|Coming just three days after the Premier League victory at Brighton, Ralph had some selection issues for this game. Did he rest key players, with the Manchester United home game coming up at the weekend, or did he stick to his mantra of taking the Cup games seriously this season, as he sees them as a more realistic way of winning something?
There was still the left wing-back issue to be covered, with Bertrand still unavailable while recovering from his ankle injury. Other than that, everybody was available for selection.
Hasenhüttl is clearly aiming to start more games with 4-2-2-2 this season, as the players get more used to the high press and this game was no exception. Goalkeeper is the easiest selection for him and he chose to bring back McCarthy to face Fulham. The back four were Cédric, Bednarek, Danso and the big surprise was at left wing-back, with Højbjerg being asked to play in a very unfamiliar position. The midfield duo were Romeu and Ward-Prowse, with the wide players being Boufal and Djenepo. At the front were Obafemi and Redmond.
The selection of Redmond was the sure sign that this game was being taken seriously, as he has been Saints most consistent and effective player in the three League games so far and it would be considered essential by fans that he would be ready to face Manchester United on Saturday lunchtime.
|Michael Obafemi scored the games only goal to take Saints through to the third round of the Carabao (League) Cup on Tuesday night. Why is it with our attack minded forwards and we have a lot of them now, Saints are still having trouble actually scoring? Just look at the stats tab and you can see in this match, that although we won, only one goal was scored from 19 shots, of which 7 were on target. Whichever way you cut it, that is pretty abysmal.
This match was the proverbial curate's egg, good in parts. After a shaky first half, Saints completely dominated in the second half and spurned chance after chance. Obafemi scoring the only goal in the 57th minute. The victory came at a price however, with both Obafemi (cramp) and more seriously, Redmond (ankle injury) having to be substituted. As if that wasn't enough, Djenepo suffered some sort of muscular injury and both he and Redmond will apparently be out of action for several weeks.
Fulham, relegated from the Premier League last season and managed by Scott Parker seem to have got off to a good start in the Championship. They also got off to a good start in the match, putting Saints under pressure and wishing the first five minutes, Danso had hauled down Kamara in a dangerous position and been yellow carded for his troubles. From the resulting free kick, Reid hit the crossbar, but it bounced harmlessly away. Ward-Prowse joined Danso in being booked, as Fulham kept the pressure on.
It was a while before Saints managed to get any sort of toehold on the game and Djenepo could even have won a penalty, when Christie seemed to have pushed him over in the box, but the ref was not interested.
Reid again went close at the other end after some neat approach work and probably should have done better. At this stage Fulham had more than 70% possession, but without really putting McCarthy under too much pressure.
It wasn't until just before halftime when Rodak in the Fulham goal had any work to do, tipping a shot from Redmond wide for a corner. From the resulting corner Djenepo unleashed a shot at goal, which McDonald did well to charge down.
We reached the halfway mark still 0-0 and in the knowledge that if it was still like this at full time, then the match would be decided by penalties.
Almost the first action of the second half was a dreadfully cynical foul by McDonald on Boufal. Ward-Prowse took the free kick but it came to nothing, when he shot hopelessly wide.
Not long after this came Saints best chance so far, when their pressing forced Rodak to rush a pass out from the back and it was intercepted by Romeu. Oriol paused looked up and fired a fierce shot at goal, which the Fulham keeper did very well to save.
We didn't have to wait long for the goal though. A great long pass on the left from the stand-in left wing-back, Højbjerg found Redmond, who raced up the wing and squared the ball across the face of the goal to find the onrushing Obafemi for a simple tap in at the far post. 0-1. A well worked goal.
Saints were a different team after this, creating chances galore. Hasenhüttl reorganised things by taking off Bednarek for Yoshida and Obafemi for Ings, which only seemed to make things even more one sided, with Fulham hardly getting a look in.
With less than a quarter of an hour left Redmond went down, without seeming to be challenged and immediately put his hand up. There followed a long break in the game while the trainers assessed what appeared to be an ankle injury and ended by putting his left foot in a boot and helping him off the field, to be replaced by Shane Long.
Rodak continued to keep Fulham in the tie, by pulling off several stops, but there was no denying Saints, even in the five minutes of time added by referee Robert Jones.
So, the second win in three days and the second clean sheet in three days. Not something we have had too much of in recent seasons, but that injury to Redmond was a topic of conversation amongst fans afterwards. Even worse, after the game it appeared that Djenepo had also sustained some sort of injury. Both were rumoured to be out of action for several weeks.
Man of the Match
Again there are several candidates, but I am going out on a limb here and giving it to our Captain, Pierre-Emile Højbjerg and stand-in left wing-back. He was great all night and started the move with a great long range pass to Redmond, which led to the games only goal.