|I really don't know how to process this, as we are in a situation that nobody has any experience with whatsoever. I was never really convinced on whether I wanted to just have the season abandoned, or to play it out in some form or another. But to be honest, I had no clear idea of what else could be done. After weeks and weeks of discussion we have ended up with each club playing their outstanding matches, which in Saints case is nine games, four at home and five away. With Saints record at home, that imbalance might actually be a good thing, considering our appalling home record.
When I walked out of St.Mary's after the crushing loss to Newcastle on March 3rd, I had no idea that we wouldn't see the team in Premier League action again until June 19th, but here we are.
Apart from the obvious lack of any fans in the stadium, there are several other differences. Firstly the fact that there are now nine named substitutes, from which the manager can use five, but only interrupt the flow of play three times. Added to which there will be regular drinks breaks, as the games are being played in the summer.
So, to the team. Saints played Championship side Bristol City earlier in the week in a rather strange friendly game of three 45 minute periods, during which Ralph tried three distinct formations and several different players. The choice for today had already been reduced by one, as Moussa Djenepo served the first of his three match suspension for the sending off in the Newcastle game. In addition Shane Long has a muscular strain and he was rested for this game, to be ready for the Arsenal game on Thursday. The rest of the team was pretty much as expected, with both Armstrong and Redmond long since recovered from injuries that kept them out of the last game way back in March. The expanded bench gave chances to Will Smallbone and Nathan Tella.
Danny Ings was on fire in Saints first match since the Newcastle home game back at the beginning of March
IBO Reporter : channonite
|This was a strange one to report on, nothing like it had happened before. Both teams came out with 'Black Lives Matter' on their backs, where normally you would see the players names, while on the front they carried a small NHS blue and white logo. The big plus from my point of view, was that the game was shown by Sky Sports simultaneously on their free to view Pick channel, complete with artificial crowd noise. The teams and officials gathered around the circumference of the semi-circle for a minutes silence before forming up for the kick-off. The referee blew to start the game and simultaneously both teams players and the referee went down on one knee. It was a very emotional moment.
With the very short lead in to the recommencement of the season it was only to be expected that there would be some rustiness. With the extra available substitutes, came a tacit acknowledgement from the Premier League that nobody would be match fit.
Norwich having nine games left to save their Premier League skins, came out of the blocks very quickly and Saints were instantly on the back foot. There was a run of play when the home side won three corners in succession, as Saints failed to clear the ball. In fact Norwich came very, very close to scoring in that early skirmish and would have done, were it not for a very well timed intervening clearance from Danny Ings. The Saints No9 was starting off, what turned out to be a very impressive game, in the manner to which he played for the rest of the 90 minutes.
The away side really struggled to get any sort of toehold on the game for several anxious minutes, but gradually came back into it, as Armstrong and James Ward-Prowse took a grip of midfield. There was one glorious chance in the first half, when Jack Stephens went charging out of defence, up the centre of the pitch to almost the edge of the Norwich penalty area, before sending a short diagonal pass to Danny Ings, who cracked a shot against the bar.
In truth the first half was not very good, as both teams were clearly taking time to get the feel of the new realities of playing in an empty stadium. We got to halftime without a goal, but I just felt all the time that playing without home advantage of a crowd suits Saints and thought that eventually we could get something out of this game.
Within a handful of minutes after the restart Saints were 0-1 up, as the result of some wonderfully confident play from Redmond, Obafemi, Armstrong and finally, Danny Ings, who curled the ball into the top far corner of the Norwich goal. That's more like it!
Very shortly after that things got a whole lot worse for the home side, as Saints scored again. Once again there was some nice, incisive build up play from Redmond, Ings and Stuart Armstrong, with the Scot cracking a left footed shot through a crowd of yellow shirts, into the bottom corner. 0-2 after less than ten minutes of the half.
As the half wore on, Saints were running the game. Although Norwich were seeing a lot of possession, they just didn't manage to turn it into anything. Once, Valery made a mistake - one of several - and the home side managed to work it out to their most dangerous player, the Finnish International Teemu Pukki, who could only shoot straight into the arms of McCarthy.
Norwich did have the ball in the net at one point, but VAR showed that there were three of the home side in offside positions.
The third Saints goal was another example of the forward players breaking with speed and purpose. Ings tackled a Norwich player deep in the Saints half and raced upfield, passing to Obafemi, who played an intelligent ball across to Nathan Redmond. The Saints No22 opened up and sent a wonderful left footed shot across Tim Krull into the far corner. 0-3 and game over.
This was the signal for Ralph Hasenhüttl to use his five allotted substitutes, firstly bringing on Adams and Smallbone for Obafemi and Armstrong, then Tella for Ings, next was Boufal on for Redmond and finally Walker-Peters for Valery. This will be a feature of the games, as a combination of the summer heat (there were a couple of drink breaks) and lack of match fitness, will combine to see players tire towards the end of matches. It might also offer up chances for some teams to make a comeback, as changing so many players introduces the danger of upsetting the flow of the team. This didn't happen here, as Norwich were well beaten by this time.
Saints were good value for this win, once they shook the cobwebs out of their collective systems, they looked pretty damned good going forward. Ings was really up for this match and was everywhere, playing with determination. Armstrong just grows with every match and really makes things happen. Obafemi grew as the game went on and his strength and speed will be crucial in the games to come. If there is a weak spot, then for me it is Valery at right back, there is something just not right with him at the moment and I don't understand why Ralph doesn't try Walker-Peters.
So, Arsenal next up at St.Mary's, with Shane Long fit again and no crowd, i am hopeful that Saints can inflict more pain on the Londoners.
Man of the Match
Only one real contender - Danny Ings - Although an honourable mention goes to Stuart Armstrong, who is now turning into the player we hoped for.