then at left back I would stick with the attacking option of Ryan Manning, although the defensive options of James Bree or Jack Stephens are also an option.

In the centre of midfield Downes, Smallbone & Stuart Armstrong seems to be our strongest option and then Martin just has to ponder his attacking options.

Adam Armstrong is nailed on but whether he plays out wide or centrally is still open for debate.

Perhaps the strongest option for me would be Ryan Fraser returning on the left, Che Adams in the centre and Adam Armstrong on the right.

As always though what will see us through is our strength coming off the bench, David Brooks, Joe Rothwell & Sam Edozie have all played big parts this season and then there is Joe Aribo, Sulemana, Sekou Mara & Shea Charles and the aforementioned Jack Stephens & James Bree.

That in itself is 9 options, so at least one of those will have to miss out to accommodate keeper Joe Lumley and I haven't mentioned youngsters Tyler Dibling or Sam Amo- Ameyaw.

So the one thing that Russell Martin cannot use as an excuse is a lack of depth in his squad, the issue of late has been how he has used it.

So another full house at St Mary's will roar on the team, there is only one goal and that is to win this game, hopefully we will win it well and perhaps improve our goal difference, but ultimately the main thing is to get the job done.

Photo: Action Images

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mgprobert added 08:30 - Mar 29
An excellent summary of where we are. I totally agree that our chances of automatic promotion, already on a knife edge, might well come down to the bizarre tactic of trying to play Jack Stephens at all costs. I'm glad someone else has to make these tough decisions, and someone, if I'm honest, knows a bit more about football management than most of us.

DellBoyWally added 14:46 - Mar 29
I don't mind bringing in Bree and to switch KWP to LB. BUT, OH NO! Stephens in for JB!
Adams in despite very poor showing against Sunderland.
Martin needs to realise he (Adams, not RM!!) will be leaving in all likelihood so play someone who wants to be here! Mara will be keen to earn a place for next season whereas Adams doesn't even seem to want to be in the shop window.
Nice to see Sulemana given a start. Hope he does a Liverpool.
And Leicester continue on their downward spiral. Keep it up!! Win! Win! Win! Saints

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