St.Mary's, Saturday, 15:00
Ché Adams appeals for a penalty after Scott McTominay clearly handled in the area, not once, not twice, but three times. VAR reviewed the incident to confirm it was a Manchester United player. So, clearly no penalty
|After the Leicester and Cambridge United away games, we face two home games in rapid succession. On Tuesday Chelsea are the visitors, but first there was the minor detail of facing Manchester United at St.Mary's.
After two good away wins at Leicester in the Premier League and Cambridge Utd in the League Cup, it became clear that four at the back seemed to suit the personnel available, so once again it was to be Bazunu in goal with a back four of Walker-Peters, Bella-Kotchap, Salisu and Djenepo. In front of that, things were not quite so clear cut. Ralph and his team seemed to have settled on Ward-Prowse and Lavia in the middle, with Adam Armstrong, Aribo, Elyounoussi and Adams changing formation, depending on whether Saints were in possession, or not.
This team is gelling fast and it is easy to forget how young the majority of the side are. However, the formation looked much more defensive than I was expecting.
At kickoff on another hot sunny day everyone was commenting on the state of the pitch, with loads of brown patches. It wasn't until after the match that we found out that the grass is diseased and the groundsmen have a battle on their hands to save it.
United were playing in their day-glo yellow/green strip. Clearly taking no chances of the players not being able to see each other...
The first few minutes of the game were fairly tentative as both sides seemed to be gauging the other. Then everything sprang into life about twenty minutes in, with a great example of how this Saints side will put their bodies on the line for the cause, when a cross came in from Dalot out wide on Saints left, towards the far post and somehow Walker-Peters did the most amazing acrobatic block. Bazunu then managed to clear the follow-up with his feet. Yet again the ball came in and Walker-Peters again blocked it. Even then it wasn't over, with Bella Kotchap clearing yet another point blank shot. Four separate blocks, with the whole sequence not taking more than a few seconds. I really couldn't believe that United hadn't scored. Outstanding defending and it got the fans well and truly stoked.
It was noticeable that Saints were really hustling United and this was much more like the team we saw at the beginning of last season, only more physical. The referees are clearly allowing much more robust physical contact than before and Saints appear to be making the most of it.
This was apparent when in a passage of play which started with Djenepo dispossesing a United player and went through several phases, ending with Bella Kotchap blazing over the bar, while falling backwards. All through this Saints were harrying and unsettling the players in the highlighter strip. Several players who had never looked convincing last season now look as though they know what they are doing and work well with the new boys. It can't be coincidence that the coaching team has had a complete overhaul and watching Ralph on the sidelines you see him almost constantly in conversation with one, or more coaches.
The first half see-sawed first one way and then the other. Both teams tending to cancel the other out. I did agree with someone behind me moaining about United not starting Maguire, or Shaw, as without them they looked a far better outfit.
So, we got to the break and it was still 0-0. Saints were very much in this, if only they could get a little bit of luck in front of goal and the strikers confidence would return.
Shortly after the restart Saints were undone. Dalot received the ball wide on Saints left and sent an intelligent ball right back across to the far side of the penalty area, where an onrushing Fernandes sent a volley arrowing past Bazunu. 0-1. A quick, clinical move, something we have not been used to seeing from United in recent games.
Straight away the Saints coaching team reacted and off came Elyounoussi, to be replaced by Suart Armstrong. That in itself is a noteable change from last season, when too often you felt that changes came way too late and when they did come, they made little difference.
This time the change did make a difference, with Saints seeing more of the ball and openings created. Straight away a move ended with Adam Armstrong managing to get to the byline and crossing back into a packed goalmouth, where Aribo had a point blank header palmed away by the keeper and Walker-Peters couldn't quite keep his instinctive header down. That really should have been the equaliser.
More and more Saints were making chances, with the next one courtesy of Bella Kotchap who ran at the defenders and blazed over the bar in best VVD tradition.
To give the defenders a different sort of problem, the exceptionally hard working Adam Armstrong was replaced by Mara for the last twenty minutes. However, try as they might, they couldn't penetrate the United defence, who were sitting deeper and deeper.
With the clock ticking down quickly, Saints tried one last throw of the dice, with a double substitution, taking off Aribo and Djenepo and sending on Lyanco and Perraud. The Frenchman being a straight swop for Djenepo at full back, but Lyanco went into a forward position, presumably gambling on his size to create something.
Mara had one spectacular overhead kick which was cleared off the line by a defender and another curling shot which went agonisingly just the wrong side of the bar, but time just ran out.
All in all I was not that upset that we had lost, as it was clear the team is coming together well and on another day we would at least have come away with a draw. Although, I cannot finish without mention of an incident which outraged me at the time when Scott McTominay clearly handled the ball in the penalty area three times during a tussle with Ché Adams. Even after reviewing by VAR it was decided that there was no penalty. Just the sort of thing you have to contend with when playing Manchester United...
Yes, in spite of the loss I thought there were several candidates for MoM. Bazunu has transformed the role of goalkeeper at Southampton in the last. few games, his long kicks put Saints straight onto the offensive and his command of the area instills confidence into his defenders. James Ward-Prowse was a man possessed, but even he couldn't seem to turn the game around.
But by far and away the hands down winner for me was Armel Bella-Kotchap who is rapidly becoming a legend in his own time. He is the replacement for VVD that we never got. An outstanding performance.
IBO Reporter: channonite
Romeo Lavia had another good game and has very quickly established himself in the starting line-up