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Southampton V Plymouth Argyle The Verdict
Saturday, 30th Dec 2023 11:10

Saints ended the year in fine style as they made it 17 games unbeaten and a 7th consecutive home victory and in doing so are now 6 points ahead of Leeds and only 3 off an automatic promotion spot.

For 90 minutes this was a comfortable game for Saints, but they shot themselves in the foot and made it a nervy 6 minutes of injury time.

Saints dominated from the start and for most of the game limiting Argyle to sporadic breakaway, including one that saw Sam Edozie chase back to help the defence and make a great tackle to block a cross that would have seen an attacker unmarked in the centre.

It is things like this that can help win games just as much as goals and Edozie capped a fine game with this piece of defending.

Saints thought they had gone ahead in the first half but Che Adams was offside and his great finish didn't count, Taylor Harwood Bellis headed against the post and Adam Armstrong almost scored from an audacious long range effort but the game reached half time goalless.

The game burst into life 10 minutes after half time when Plymouth thought they had scored but the linesman's flag again went up, perhaps the scorer was harshly judged, but in truth as the man who supplied the cross had received the initial pass he was clearly offside, so whether in today's confusing offside rules the flag was for this or not is unclear.

Argyle felt aggrieved and they were caught on the hop as a minute later Charley Alcaraz fired home a superb opening goal to make it a double set back for the visitors.

7 minutes later and the scoreline was doubled when a ball forward from Taylor Harwood Bellis found Che Adams get in behind the defence and steer the ball home to send the home crowd including Prime Minister Rishi Sunak wild.

So the game was safe for Saints, but again came that triple substitution a couple of minutes later and I don't think this helped in finding the third goal, by the 82nd minute we had changed half the outfield line up and i think this almost cost us dearly with some changes being made for change sake rather than tactical reasons.

It is fine bringing on fresh legs up front or a single midfielder, but changing the dynamics defensively when you are holding a slender lead is not good practice, this is not aimed at Jack Stephens being brought on, he did not have a bad game, but we had to have a reshuffle to bring him on for the last 8 minutes and that upset the balance a little defensively.

2-0 up is still a scoreline that can be pulled back and if Russell Martin is making a mistake at the moment I think this is it at times.

90 minutes came up on the clock and we passed it around at the back and knocked it back to Gavin Bazunu, in fairness to the keeper the backpass had a bit of pace on it and he was being closed down fast, his first touch wasn't great and the ball was blocked into the net by Hardie. Although it should be said overall Bazunu was excellent.

This could now be a problem for Saints, although in fairness they didn't panic and stuck to their normal game with the confidence that they wouldn't make the same mistake twice and saw out the final total of 7 minutes or so with relative ease.

Perhaps the late goal put a damper on the game, but the fact was it was still a win come the final matter, it is not about how we get to a win, it is about being there when the final whistle blows, we had made it our 7th straight home win and also our 17th game unbeaten.

But this wasn't the only landmark, we also went past the 50 points mark and on to 51, and also our points average has gone over 2 per game.

This must have put a bit of pressure on those both above us and blow, Leicester didn't blink and won at Cardiff, but Leeds lost at West Brom and Ipswich fired blanks and were held at home by QPR.

So that means we start 2024 6 points ahead of Leeds and more importantly only 3 behind Ipswich, suddenly over the space of the last week we have gone from also rans in the automatic promotion race to potential favourites for the 2nd spot as Ipswich start to falter.

It is starting to become less important, but we are also 14 points ahead of 7th place.

That is testament from the work Russell Martin and his coaches have done over the last 3 months, they have rebuilt the squad and turned us from the leakiest defence in the Division to one of the tightest, we are also one of the top scorers and perhaps more significantly in that department, we are not reliant on one man to score the bulk of the goals, Charly Alcatraz was the 9th scorer of the 12 goals notched in the last 4 games.

As I keep saying it is a war of attrition, we just have to keep doing what we are doing and putting the pressure on.

In the last 5 games we have won 4 and drawn 1, Leicester have matched that, but Ipswich have taken just 6 points and Leeds just 4.

All unbeaten runs have to come to an end and surely we can't go the rest of the season unbeaten, can we ?

But at the moment you feel this team could do just that, for us a disaster is not a defeat it is just getting a draw and our rivals are now feeling the pressure.

Photo: Action Images

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halftimeorange added 11:43 - Dec 30
Maybe the cry should be "Oh, dear, Gavin Basunu" or "Gavin, give us a save" but, in reality he is improving all the time. Once again Charly Alcaraz showed he has an eye on goal and is likely to actually put the ball in the net. I think that we are a better side when Stuart Armstrong is in the team and on for and, Joe Aribo now that he's got his head up. The coaching team behind Russell Martin is making a positive difference, something that can rarely be said over the past two seasons. Plymouth made life difficult and the clever play of Sam Edosie was somewhat negated by the opposition defence - nevertheless, Sam showed he's got more in his locker than making defenders look foolish when he made a timely intervention in our penalty area at a point in the game when Plymouth showed signs of not being overawed. A shout out for Ryan Manning, too. He enjoyed a good game but, the two stars for me were Harwood-Bellis and Bednarek. They literally stood head and shoulders above everyone else on the pitch. Well done!

Bowlercow added 11:56 - Dec 30
The player crossing the ball was offside when he received the ball so was it a late flag for that or a gaff by the assistant ? To be fair they don't make many That said the ref twice gave goal kicks that should have been corners
If you ask your keeper to play the sweeper role then a couple of times a season mistakes like Baz made are going to happen
Once again it is onward and upward I just hope even the doubters are coming on board

Whatsforpud added 13:08 - Dec 30
We were crticised earlier in the season for possession football that was going nowhere. We still have loads of possession, but now with a purpose. The most important player is the one making space to receive the pass. Maybe we should be playing more chipped forward balls to the front line. We haven't got a Lambert to head in crosses, but we have found other routes in.
Re Bazunu's mistake, his mis-control has been the exception to his normal calm possession on the ball. He has been brilliant with those low 40 yard passes.

Jellybaby added 13:29 - Dec 30
Make no mistake this is a fantastic run, but the fact that a mediocre side actually ran us close is slightly worrying as we push for automatic promotion. On another day we would have been out of site and credit to the team for finding a solution to a defence minded opponent, but this could have gone wrong.

The last 6 minutes were unexpected and could have lost us 2 points. It was poor from young Gav, but Jack Stephens should not have put him in that position. Shea Charles, after their goal, losing the ball in a vulnerable place gave Plymouth the chance of an equalizer and against a better team we could have been punished.

Well done to Edozie for proving the doubters wrong with another fine display.


JoeEgg added 13:46 - Dec 30
"The coaching team behind Russell Martin is making a positive difference, something that can rarely be said over the past two seasons." halftimeorange

One of the main tasks for our coaching staff now is to find a more effective way of playing away from home. Our defence is so much better for the Harwood-Bellis /Bednarek partnership and giving JWP licence to push forward can sometimes make all the difference to the threat coming from midfield.
Progress is undoubtedly being made and in one sense it is good to see so many different names on the goal scoring sheet. I still think an 'Ings' -type presence would have been an effective and additional weapon on Saturday, and the best scenario going forward for me is always to see your top striker or strikers regularly getting themajority of the goals.

SanMarco added 13:55 - Dec 30
AHa - JWP's back JoeEgg!!

With no VAR the flag could not have been a delayed one for the first offside. He got it wrong twice - the same lino got a couple wrong in the first half as well.

We overcame a potential banana skin there and our season now is about whether it's play-offs or automatic promotion. Not a bad place to be!!

Happy New Year to all and especially to Nick for hosting this wonderful site!!

felly1 added 14:31 - Dec 30
Nice match report Nick.
It's good to see Edozie getting back and defending as it was his achilles heel in earlier performances.
Great time to be a Saints fan, I'm loving it.
To echo San Marco, thankyou to Nick for running this site and all the best to my fellow posters.

JoeEgg added 15:39 - Dec 30
SanMarco added 13:55 - Dec 30
AHa - JWP's back JoeEgg!!

wishful thinking! My K's always look like J's!!

mattlegod added 16:00 - Dec 30
Great to see people supporting Gav as apposed to getting on his back. As others have said, he's been quality of late and as such I'd prefer to support him and just mark it down as a silly mistake.

I can't be as forgiving to Shea for his giveaway though, it wasn't the actual giveaway that annoyed me, it was that he made no attempt to chase back and back amends for his mistake.

lemmsy added 19:04 - Dec 30
Just watched there ‘ goal ‘ again in detail after reading the comments.The player who received the ball on the wing wasn’t offside.Central defender clearly in front of him when the ball is played.
Saying that I thought we thoroughly deserved to win,playing at a great tempo.Putting to bed the opinion that it’s boring to watch.

ItchenNorth added 22:27 - Dec 30
A big toe offside is a big toe offside. VAR would have ruled it offside as well. There no point complaining just because the linesman had the eyes of a hawk ! That was just great officiating.

Dunstable_Saint added 08:58 - Dec 31
Another great performance by saints.. totally dominated. Plymouth had zero interest in pressing the ball high up the pitch..

They played very defensively the back line was very high so it was great to see us trying to play long passes out to the wings and balls over the top.

It would have been nice to have seen a few more goals and be more comfortable but I think we have to get used to teams turning up at st Mary’s and parking the bus now!!

Top performances all round Charly was excellent always gets the ball turns and drives forwad, which creates chances. Defence was solid THB looks some player.

It’s a weird felling heading into the stadium and expecting to win… what a difference a year makes… roll on 2024.

WestSussexSaint added 10:40 - Dec 31
This time last year we had an idiot in charge and looked clueless on the pitch as Brighton showed us how to play football. I was thoroughly despondent and was in no doubt that we would be relegated at the end of the season although the pathetic nature of our relegation was a further slap in the face.

Fast forward 12 months and the transformation is amazing. The team is playing good football, scoring goals and it is a joy to visit SMS once more. The club has regained its identity and purpose so credit must go to the ownership and new management on the football side.

If we do achieve promotion at the end of this season I hope 2024 is not a reverse of 2023 and we find ourselves back in the doldrums. Either was I’m enjoying the run at the moment so long may it continue.

landsdownsaint added 12:12 - Dec 31
So many great performances out there , players improving every game & a manager who’s breathed new life into the club … & Bednarek

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