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Southampton 3 v 2 Watford
SkyBet Championship
Saturday, 13th April 2024 Kick-off 15:00
Southampton V Watford The Verdict
Sunday, 14th Apr 2024 11:14

Saints scored in the first minute and also in the very last minute, in between we had some good football, but also some appalling play and game management both on the pitch and on the bench, but at the end of the day it is about the result not the game.

No one was surprised that Russell Martin announced an unchanged team from Tuesday's win over Coventry and that looked to be a good choice in the very first minute when a sublime cross from Adam Armstrong found the head of the unmarked Will Smallbone who found the net from close range.

It could not have been a better start and for 20 minutes saints looked back to their old selves and some good work from Kyle Walker Peters and David Brooks let Che Adams with a simple goal.

So now it was only a question of how many, but no Watford got their act together and bounced back aided by our usual penchant for playing the possession football game to the maximum and losing our shape and just after the half hour mark they pulled one back.

Now the bad side of Saints came out, I am coming to the conclusion that Russell Martin has told the players they will be fined if they clear the ball whatever the situation, hence we never manage a game, we seem to re start goal kicks with no rest, pick the ball up pass it short and here we go, if you are going to pass the ball to someone at the back, they have to have an outlet, but frequently that is ignored and players find themselves closed down and pressed into cul de sacs.

We have to have some game management, sometimes you have to slow things down and take the sting out of a game, we never do that, it is always about pass pass pass.

I have no problem with possession football, but like any tactic in football sometimes you have to go off piste and do something different, whether that is clearing the ball or playing a long pass.

In the second half you knew there would be a second goal, it was almost Watford in the opening minutes, but Taylor Harwood-Bellis read the game superbly and cleared it off the line, it could have been Saints, but the linesman's flag went up.

Then came the tinkering, the first substitution on 56 minutes was understandable, David Brooks was struggling to get into the game and on came Ryan Fraser, the second at the same time was puzzling, off came Joe Aribo and on came Stuart Armstrong, but I believe that Aribo had a knock, but to be blunt as we needed to dig in in the midfield, Stuart Armstrong is a more attacking player.

On 70 minutes off went Bree and on came Manning, like for like, but when you are defending a lead I would suggest that Bree is the man for the job and not Manning.

Then on 80 minutes came the truly baffling, take off Che Adams and bring on Sekou Mara, as many will testify I have often stuck up for Mara, but his appearance on Tuesday night was poor, so why was he brought on before Edozie or even Sulemana.

But the change at the same time was just plain baffling, on came Jan Bednarek, that was positive, after all he should have been in the starting line up, but he didn't replace a defender, off came Will Smallbone and Jack Stephens was moved to midfield, put bluntly he is not a midfield player, his only games there have been in the past few weeks under Russell Martin and have not lead to rave reviews, so why with just 10 minutes left is he put into our midfield at a time when we needed strength and mobility, Joe Rothwell would have been the obvious choice, given the omission of Shea Charles from the bench, they did the job on Tuesday night, but no Jack has to play somewhere whatever happens.

It was no surprise when Watford drew level with 5 minutes left.

But another baffling moment, this was the cue for a large chunk of the crowd to storm off in a huff, we were just about to enter a pivotal moment in the season, but many chose not to stay and watch it.

Saints have scored a lot of late goals this season and with 5 minutes of normal time left plus injury time. a winner for Saints or for that matter one for Watford was not a remote chance.

Just when the team needed the fans they were faced by the sight of thousands heading for the exits. But most did stay and were to be glad they did.

In truth the following 12 minutes were not that eventful and with the 7 minutes of injury time now gone you felt that we had blown it, even when we won a corner the smart money was on the ball being cleared and the final whistle being blown, but it was a decent delivery that landed at the far post and was met by Flynn Downes, Watford will claim a handball, but TV replays are inconclusive, no matter the ball was in the net and those in the ground went wild.

Perhaps this is the pivotal moment in the season, certainly it was the one that now meant that we can not be caught by the 7th placed club, it also means that West Brom who are in 5th place can now only equal out current 81 points, so we are almost over the line for 4th place.

But with Leicester losing on Friday night, Leeds in the lunchtime game and Ipswich only drawing, it opens out a chance at automatic promotion .

It is still a long shot, but if we win all our games we would end on 96 points, Ipswich can get 98 points, given that if we win all our games Leicester & Leeds would have lost to us, if they both win their other games then Leicester would get 97 and Leeds 93.

Automatic promotion is not quite in our own hands, but 3rd place is and that has to be our first aim.

This season is coming to an exciting conclusion, whether it matter to Southampton on the final day is yet to be decided, but certainly at Elland Road Leeds will have something to play for.

So why for so many does it not seem like that ?

Photo: Action Images

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janecook added 11:43 - Apr 14
A good report Nick. I agree with all your points. When will the manager start playing the strongest team with players in their correct position? Why do we keep playing Stephens when we always let in more goals with him in the team?

wibbersda added 11:44 - Apr 14
Time and Time again we rest on our lead and fail to push for a 3rd to put these games to bed. RM seems to be inexperienced with in-game analysis, to see where the opponent's threats are coming from and makes substitutions for the sake of it, rather than with a clear strategy. Like you said Nick, we also take goal kicks far too fast, given that we never get the ball upfield very quickly. If we are not using it to our advantage, then we should slow it down for the opposition to trek back to their half, thus reducing any pressure on our backline tippy-tappy game. Our goals also seem to be very scrappy lately, and we appear to have lost our style and swagger. Still, a lucky win and hopefully have got their mojo back for the Final Push.

codge added 12:17 - Apr 14
No real need for my comments Nick as you have given the perfect review of the match.COYR.

saintmark1976 added 12:30 - Apr 14
The Gods of Football smiled on Russell Martin yesterday, no last gasp winner and your report would have looked drastically different Nick.

At 2-1 Martin’s substitutions ( as they have been all season long ) were utterly mind boggling, culminating In replacing Adams with Mara.

Baz may be ideally suited to playing tippy tappy ( in the fashion of an old fashioned sweeper ) at the back but his actual keeping ability is almost non existent.He failed to come for the ball that resulted in Harwood Bellis kicking off the goal line and any half decent keeper would have saved Watford’s second goal.

Win on Tuesday evening and who knows? The pressure of expectation can do strange things as Leicester, Leeds and Ipswich are currently finding.


Chesham_Saint added 12:50 - Apr 14
Good report Nick .The bottom line is that we nearly (and needlessly) screwed up) and I have little or no faith in Russell 'Rylan' Martin at all.

ItchenNorth added 13:44 - Apr 14
A strange game that won't live long in the memory imo. We were comfortable for the 20-30mins but then the game started to shift and we were poor from then on and Watford didn't deserve to lose.

I didn't think the substitutions were poor. No one was play well. Aribo was not that effective, clearly had a knock, so came off. Brooks was equally not really doing anything so bringing on Fraser was obvious, but then Fraser did nothing. Bree could have stayed on, but Martin clearly needed to put on another attacking option, so Manning gives us that in the full-back position. Adam Armstrong was frustrating throughout, endlessly giving up the opportunity to shoot. The only players that stood out were Downes and maybe THB.

Then came the strange winning goal. I didn't celebrate it at all, because it was so clearly handball, the ref would surely blow and disallow it. That didn't happen but surely the lineman would speak to the ref, but he didn't. I stood there waiting, watching everyone go nuts. It felt like when you see the flag go up but half the ground doesn't see it and celebrates !

Happy for the 3 points of course and hopefully our luck is turning with other results going our way again. But we need to be better than Saturday.

SaintPaulVW added 13:44 - Apr 14
Fair report. Agree that we still don't game manage and just keep doing the same things over and over. Must be possible to have a plan B.

At worst the winner was karma for the Watford handball goal back in 2018.

To give him his due, I thought Manning did well yesterday. Really don't see why Stephens stayed on or why he started if Bednarek was fit.
Still a win is a win. If it gets other teams looking over their shoulder then fair enough. Really think we'll be in the playoffs tho. But that's out of our hands.

Just hope we can do a deal for Downes.



halftimeorange added 13:48 - Apr 14
No doubt about it in my mind, Russell Martin doesn't know how to close a game out. As we have stuttered towards the season's end his game management and substitutions have become more and more bizarre. We won in spite of Martin's tinkering, not because of them. I really don't think Jack Stephens should be a shoe-in each match, let alone captain. As for Gavin, he looks more and more vulnerable every time he appears (and that's despite vocal support from the Northam). If we do go up they shouldn't be allowed anywhere near the Premier League.

Bowlercow added 14:26 - Apr 14
Why is RM and his substitutions getting so much stick? Over the season we are near the top for goals scored by subs and goals scored in the last quarter of games I don't always like his changes but he has so much more information from the likes of the GPS vests they wear.
Many thought a mid table position was all we could hope for and now that we are down to the nitty gritty and still in with a shout fans have got to have a grumble about something
Last year Luton got into the play offs with a late run and hopefully we can have that type of run into the auto spots

davidargyll added 14:42 - Apr 14
We seem to be witnessing an increasing amount of tosh coming out of this site!
As if the persecution of Jack Stephen’s wasn’t enough, now the next target (actually ongoing for a while now) seems to be the making of what you see as questionable substitutions, which to you are “baffling”. All I can say is thank Christ you’re not the manager!
Did you really not witness the fact that it was a warm day, and after 75 minutes a lot of our players were visibly struggling? So substituting them regardless of for whom wasn’t baffling it was plain logic.
And just to underline the point, apart from a couple of long term injuries, and the odd exception like your favourite(not) player, virtually all our team has stayed injury-free, save the occasional knock. Might it just not be a decent bit if game management by our manager? Compare this to say to the likes of Ipswich or Biro who’ve had to cope with massive injury lists.
Unless you’re a Man City or an Arsenal, substitutions are always going to upset the rhythm a bit and inevitably there will be a degree of square pegs and round holes.
But oh no, for you the subs are always “baffling”.
I’m tempted to quote that wonderful line from one of the Pink Panther movies when Clouseau addresses a man with a white stick and says” What ees ze matter? Are you blind or something?”

Dan1977 added 15:00 - Apr 14
I think RM has identified his preferred starting XI, but my worry is the midfield looked shattered yesterday. He is going to have to rotate in Tuesday.

I thought pre-game that not having Shea Charles on the bench as he would give us a more defensive midfied option, whch felt like it played out.

I may be a lone voice but I don't see much difference in quality between Jack and Jan at CB. I'm more concerned about the lack of options/cover we have of the bench for Adams. I've never thought Marra was good/quick/strong enough, but recently he doesn;t seem to concentrating or putting the effort in.

But....... its all about 3 points, so well done Saints.

IanRC added 16:32 - Apr 14
In fairness to Jack Stephen’s he made two first rate tackles to stop Watford chances but on the converse side he gave the ball away just after the first Watford goal in a really dangerous position and we were lucky to get away with it. This inconsistency is why I have a strong preference for the Bednarak / Harwood-Bellis partnership. Jan is a great blocker of shots too.

I think GB is now making more long clearances when under pressure so I am not sure I am wholly in agreement with you there Nick but I do agree some of the other defenders should make more use of them. Some of HBs long cross fields are wonderful, just a shame Sulemana is not given more playing time to take advantage of them. In that connection thought Brooks was again poor and Fraser, bar his offside goal, was not as good as prior to his injury. Sulemana and Shea Charles must be mystified about what Martin has against them.

I can’t believe I am saying this but I thought the Manning substitution was pivotal to our win, his crossing particularly with the corners was critical. Just as well we were on the front foot and he didn’t have to do any defending.

Not good for my heart all this though highly entertaining. If only Martin would learn some lessons I am sure this could be a lot more straightforward. As has been apparent for some time the Leicester and Leeds games will be crucial.

saintinexile added 18:08 - Apr 14
Simple facts are that this team and definitely this manager are not good enough to step up. The players are over coached to the point of being robots irrespective of their individual abilities.

jameshill added 18:33 - Apr 14
Jack Stephens -An Appreciation.

Did you know that Jack has played under 18/19/21 football for his country? Did you know he has played 137 Premiership games - how could that have happened if he's as useless as some of you believe? Where he was picked by managers like Ronald Koeman, Ralf Hasenhutll, Mauricio Pochethino? Have you ever stoped to consider how many other players in the championship can say that? Have you conveniently forgotten he has in this season alone provided assists ,cleared balls off the line and made numerous last ditch tackles. Including yesterday when I thought he was superb. Heres some another questions for all you arm chair sofa coaches:
Have any of you played professional football.....didn't think so. Have any of you got coaching badges But somehow you seem to know he's better than this one or that one or shouldn't play at all. This site (and life) relies on opinions but I know whose I believe in ... and he's at the training ground each day and not on sitting on a couch. Finally, If you so badly need a scapegoat go for a run or kick the cat(actually don't do that) but FFS he's our captain - give the guy a break and actually SUPPORT the 'Saints'.

ItchenNorth added 18:37 - Apr 14
Spot on jameshill

LordDZLucan added 18:53 - Apr 14
Hear hear, James Hill. Could I just say that this forum has become a bit of a laughing stock with many people I know because of its obsession with one player. Can we just move on?

bryanK added 19:18 - Apr 14
Excellent write up. The lack of variation playing out from the back is driving everyone mad! All this dribble of a warm day, tired legs what a load of crap. The manager does not manage during the game and this creates the problems for the players.
Winning 23 games to date should have us feeling we have cracked it but it just does not feel like it I cannot remember any successful season being so underwhelming.
A good squad playing to orders without giving them guidance on a variation to their pattern of play is extremely frustrating.

SanMarco added 19:28 - Apr 14
Not sure that people expressing their honest opinion makes the site a laughing stock. I don't rate JS and I think we are a better side without him. Our failure to get automatic promotion and a playing style that a fair few of us don't like is, though, not the fault of JS. Fans love scapegoats though and sadly (and indeed unfairly) JS gets flack for what is the responsibility of the manager. Tippy-tappy only works for elite clubs whose players are very sure and confident on the ball. Our players are good enough at this level and I think could have taken us up - but they are being asked to play in a way that doesn't suit them We will never know but with a different manager we could well have done better. I hope he does go to Brighton - would be a better fit for him and we wouldn't miss him. And that is my opinion - doesn't make me or those that agree and disagree with me laughing stocks. And certainly not this excellent site.

I will be delighted if the winner was hand-ball given what happened at Vicarage Road a few years ago...

LordDZLucan added 19:47 - Apr 14
Everyone’s entitled to their opinion, SanMarco, and they should express it. But when that opinion gets repeated ad infinitum by a contributor irrespective of what’s happened on the pitch it ceases to be objective and doesn’t add to the debate.

Block8 added 09:18 - Apr 15
Can only assume that all those moaning about how bad the football is, haven't been watching us for the last few seasons?

onetowatch added 11:17 - Apr 15
So, davidargyll, are you stating then that RM has got it right, pushing JS into midfield , rather than the far better option of the under played Shea Charles, who wasn't even picked to be available from the bench???!!! Really???

Peterx added 17:42 - Apr 15
We are excellent in most games for about 60 minutes, some opposing Managers seem to be sitting off us and then going for it in the last 20/30 minutes when we are running out of gas and this tactic is often successful.

RMs plan seems to be to load the subs with attackers and then bring them all on with the view that attack is the best form of defence.

Where we seem to fall short with this approach is that Sekou can't hold the ball up as well as Che and defensively after 60/70 the defence starts leaking on the break.

I would rather see Shea Charles to stiffen up midfield for Smallbone after 60/70 as he still has some attacking capability and do a regular Manning for Bree or visa versa after 60/70.

In the start of games I think he needs to play Jack or Bedders but not both.

Would rather he left Che and AA on for 90 for next few games while we still can get automatics.

Then the next two subs would be a combination of Fraser / Kamaldeen / Sam / Rothwell / Brooks on for Aribo or Stu if they started. (I would start Stu before Brooks).

That leaves one sub in reserve for eventualities.

To sum up put Shea Charles on the bench otherwise we load with more attacking players and they don't get on anyway. Rothwell, Edozie, Kamaldeen were the unused attackers for Watford, one of those should not have been on the bench giving us the Shea Charles option which I think would have made a difference is this game and many others.

davidargyll added 18:37 - Apr 15
onetowatch: first thank you for the response. I'm not saying that RM got it right or wrong about JS, simply that he has been made a complete scapegoat on this website for a long time, which I think is unjust because it is the whole team who should carry the can for failure, not one individual (I mentioned last week that Nick said he was not blaming JS for the result but he then went on to mention his name eleven times - obsessive or what? ) And so far as Shea Charles is concerned, all the times I have seen him, he has not struck me as anything more than OK, and he was certainly worse than that earlier on in the season. Better than JS? I don't think obviously so, so I guess we will have to agree to disagree about this one.

onetowatch added 10:06 - Apr 16
davidargyll, you're perfectly entitled to your opinion on SC, but personally, and from other comments on this site, including those on his brief appearance against Coventry, agree, that he is an under utilised asset currently. He remains very calm on the ball when under pressure and has more of a presence in the midfield in terms of breaking up opponents play and putting a tackle in. To not even have him on the bench I think is criminal. RM obviously feels JS can play anywhere he needs him....

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