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Southampton At West Bromwich Albion The Play Off Verdict
Monday, 13th May 2024 10:03

Saints weathered an early storm and then got the settled down to a workmanlike performance to ensure that they don't go into second leg at St Mary's on Friday playing catch up.

Russell Martin's team line up was pretty much as expected when it was announced an hour before kick off, the only real surprise was Sekou Mara in at centre forward and with Che Adams injured.

From the first whistle West Brom were on the offensive, Saints were finding it hard to find their shape and any sort of rhythm, it was crucial that we dug in and didn't concede and that is what we did and then slowly started to impose ourselves on the game.

Once we had done that we mainly controlled the game, although Alex McCarthy was the busier of the two keepers and had to pull off a superb save from a close range header to keep the scores level at half time.

Like the recent victory at Leeds you felt that this was a Saints team with organisation and spirit and one that was not going to lose this game.

At the back we were well marshalled with Jack Stephens playing his left back/central midfield hybrid role again, the midfield worked hard and so did the front line.

Sekou Mara was having a rare start and finding it tough going, but he worked hard and although being the whipping boy of some fans, didn't let the team down in what was the most important game of the season.

Russell Martin was the first manager to blink when he made the first substitution of the game on 71 minutes, on came David Brooks, Ryan Fraser & Ross Stewart, a little strange to change what was essentially the entire frontline, but Martin perhaps felt that we were comfortable in defending and wanted fresh legs to try and win the game in the closing stages.

All in all though this was a satisfactory performance, we look more like the team that went 22 League games unbeaten now, than the inconsistent performances that saw goals leaked and games lost in the aftermath of that run.

But we have got the first half of the semi final out of the way unscathed, now we have to finish the job at St Mary's

The travelling Saints supporters were magnificent, the home fans started the game like their team, they were frenetic and a sea of noise and colour on all four sides of the stadium, with just the 2,000 strong enclave of Saints fans in one third of the Smethwick End, but the Southampton fans took inspiration from their team and weathered the noise and then imposed themselves with some great backing.

There is a lot of talk about the Northam being a Red & White wall next season, but it needs to be that on Friday evening and indeed on all four sides at St Mary's we need to show the West Brom fans that we can match the atmosphere of noise and colour that they created on Sunday.

Near the end I reflected on the first time I visited the Hawthorns, that was on February 14th 1976 in the FA Cup 5th round, nothing of the stadium then is left, over the years it has been completely rebuilt, but the one thing that was the same now as back then, was the result, then it was a 1-1 draw and this time 0-0, our season then ended in glory at Wembley in the FA Cup, can history now repeat itself !

Photo: Action Images

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WestSussexSaint added 10:25 - May 13
All in all I think a draw was a fair result and it was certainly the case of “must not lose” attitude in this first leg.

Positives - McCarthy was confident in claiming dangerous corners and saved well when needed. Downes was outstanding (again). Stewart when he came on gave us something extra in attack and was unlucky not to score.

Negatives - Stephens seem to be the main culprit when dwelling too long or misplaced passes. He needs to be a bit sharper in possession. Mara was a waste of space for me. If Che is not fit on Friday (and assuming Stewart cannot do a full match) I would rather stick Brooks, Sulimana or Wee man in a more attacking role.

Overall we are in the box seat so should have confidence in turning them over on Friday. That said this is Saints and we never take the easy route!

P.s. does anyone know the rules on yellow cards in the playoffs? I worry if Downes picks up another on Friday that will mean he is suspended in the final.

IanRC added 10:58 - May 13
Good that we do not go back to St Mary's behind but I think Martin wasted a great opportunity to bring on Sulemana against a tired defence on a very hot day. Great to see Ross Stewart on and effective. Not sure about Brooks still.

Bowlercow added 11:08 - May 13
Captain Jack tried to invent some new ways of giving the ball away and Mara failed to influence the game in any way
MotM for me was McCarty On top of 2 great saves he commanded his six yard area and dealt well with the threat from long throws He will probably need to do it again on Friday
With nothing to lose I think Albion can and will throw caution to the wind and go all out for it I hope RM sees it right and reverts to a back 4 without JS

onetowatch added 12:43 - May 13
Yes, we're sill very much in the mix, and have home advantage, but I really do think, in what was a patchy performance, we missed a massive opportunity in the last 20 mins. I thought bringing on Brooks, Fraser and Stewart was a positive move and made a statement we were going for a win. But instead, we reverted to a far slower pace in our build up, even to the extent of getting caught on the ball deep in our own half. What was the point of bringing a taller front man on with 2 wingers and not, at least trying occasionally, to hit them early?
It would be good to know whether this comes from the players initiative or how the coach has instructed them....I can't help but think it's the latter.

no7saint added 13:19 - May 13
Fair report, a solid enough performance in a tough game. Special mentions to McCarthy and Bednarek, both superb.
The atmosphere was electric and I echo the call for St Mary's to do the same on Friday. A lot of talk has been on the crowd at the Hawthorns being the 12th man, we need everyone doing the same on Friday until the final whistle. The team have proven this season that they can turn games round so lets hope there's no moaning/booing during the game if it isn't going our way. COYR!

SaintPaulVW added 13:26 - May 13
Thought McCarthy was excellent although very nerve wracking the few times we almost got caught playing it around at the back. Corberon is a details guy so he had studied and coached all the ways we were going to play out. Really need to give this some thought on Friday.

Although Stephens did make a lot of passing errors, he put a shift in to correct them.

Downes was excellent. Thought Mara also put him self about their defenders with a lot of effort but just can't seem to get a clear chance. Stewart looked good, just needs a chance.

Both sides looked fairly toothless and the game was a cagey affair. A draw was a fair result.

Hopefully a thriller on Friday.



Avior added 13:39 - May 13
Agree with most of the above, McCarthy, Downes and Bednarek all superb. Only worry for Friday was the way Fellowes continually went past Manning and then Stephens as though they weren't there.

Farlow added 14:13 - May 13
Well done Alex MOM. Manning was very exposed.All their best moves came down his side. I thought Martin should have hooked him earlier.Unfair critiscism of Mara who is e developing player.Although things did not go his way put in a good shift against some big uncompromising defenders.I could not understand why the Ref boohed Downes yet let that horrendous tackle on Walker Peters go unpunished.Disappointed by our rather negative approach i hope we go for it Friday.

Farlow added 14:17 - May 13
I thought Adam Armstrong was very disappointing hope he,s on it come Friday

Boris1977 added 14:19 - May 13
RMs plan worked well but a significant part of his plan is banking on the opposition being toothless upfront which WBA were. It's strange how RM is happy with the defence taking countless risks at the back but not taking any risks going forward.

WBA really did target their right wing but and but for a routine but crucial stop by McCartney we'd have been chasing the game which in the heat wouldn't have been ideal.

We certainly missed Adams up front as Mara doesn't have the same presence really hope he's fit on Friday as I can see him and Stewart making a decent partnership - even if it only lasts ls two games.

Friday should be a straight forward win if RM allows the players to be more adventurous and doesn't make odd selections both with the starting 11 and subs.

Final thought if RM goes to Brighton or whoever the WBA manager could be a decent replacement. Getting WBA in the play offs was a minor miracle based on yesterdays match in isolation.


SanMarco added 16:33 - May 13
Good enough result. We should be favourites now but musn't be complacent as that right-winger seemed to have the measure of us on that side. . Well done to McCarthy, Downes and Bednerak in particular.

Tippy-Tappy diatribe alert: I hate it. What do we gain from the risky messing around at the back? It never seems to lead to anything and if it was going to lead to a goal yesterday it wasn't us that were going to score it. Even if you do find a reason for doing it (and it is Emperor's New Clothes as far as I am concerned) then you need highly skilled players who can pass very, very accurately and are supremely confident on the ball. Whatever else might be said about JS and Manning they do not fulfill those criteria. JS's passing is atrocious. We came close to handing them a goal several times in that second half. It is NOT worth it...

Adams or Stewart for Mara on Friday will make us more dangerous hopefully. Also Armstrong needs to get back to best form.


halftimeorange added 17:33 - May 13
I would like to know whether Jack Stephens is instructed to pass the ball regularly across the edge of our penalty area when faced with oncoming opposition forwards. Even park sides know not to do that! I thought Harwood- Bellis was off form yesterday and not for the first time recently. The messing around with the defence seems to have had a negative effect on him. I think we all know that Manning isn't a prem quality defender and Mara probably won't make an effective forward if we do get promoted. That said, after yesterday's fifteen minutes of rabbit's caught in a car's headlights, the team did battle for the draw. We will, however, have to be a damn sight quicker about our business in the next game.

PezzaSaint added 18:01 - May 13
From other reports I’ve read it seems that Adam Armstrong wasn’t happy with what he perceived as a lack of movement from Mara. Clearly it affected his performance. He always does better with Adams in the team. It was extremely disappointing to see Adams omission from the starting lineup yesterday!

JoeEgg added 21:37 - May 13
So many interesting and perceptive comments above about the match tactics and individual performances, especially the references to McCarthy, Bednarek and Downes(positive); and Mara, Armstrong and Manning (mostly negative). The tippy tappy risky football at the back we got away with this time - but that will not always be the case. Our boys are going to be so nervous on Friday, while Albion will probably feel as outsiders they have nothing to lose. Whatever our feelings on the main protagonists whether they be our players or management, we will stand together on Friday night and hope for a major step forward to the beginning of another great chapter in the history of our Club.

LoisDeem added 08:44 - May 14
We cannot allow them that many chances this time.
So, a more positive outlook at home, with the right line up and less suicidal back foot gifts to the opposition, and the best team (clearly) will prevail.
Total and absolute backing throughout the however many minutes that are necessary will then be duly rewarded.
I agree with virtually every contribution above, and trust /hope this is not at odds with the manager and club.

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