Date: 10 August 2010
So here we were at last: the much-anticipated trip to St Mary’s. My first time at this stadium, and indeed I’d clocked up three new (to me) stadia in as many weeks: Tooting (for a friendly), Charlton and now Southampton. And it was certainly an impressive sight - particularly the away end, packed with over 4000 ‘visiting’ supporters singing their hearts out with such wonderful ditties as “There’s only one Harry Redknapp”! The other three sides looked a bit sad though, with only 13,000 fans between them. Whole sections of the stadium that commanded excellent views were totally deserted, while we were at pitch level in Row B, having to watch much of the game on the big screen if we wanted to work out what was happening! And the worst thing, as far as first impressions are concerned, was that our tickets gave strict instructions to remain seated throughout the match, but the seats were soaking wet following the day’s rain. Fortunately it was a mild evening so I placed my jacket on my seat, and sat on that - until it began to rain again!
Eddie had changed things a little since Saturday. Garry was back, pushing Cooper into a midfield position. As Cooper’s more of a holding player than Arter, this resulted in a more defensive line-up than against Charlton. Nonetheless it allowed Feeney and Pugh to get forward more, especially as Purches had been brought in at right back and he’s faster than Bradbury, so in theory at least this could turn sometimes into a 4-3-3. Not often enough though, in my opinion: Pitman still spent a lot of his time isolated. And the only real solution he could find was to start deeper and run forward with the wingers rather than trying to hold the ball up for them.
Jalal’s kicking was better tonight than Saturday, and his clearances found Pitman most times. We took a little while to settle into this match, but did so within ten to fifteen minutes. And for the rest of the first half, amazingly, we dominated! The front three of Feeney, Pugh and Pitman all had shots on goal - and one particular free kick from Pitman was only agonisingly wide of the target. We certainly more than answered the home fans’ taunts about this being our “cup final” (what are they talking about - we’re not only in the same league as them but we’re also equal on points, goals for, and goals against); and we were unlucky to reach half time without making our advantages tell.
Could we continue the pressure into the second half? Well, it got harder, and Southampton started to show their class (and their financial advantage over us when it comes to depth of squad). We brought on Hollands, a slightly more attacking player than Cooper, making it more 4-5-1 than 4-1-4-1, but still we succumbed to increased pressure from the home side. Then, of all players, it would have to be Adam Lallana - ex-Bournemouth youth - who scored in the 63rd minute, wouldn’t it?! A cross came over from Southampton’s man of the match, Puncheon, on the left wing - and Lallana slotted the ball home with a curling shot.
Eddie had to make a change now, so he once again brought on Symes (for Bartley) and went 4-4-2. Later, when Garry was injured (with other options Cooper and Bartley already both substituted) we had to use Bradbury as a centre-half for the rest of the game. But still we managed to trail by only one goal, not a bad scoreline, so the theoretical possibility of an equaliser still remained. Feeney joined Symes up front in a straight swap that brought Pitman onto the right wing - which worked a lot better than might be expected. Pitman became the busiest player on the pitch in this position, and worked hard at it. But, four minutes from time, our fate was effectively sealed: a mix-up between Jalal and Pearce left an invitingly open goalmouth for the improbably named Oxlade-Chamberlain, who made the score 2-0.
I guess some of us were, in a small way, relieved. Extra time plus penalties would almost certainly have prevented us catching the final train back to London, and we had no plan B! In any case, though it’s a cliché, we did take a lot of ‘positives’ from this game, not least the fact that our players got into their stride much earlier than on Saturday. It’s a shame to have lost our opening two matches, especially with us having to play promotion favourites Peterborough and Huddersfield shortly; we could hardly have been given a tougher start to the season. But there’s no reason for the team to get despondent at this point. And, in fairness, there’s no sign that they’re doing so.
The team lined up as follows at the start of the game (I've given the players marks out of ten):