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Southampton V Coventry City The Verdict
Wednesday, 10th Apr 2024 09:36

Saints got back to winning ways, but Coventry didn't make it easy and the result was in doubt right up to the final whistle, but the main thing was that we got it done and in doing so just about cemented our play off place.

All eyes were on the team news from St Mary's at 6.45pm on Tuesday evening and as suspected one name was in the team and the victim this time was Jan Bednarek who despite being one of our most consistent defenders this season found himself on the bench, with Jack Stephens stepping into the centre and James Bree returning to the side after his suspension.

There was no place for Stuart Armstrong returning from a concussion though. as Russell Martin once again tweaked the side.

Saints started well and you could see that there was a steely attitude in the side that was missing at Blackburn, there was also a more solid look to the formation.

To get the main talking point of the pre match out of the way early, Jack Stephens playing in his natural position as a central defender can do a job and for the most part of this game he did just that, but the question still remains that Jan Bednarek is a better player.

After that good start we suddenly shot ourself in the foot, I don't have a problem with the possession football game, what I do have a problem with though is the way we sometimes employ it, we seem to have to keep passing even when there is nothing on and that is sometimes our downfall.

When we get goal kicks and free kicks in and around our box, we take the kick short and too quickly and we are shut down just as fast , the number of times I saw the ball passed to someone who has no pass on when he receives it was far too numerous to keep count.

That was the case for the first major incident of the game when the visitors were awarded a penalty, a long straight pass from the back to David Brooks was not really on but we played it and under pressure the Bournemouth loanee could not control it and Coventry countered quickly.

Their man went down in the box and watching it on TV later my opinion in real time at the stadium wasn't changed, it was never a penalty.

Most fans celebrated the miss, but in doing so didn't see why the referee had given a free kick, the initial worry was that there was encroachment and the kick had to be retaken, but the real reason was that Haji Wright had slipped as he went to kick the ball and had played it twice.

This let off gave Saints new impetus and on 18 minutes Kyle Walker Peters got the ball and went on a mazy run that ended with a 30 yard shot that seemed to take a deflection off Che Adams, certainly the striker ran off to the crowd and appeared to be claiming the goal, but KWP is the man it is credited to.

This gave us the impetus and we took control and you wondered just how Coventry were on the fringes of the play offs, that was exemplified on 38 minutes when Che Adams did get a goal, forcing the ball over the line from close range as it bobbled around.

In the second half the game followed a similar pattern to the end of the first, we were playing a fast passing game once we got through the slow build up from the back and we really should have scored a third, coming close on several occasions.

But the warning signs were there, our midfield were working hard and starting to tire and at the back we persisted with playing ourselves into tight positions, the key to possession football is to know when to put your foot through the ball, but Coventry sensed we were not going to do that and we kept passing, even when the pass was never really on.

Our first change came on 65 minutes, but it was fresh legs up front and not in midfield and shortly after we paid the price, watching from the stands you could see exactly where the move was going, James Bree had tucked into the centre and that left acres of room on our right side, in many respects the goal itself, although not the finish was similar to the first goal at Ipswich, a switch of play leaving a man steaming in completely unmarked at the back post, this one was far closer in through.

I don't blame Bree for this he is playing to orders, but no one is organising from the centre of our defence, someone has to be aware of what is going on around and push the full backs out when needed.

There was no excuse for leaving the man at the far post, it showed a total lack of vision and organisation.

Now we were suddenly facing a team with their tails up and still 22 minutes on the clock, it was not looking good.

Yet we continued to pursue a suicidal strategy at the back, where was a leader calming things down, slowing things down and organising, every goal kick or free kick in and around our penalty area saw it taken straight away, there was no thought as to whether the man being passed to had an outlet, it was just take the free kick within seconds.

I can understand this is the idea is to get it forward quick to catch the opposition on the back foot, but on virtually every occasion the result was the same, the recipient found himself with no forward option and we were pushed back with Coventry looking for a misplaced pass.

At one stage we were pinned back in our own penalty area for 5 minutes, each time we got the ball we played ourselves back into trouble quickly, there was no respite.

Substitutions were therefore going to be crucial, the first however was strange Sekou Mara on for the hard working Adam Armstrong, this seems to happen a lot lately and I cannot see why, why would you take off your top scorer and hardest worker when you most need him ?

But we hung on in there as several of our midfielders found something deep down to keep running, but we it was strange we didn't make a defensive substitution until the 83rd minute and only as Coventry themselves threw on their last 3 subs.

Joe Aribo was immense throughout the game, surging forward with the ball when attacking and winning it when we were defending.

Off went Will Smallbone, Che Adams and perhaps strangely the man of the match Joe Aribo and on came Shea Charles Joe Rothwell and Stuart Armstrong in midfield and this paid dividends.

Although Coventry were still trying to pour forward, now we had fresh legs and we could counter and the feared late onslaught from the visitors was not allowed to emerge.

So a good win for Saints, not only did it complete the first step, 7th placed Coventry & Preston are both 15 points behind with just 5 games to play, they can only now overtake us if we lose everyone of our last 6 games and to be blunt Preston 25 goals behind us have no hope. Coventry have little.

This win leaves us 9 points behind Leeds in second place with 2 games in hand, after they drew with Sunderland and Leicester lost at Millwall although Ipswich could leapfrog them if they beat Watford tonight.

This shows just how much the previous 3 games to this one have cost us, hold on against Boro and Ipswich to earn a win and a draw and we would now very much be in the mix, but at the moment automatic promotion is just pie in the sky and I feel that come the end of the season we will look back on those two Easter games as the point we blew automatic promotion.

But we just have to keep going and see where we get to, winning the next 6 games will be tough, but we have to aim to do so, if a top two place is not possible, then we have to try and hit 3rd to give us a better advantage in the play offs, this season is far from over.

I have been critical of Russell Martin in the past few weeks and I am still not sure about his stubbornness to play a certain player and indeed to employ possession football to the maximum even when a pass isn't on.

But what I hope is that we have the biggest and best squad in the top 8 teams who are still in with a play off chance, I would hope that whatever our tactics when we play the big games in the play offs, that quality will shine through and adrenalin kick in, last night we showed that we had players who could dig in and fight when needed.

Last night we won not because of our tactics, but because we had better players who come the end of the day showed they had what it takes.

Photo: Action Images

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WanderingSaint added 10:54 - Apr 10
Nick, between 29/03 & 04/05 (37 days) we have 10 games, so a game every 3.7 days. Expect more inexplicable team selections.

halftimeorange added 11:07 - Apr 10
I thought the substitutions were unbalanced. It was obvious that the midfield had run their race and to bring on Mara for Adam was bizarre. I'd also add that Mara did nothing for his cause while he was on. He loped around in a completely aimless way, didn't hold the ball up and easily lost possession. Maybe he's disillusioned by all the backroom gossip, and he probably won't be the only one wondering what next season holds. More positively, Shea Charles looked robust and tidy when he arrived and, at 21 and 6' 2" he is one for the future. I'm still unsure about Gavin Bazunu but, fair play, last night he had a decent game despite being exposed by the lack of defence organisation in front of him. RM made the job a lot harder to get done than was necessary, in my opinion. Stuart armstrong should've been on much earlier. His effect on calming things down was noticeable. Glad we've effectively made the play-offs. That should keep the players interested.

ItchenNorth added 11:17 - Apr 10
Saint were excellent in the first half and should have scored one or two more. The two stand-out players for me (in the 1st) were Joe Aribo, who was immense and Che Adams who got physical and made a real nuisance of himself.

Coventry had more pressure in the second half, but Saints managed this well.

You say that Saints though continue to play/pursue a suicidal strategy at the back, but Im struggling to think of too many times this season where this has directly cost us a goal. Certainly no more than any other situations that have cost us. For the Coventry goal, it wasn't about not being organised at centre-back when Bree tucked in, that's just how the play developed. It was that Adam Armstrong let his man go at the far side/post and he's acknowledge that. I think this strategy of playing out from the back speaks more of fan's anxiety than the fact that it is costing us goals. I see little point in lumping the ball forward, creating a 50/50 opportunity for the opposition to win the ball. When the games are tight and the opposition is in the game, the last thing you want to do is give the ball back to them, it invites even more pressure ! Slowing the play down at key times (towards the end of the game) is more important.

The key to better performance is playing players in the best position and to me, Stephen at centre-back is fine. It's about picking two from three between JS, THB & JB at centre-back. Then we play two recognised fullbacks and KWP and Bree, for me, are the best options in these positions.

A good win for Saints and a good atmosphere at St Marys as well.

stmichael added 11:26 - Apr 10
No verdict of this game is complete without mentioning Flyn Downes.
The real man of the match.
When Aribo tired and had to come off Downes was still
Making vital tackles in the 96th minute.
Our best player by far and heaven help us if he is injured for the play offs..

SalisburySaint added 11:38 - Apr 10
Wouldn’t blame Bree or central defence for goal, Adam Armstrong was marking man and switched off to give him space to creep in at far post, but that wouldn’t fit the agenda of having another subtle dig at Stephens

LordDZLucan added 11:59 - Apr 10
I thought we were as good as we have been all season in the first half, defensively solid but at the same time creative with our play out from the back. Also, Joe Aribo was immense going past players and showing great energy. However, in the second half Joe visibly tired and I was shouting for him to be subbed along with Will Smallbone a good 5 minutes for before the Coventry goal went in. To my mind neither Joe or Stewy last the 90 minutes so why don't we give one 60 minutes and the other 30 minutes rather than trying to eke extra minutes out of the one that starts. Also, I pray that Ross Stewart is fit enough to come on as a sub in the play offs because he has shown in his limited time on the pitch so far that, once the opposition start chasing the game and putting us under pressure, his exceptional ability in the air can offer us a very useful out ball option.

onetowatch added 13:52 - Apr 10
Most discussion points from last nights' game have been covered above. I just wanted to add 1 additional comment - Shea Charles brief but impressive involvement in the game, just repeats the question I've been asking myself for months, why on earth isn't he having much more pitch time? I do think a CM of FD and SC is our best combination in that area.

Flamingbankers added 14:14 - Apr 10
A classic Russell Martin Jekyll and Hyde performance and the players also have this Jekyll and Hyde aspect: positive, show our prowess and potential in the first half; second half sitting back, more defensive tippy tappy and dangerously vulnerable. Frankly we're lucky we got away with a win in the end.

All this to me shows that in reality Martin isn't a very confident manager. He overthinks his strategies, tinkers too much ( the Tinkerman, Ranieri, tinkered for Leicester but he had world class players to tinker with) and that we don't have many consistently top quality players. Martin listening to the critics was good, but this was only half done and sometimes the wrong choices are made; putting Stephens in at centre back but leaving out Bednarek. That doesn't matter too much to me because Jack usually plays well here and here played well tonight, rampaging forward on occasions and poking the odd decent ball forwards. But why break up the record breaking centre half pairing of THB and Bednarek - it smacks of unconfident decision choices. When Saints don't have Armstrong in the starting line-up we miss a large amount of creativity and goal threat. OK he doesn't seem to be able to play 90 minutes but at least leave him on, if fit, for 75 minutes because he's always capable of creating a chance. Fraser I thought was ineffective and Suleman might have been more of a threat with his pace. Adams was probably exhausted after his efforts but unfortunately moving Armstrong back into the centre doesn't seem to work especially when he's much more effective coming in from the right - where's he's scored most of his goals and been successful. Mara still flatters to deceive for me but then again he rarely gets a string of games. This season would have been much better spent, as I said at the start, with him going on loan to get as much first team football as possible. Hey ho, we march on.

Flamingbankers added 14:23 - Apr 10
Not sure what was wrong with Brooks - he really struggled and was awful.

hortonsaint added 15:22 - Apr 10
I’ve not posted on here before but the extent to which Nick insists on pointing the blame at Stephens compelled me to point out that the the goal conceded had nothing to do with poor organisation due to a lack of leadership in the middle. Adam Armstrong momentarily switched off and let his man go, simple as that. Armstrong’s reaction immediately tells you he knew he was at fault. The set up is fine, Bree tucked across to cover the centre backs thanks to Armstrong tracking his man, he just let him go, it happens.
As for the statement ‘the key with possession football is to know when to put your foot through it’, this is bizarre. The key principle for all possession based teams is to be braver by passing the ball under pressure and in tight areas when the instinct is to put your foot through it. That’s not to say that I don’t advocate clearing your lines when needed but it’s not something a good possession based team is coached to do.

Avior added 16:04 - Apr 10
Excellent post Horton Saint. Armstrong and others have been guilty of this on several occasions this season, but it is tough to expect forward players to track back to the extent we do. Answers some of the queries on our fitness levels. Also really good possession teams are drilled to get the ball back asap when they lose it (Man City are masters at it). Again this involves a lot of chasing. Unfortunately we are a long way off having the squad who can achieve this for 90 minutes so a little pragmatism wouldn't go amiss from time to time. We have not actually conceded that many goals from playing out from the back. Our biggest weakness is over-committing when going forward and being vulnerable to a quick break or a diagonal punt or a cutback, when we over complicate things approaching goal. We could solve a lot of that by taking the Bill Shankly approach of shooting as much as you can since it either goes in or goes out.

hortonsaint added 16:19 - Apr 10
Exactly this Avior, because we commit so many players forward when in possession, we have no defensive shape when the ball is turned over. We are especially vulnerable on the flanks and we get with away it time and time due to the level of opposition we face in this league. We rely on either the wide forwards or the central midfielders to attempt to cover these spaces but it demands a lot. Totally ageee about overplaying in the final third- KWP showed last night why having a crack
from distance has its merits too!

IanRC added 10:17 - Apr 11
Agree entirely Flamingbankers, Fraser and Brooks have both been way off their games in the last few matches. Stubborn Martin will not give Sulemana a decent run though. I agree that when Stuart came on things calmed down but with the other substitutions made we had removed all attacking threat so we were forced to absorb much more pressure than we should have and in the end were perhaps fortunate to win. Bring on Sulemana and play a few balls over the top for him to run onto, that would force some of the opposition back. In fact mixing up our passing out from the back with a few more balls over the top throughout the game would undoubtedly keep the opposition guessing and help relieve pressure. Still an outside chance of automatic promotion and rotation will be necessary but Martin needs to up his game considerably.

Monksway added 10:39 - Apr 11
I thought the game showed how evenly matched so many of the sides are and it's is often down to the "rub of the green". Saints were unlucky against Middlesbrough and Ipswich and got lucky tonight. There is an inevitable tendency to retrofit performances to results when often it's a single individual error, piece of skillor slice of luck that determines the outcome.

bryanK added 14:20 - Apr 11
Thought performance was better and a good number of players played well for 60 minutes until the tinkering started. We will need robust, brave players in the playoffs and to be brutally honest neither Brooks or Mara fit the bill. Lightweights spring to mind although creative at times they do not seem to want to roll their sleeves up when it matters.
Hard working players will be the order of the day.

Colburn added 06:57 - Apr 12

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