|Last Sunday Manchester City despatched Newcastle in their FA Cup quarter final, as Saints chalked up another away win at Watford. In the past week, Saints have prepared for this match, whilst on Thursday City crushed newly crowned Champions Liverpool 4-0.
On paper we don’t have a chance. We have mustered just 4 wins at home to date so Lock Down must have come as a huge relief to our hard-pressed ST Holders. Meanwhile, City have had 9 wins and one draw on the road. Our best hope comes from playing on grass, not paper...
Apparently neither Boufal nor Højbjerg are expected to be fit whilst Aguero is their only absentee. Ralph may opt for the same starting XI as last week, but Pep is sure to make changes. Bernado Silva and Mahrez are likely starters and he may well rest Laporte. Central defence is the one area where City are not impressively strong so this may be a bonus for Danny Ings.
Pep sounds upbeat about the Court of Arbitration for Sport supporting City’s appeal against the European ban. This result is due during the next fortnight and, if the ban is lifted, expect City to swiftly move to strengthen that defence. Meanwhile, we must hope that The King of the Scummers can get amongst them and reap some reward, if not the points.
Pep had indeed made changes, 6 of them, but retained Garcia and Laporte at centre back. Both Silvas and Fernandinho were the midfield with Mahrez, Jesus and Sterling up front. City had a fearsome set of substitutes if required. Ralph gave Adams his 11th start replacing Long alongside Ings. Armstrong and Stephens also returned with Smallbone and Vestergaard dropping out.
During the long gap since March, people may have forgotten City lost their last 2 away league games – at United and Chelsea. Pep, who has never lost three consecutive away games in his career, is sure to be fully aware of this situation. Should there be any possibility of Saints winning this, expect the pale blue cavalry to come riding to the rescue from the Away benches. Good luck everybody!
Ché Adams, surrounded by his teammates, after scoring his first Premier League goal for the club and the match winner against Manchester City
IBO Reporter : Spot51
|Guy Mowbray and Danny Murphy were BBC’s commentary team. St Mary’s looked spectacular in the evening sunshine, especially the aerial views with the Itchen and Southampton Water beyond. City kicked off towards The Chapel and began to dominate possession. Their passing was crisp and effective, but Saints were working hard to keep them at bay. On 6m Saints worked a shooting opportunity for Adams. His mis-hit shot found Redmond but arrive too quickly for him to get a shot away.
KWP was doing well policing Sterling and Saints next attack won a free kick, central but a long way out. Redmond shot but the ball struck the defenders and spun out for a corner. JWP’s first cross won another corner. City cleared that but Saints were doing OK. Indeed, we’d played 10 minutes and Mr Marriner hadn’t sent Bertie off!
On 12m Adams chased a pass which Laporte turned back to his keeper – looked a back pass but nothing happened. City then enjoyed more possession, nice passing, but Saints continued to defend well. They were also looking more decisive up front, Ederson just beating Armstrong to Ings’ pass.
On 16m City were passing the ball across the back before sending it forward to Zinchenko. He was immediately closed down by Armstrong with the ball springing away. Ings closed in but it was Adams who collected the ball Looking up, he saw Ederson well outside his penalty area. He struck a beautifully curling shot, high above the retreating keeper which dropped into the unguarded net. Adams had opened his account on his 30th appearance and Saints led 1-0.
City kept coming and on 20m Mahrez put Cancelo away down their right. His cross was turned behind but Bednarek cleared the corner. Their next attack saw an outrageous dive from Bernado but Andy Madley on VAR was not impressed. Then Jesus got on the end of another driven cross from Cancelo but could not keep his shot down.
After the drinks break, Bednarek cut out Silva’s cross and then, on 29m, McCarthy made a string of saves. The first save found its way to Fernandino whose low drive struck the post. The ball was crossed back and McCarthy blocked Silva’s downwards header before Sterling crashed a shot wide of the far post. Phew!
McCarthy was earning his money as moments later he won a foot race with Jesus to reach the ball first. Saints still posed an attacking threat too. On 33m, Redmond robbed Cancelo and cut in on goal. Whether rushing or stretching, he got under the ball and sent it high over the bar. Soon after Stephens found Redmond with his long pass; this time Redmond was on target but Ederson saved.
At the other end Mahrez got a couple of shots away. His first was saved by McCarthy, before Bednarek blocked the next. Play was stopped on 38m after KWP and Silva cracked heads. Thankfully, both were able to carry on. Saints carried on closing down and pushing City back. All our players were involved, with JWP playing the captain’s role, covering every inch. As the clock ticked towards half-time we saw De Bruyne warming up – ominous.
On 44m KWP got forward and put in a decent cross. Ings reached it but could not keep his shot down. Romeu was booked for a foul on Silva, as we moved into 3 added minutes. City kept attacking, but Saints still held firm. Even Adams was doing his bit, closing down, making them go sideways. The only time City got through Jesus was flagged offside.
Half time arrived – still 1-0 to the Good Guys.
With no changes by either side, the match resumed with City trying to break us down. Our 4-4-2 was obvious as we protected the lead and sometimes morphed into 4-1-5 with Romeu sat just in front of his centre backs and our front 5 chasing down City as they were forced to move the ball sideways.
On 48m Mahrez put in a corner which Jesus flicked on but Laporte was not able to turn the ball in. Then Sterling won a corner from the left which was cleared, only for the ball to be played back in. The first effort was blocked by the red wall, but McCarthy was needed to pull off 2 more saves, the second from Jesus’ header.
McCarthy was soon in action again tipping Zinchenko’s cross behind, but the corner was dealt with. On 52m Mahrez broke into our box, but Stephens matched his run, won and cleared the ball. Then Zinchenko found Silva, but his shot was fielded by McCarthy. Our keeper was more than making up for his error against Arsenal.
The City pressure was not continuous, once we won the ball, we retained it for as long as possible, but City always kept coming forwards. Cancelo put in a a dangerous cross which Jesus met with an extravagant bicycle kick, but the ever-attentive Stephens blocked his shot from a few feet away. Next it was Bernado finding his route to goal blocked by our #5.
On one break upfield Redmond looked to run past Fernandino who brought him down and was booked. With the ball in their half, another good press won the ball back, but Adams had strayed offside, so no advantage was gained. On 58m, Pep made his first changes: off came Mahrez and Sterling, on came Foden and De Bruyne.
De Bruyne’s first contribution was an overhit cross which sailed out for a goal kick. There was a break in play while Bertie was treated, but he was soon up and at ‘em again.
City then surrounded our box – my notes say “Like the Alamo” - you saw it on TV, you know what I mean. Stephens seemed to be everywhere – Bernado was the latest to see his effort deflected away to safety. Again, Jesus got a header on target, again McCarthy held onto it. Adams had a brief chance up the other end, but the Sweeper/Keeper won this battle. Time for drinks.
Shortly after the restart, Adams was replaced by Long. City were still bossing possession but De Bruyne’s usually awesome passing ability was not clicking so far. Another Saints break saw Redmond try to find Ings, but the defenders were able to clear.
De Bruyne’s first shot flew over, then Fernandino’s long pass rolled harmlessly into touch. We so nearly punished those lapses when Long carried the ball forward. He cut in from the left with Ings and Armstrong inside him. His pass bounced off Ings, but sat up beautifully for the Scot whose thunderous shot was saved by the legs of Ederson. Unlucky Saints!
Another Armstrong shot had to be saved before City mounted their next attack. This time De Bruyne got his shot away, only to find it charged down by Jack Stephens. The red shirts swarmed in front of our goal and the next block was by Danny Ings, back, doing his duty. Moments later, away came Saints with City chasing back. The gutsy Armstrong got well forward forcing Ederson to come collect his cross.
On 81m Long skipped past his marker but sadly the ball ran out of play before he could control it. City then won a corner which De Bruyne took. Ings rose to head it away. Back it came, Jesus tried to turn it in, but Bednarek was there to put it behind. The next corner swung in and the Pole again got there first, heading away from danger.
I was beginning to think we might win this. I was heartened to see Redmond drop back to the edge of our box, getting in De Bruyne’s way, forcing him to play backwards. City moved the ball left, then right, but their increasing frustration was illustrated by Laporte’s long range effort that sailed into the empty seating. It was clearly a goal kick, but Jesus demanded a corner, then threw the ball away when it was not awarded. Mr Marriner showed him the yellow card.
There were 2m left till stoppage time and our lead was intact. Garcia fouled KWP who needed treatment before carrying on. He came back in the 90th minute and 5 added minutes were announced. Jesus tried to drive past Bednarek, but the Pole got a foot in to concede a corner which Saints cleared. Armstrong still had the legs to get upfield, but his cross was cut out. Back came City, but Bernado’s shot was well wide.
With time almost up, McCarthy missed a cross which led to a mêlée in the box. Play stopped when Armstrong kicked Silva inside the “D”. De Bruyne immediately picked up the ball, so we knew what was coming. As McCarthy lined up his wall, Ralph replaced Armstrong with Smallbone – perhaps to add a few inches to that wall.
“Miss it! Miss it!” shouted all Saints fans everywhere, as De Bruyne approached the ball. His effort crashed against the wall and bounced away. As City tried to recover possession the wondrous sound of the final whistle echoed round St Mary’s!
We had won. Adams was off the mark, at last, and for the first time in his managerial career, Pep had lost 3 consecutive way games: all with 5.7M viewers tuning in...
|Now I understand what it was that hit Germany’s top sides when RB Leipzig and Ralph came together in 2016 and stormed to 2nd in the league having just won promotion. All but Bayern were overcome by the high press and counterattacking of Ralph’s young team and the goals of Timo Werner. For Leipzig read Saints. For Werner read Ings.
It is a shame our team did not cotton-on as quickly as Leipzig to Ralph’s style of play but now we have, and Ings is on fire, the (immediate) future looks rosy. Shame it is near the end of the season but, if we can keep this focus and intensity, next season (whenever that might be) could be much more interesting.
Man of the Match
|There were several strong candidates, including Jack Stephens who was Danny Murphy’s choice on the BBC. However, singling out one individual misses the point of what happened out there. That great performance was planned at the Staplewood Campus and achieved by the whole squad – players, substitutes, Ralph and his coaches.
Everyone contributed to that, so I nominate ALL of them. Well played Saints. We March on!