IBO Reporter : channonite
|So, yet another 3pm kick off on a Saturday, what was the world coming to?! As we approached Southampton I remembered that it was the Boat Show and as we drove along from the West we could see that there also were several cruise ships in. As it turned out we need not have worried, the traffic wasn't bad at all. Not only that, but the ticket fiasco of the Manchester United game wasn't repeated as the ticket reading software was noticeably faster, so we ended up being inside the ground a full 45 minutes before the start, rather than our more normal ten.
As the match started, it took several seconds to work out what Ralph was up to. Essentially he was playing five in midfield, although Romeu seemed to be rather deeper than the others.
The players were clearly having trouble adjusting and there were some pretty wayward passes early on. Saints first chance and first shot on target came from a mistake, when Livramento, who had made good progress down the right wing sent in a cross, intended to be across the face of goal, but instead it was heading for the far top corner and Fabianski just managed to catch, but in falling back, gave his back a hefty whack against the upright.
The first half was a game of cat and mouse, with each team cancelling the other out. West Ham's Antonio cut a frustrated figure, as he just couldn't shake the close attention of Salisu. Eventually, later in the game he switched from playing predominantly on the right, to try his luck against Stevens on the other side. That didn't work either.
West Ham were having by far the majority of the possession, but Saints were just not being troubled in defence. In one of their rare breaks out of defence, Djenepo and Perraud combined down the left, with the French full back showing a considerable turn of pace to beat the massed ranks of the West Ham defenders to send a perfect cross flying across the face of the goal, but Elyounoussi just couldn't quite manage to connect.
The first half ended goalless, but Saints were looking really good in defence and keeping a very good attacking side quiet. You just wondered where a goal for the home side was going to come from.
At the beginning of the second half Antonio managed to briefly evade Salisu's attention and remind everyone how dangerous he is, by getting a shot away that McCarthy managed to smother at the near post and gather up at the second attempt, getting up with a smile on his face. This was a different McCarthy to the one we normally see, this one was calm and in control and looking every inch a decent keeper.
Saints then had a wonderful chance to score, as when breaking from defence, a quick through ball found Armstrong, who made ground and spotting Redmond ahead of him, all alone on the left, threaded a perfect pass to Nathan's feet. That is where it all went wrong as he dithered and dallied with the goal at his mercy and eventually no fewer than five West Ham players arrived around him, having run the length of the field since the Saints player received the ball from Armstrong and the chance was gone. Well, not completely, as moments later the ball somehow ended up back at his feet and he sent a shot high into the Chapel end. Redmond then collapsed on the pitch with his head in his hands. Exactly, just how I felt.
There was then a period of wave after wave of attacks from West Ham and particularly after McCarthy tipped over a good shot from Bowen, you just felt that a goal for the away side was coming. Saints didn't panic though.
Romeu had been booked as early as the 13th minute and this, together with West Ham's resurgence were probably contributing factors to him beginning to drift out of the game in the second half. Ralph was quick to take action, substituting him and bringing on Diallo, who very quickly got into the game, but playing in Ward-Prowse's central playmaker position, as the captain dropped deeper to play in Romeu's defensive role.
Antonio had switched sides and was getting more than a bit cross that he seemed unable to intimidate Stephens. Eventually he wrestled Jack to the ground in a fit of pique, after being tackled. The referee, David Coote was not impressed and booked the pair of them.
What really changed the whole dynamic of the game and swung it firmly in favour of Saints was Ralph's decision to take off Armstrong, who had ploughed a lonely furrow all afternoon and replace him with the young forward, Armando Broja, on loan from Chelsea. Very soon he made his presence felt. Diallo dug the ball out from yet another West Ham attack and played to Redmond, right near the corner flag, who played a great pass up the line to Broja, who swivelled and pushed the ball beyond Ogbonna and then beat him in a race for the ball. He spotted Elyounoussi racing up the middle parallel to him and passed, unfortunately one of the defenders arrived at the same time and both Elyounoussi and defender ended up on the deck. The crowd were just electrified by this, but it was just the opening salvo from Broja.
The next excitement came when from just in front of McCarthy, Salisu sent a clearance to find Broja just inside the Saints half. He turned and deceived one defender with his pace and with just Ogbonna between him and goal he set off. With the defender back-pedalling and two other defenders racing back towards him, the youngster shot just beyond Ogbonna and .......... The ball hit the base of the far upright and bounced away. Two inches to the right and that would have been a contender for goal of the season. The crowd were howling with disappointment, but the applause for Broja was deafening.
Suddenly the crowd felt that the win was on and that West Ham were reeling. Saints won a corner on the Itchen side. Ward-Prowse took his time and sent a teasing shot into the box where Broja met it at the near post and sent a thumping downward header beyond Fabianski to the right. Suddenly Rice appeared and cleared it right on the line. The Goal Decision System showed that the ball had not completely crossed the line, but it was very, very close.
So, we entered time added on and the stadium was a cauldron of excited noise. West Ham pressed again. Salisu thwarted Antonio for the umpteenth time of the afternoon, getting the ball away to Djenepo. Antonio's response was to race away from Salisu and just hack the Malian's legs from under him. The referee for the second time this afternoon showed Antonio a yellow card, this time swiftly followed by a red. The West Ham No.9 was off.
That was the last action of the afternoon and the full time whistle was sounded to mark Saints first clean sheet since March. Still winless in this campaign, after four matches, but the side are getting better and better. Ralph has got a couple of attention grabbing stars in Livramento and Broja, but the whole team are looking good. Once we get beyond the Manchester City game, we can start to look more confidently at the rest of the season, as the building blocks have been put in place.
Man of the Match
He was only on the pitch for a very short while, but my goodness did he inject some life into the game and electrify the crowd. A star is born, but unfortunately he is only ours for the season, but I am looking forward to seeing a lot more of Armando Broja.