|Hull City 1 v 2 Southampton|
Saturday, 21st October 2023 Kick-off 15:00
Southampton at Hull City The Verdict
Sunday, 22nd Oct 2023 20:21
Russell Martin didn't mess around with his team selection, he went for the best side he could put out and kept the changes to a minimum, as Saints dug in for a hard fought win that moves them into the top six.
The Saints manager's preferred starting line up is taking shape and the only change from the team that started against Rotherham was Charly Alcatraz in for Che Adams, Southampton supporters seem to have been divided going into this one, some seemed to think it was one that the team should win easily and others that it was likely to be another debacle, the truth was it turned out to be neither.
Hull as always going to be tough, after all they started the fixture above us in the League albeit only on goal difference, but they were unbeaten at home this season in a run stretching back to March.
This was another game were Saints had to roll up their sleeves and battle.
This they did and they drew first blood with a well taken opening goal on 20 minutes when a great run by Kyle Walker Peters saw him pull the ball back for Will Smallbone to slot home.
But the lead would not last long, just 5 minutes to be exact when Liam Delap, a one time Saints target and son of former Saint Rory Delap, poked the ball home from close range.
The rest of the half saw Hull trying to gain the ascendancy, but never quite managing to do so as Saints kept their shape and their concentration with the back four standing resolute, Taylor Harwood-Bellis and Jan Bednarek being outstanding.
At half time it was 1-1 and this was probably a fair reflection of the game with both sides having chances and only some good defending keeping the scoring level.
The first 20 minutes or so of the second half followed the pattern of the first half, but as the game went past the hour mark you felt that Saints were slowly getting the upper hand and that the home side were tiring.
Hull were first to introduce fresh legs and they did so with a double change on 65 minutes, but it would be Saints on 69 minutes who with their double change showed why they can truly make changes that can change games, off went Alcaraz & Sulemana and on came Che Adams & Sam Edozie and the game had changed.
Hull were still a threat on the break, but it was Saints who were getting the ball and passing it and creating the chances.
But the winning goal did not seem like it would come, however Russell Martin was still not finished with his changes, Hull had brought on two further changes, both young players with little experience, but we had the strength in depth to make three.
Shea Charles on for Smallbone to give fresh legs in the midfield, Sekou Mara on for Adam Armstrong likewise and Ryan Fraser for Stuart Armstrong suggested that the manager felt the game was still to be won.
Saints did not seem to be content to settle for the point and by now we were on top, but did we have enough time to make the changes count.
Turns out we did when in a goal similar to our opener it was Flynn Downes who this time got to the byeline and pulled the ball back and there was Ryan Fraser to finish with aplomb and send the Saints fans wild and the home fans heading to the exits with just seconds left of 5 minutes of injury time.
You felt that all Saints had to do now was stop one attack and the game was over and that proved to be the case as the team celebrated with the fans.
So what were the plus points from this game ? The first was that we are now a team, we seem more comfortable away from home, 4 wins from 6 outings point to that, they seem to not play with a weight on their shoulders on the road can we read anything into that ? I would say we can.
The detractors and there are still a few, will say that yes but three of these away wins were won with late goals, but I would say that this is a team that plays to the final whistle and isn't content with a point, rather than luck, you make your own luck and we did on Saturday.
The team is finding it's feet with the possession football now and it is now no longer the rigid system it perhaps was initially, we passed when we needed to, cleared it when we needed to and more importantly got it forward to feet to attack with pace.
18 attempts on goal show that, and although only 5 on target was a little low on what we would like to see percentage wise, things are improving.
The good thing though is that the players who have come under fire are starting to improve, in the TUI ratings Ryan Manning with 5.4 was second from bottom (Che Adams had 5.3, not sure why, he was lively for his time on the pitch) Manning had a decent game, it wasn't great, but he did little wrong and played his part.
Gavin Bazunu was another, he could do nothing with the goal and made a decent save for one of the other two attempts on target, but he did the basics well, caught crosses and in general looked confident.
Will Smallbone & Flynn Downes have had their detractors, but they have been forming a decent combination in the midfield and one scored the first and the other created the second goal.
Sam Edozie is starting to find his feet, he growing in confidence and will surely add to his 2 goals so far.
Sekou Mara only played a cameo role, but in injury time he played his part in the victory when a Hull player looked to catch us on the break and Mara chased him back and made sure that he got nowhere near the goal.
Ryan Fraser has experience and this will bode us well and it proved to be the case in the way he finished his chance when he got it.
This was a big step and it was one forward in all departments, after 4 defeats it is now 3 wins and a draw in the last 4 games and defensively we are in the main not making the errors we were in the opening 6 games, they saw 16 goals conceded, but the last 6 games we have conceded just 6 goals.
We have a squad that has strength in depth and things are only getting better, the next week can see us take another big step, one that could propel us into 3rd place and perhaps even withing sight of the top two, this win at Hull and it should be noted that Hull were above us in the table before the game, shows that the depth and quality of our squad will be key over the rest of the season.
Our rivals in the main will be, like Hull, bringing on inexperience when they have to make substitutions, they don't have the quality that we have on the bench for each game, they had no one of the experience & class of Ryan Fraser, Che Adams & Mason Holgate, they don't have those like Joe Aribo, James Bree & Jack Stephens who are proven at this level, they don't have the potential of the like of Shea Charles, Sam Edozie & Juan Larios, not to mention Sam Amo-Ameyaw, Tyler Dibling or Kamari Doyle and finally they don't have a striker like Ross Stewart still to make his debut.
None of these players started the game on Saturday, that is an entire team who can step in, we are not short of back up and in a long season as it drags into winter, this is the type of advantage we have over our rivals and why we won on Saturday.
It was a squad win, hard fought and ground out.
Lastly a word for Russell Martin, he has suffered abuse that has not been warranted, I am not saying he has been perfect or even that he is going to be the man for the job long term, but he was being judged after 5-6 game and that was unfair, if he was a bad manager for losing four straight games, then is he a brilliant manager because he has won 3 and drawn one of the last 4 ?
The answer to both questions is no, he has to be judged on a longer period and although for some only spending the entire season in the top 2 will be good enough, the truth is that after this victory he has proved some of his critics wrong and 5th just 2 points behind 3rd place and 8 behind 2nd, whilst not where we would have hoped is a solid start and will provide a foundation for the rest of the season where we can start to haul back the clubs in front.
Now the games are coming thick and fast, 11 in the two months up to Xmas, our squad will be crucial, we have shored up the defence, now we need to start scoring freely and perhaps Ross Stewart coming in will be that boost we need.
Here we are now with a quarter of the season now gone and we sit in 5th place, after the turmoil of the summer
Photo: Action Images
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Blogs 31 bloggers
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Knees-up Mother Brown #12 by wessex_exile
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Knees-up Mother Brown #10 by wessex_exile
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