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Rotherham United 0 v 2 Southampton
SkyBet Championship
Saturday, 3rd February 2024 Kick-off 15:00
Southampton At Rotherham The Verdict
Monday, 5th Feb 2024 09:46

Saints were visiting the New York Stadium for the first time and left it after a very controlled performance not only unbeaten at Rotherham's new ground but unbeaten in 23 games or for some 21 League games.

Russell Martin appeared to have learnt a lesson or two in the past few weeks and he put that into action as Saints took all three points in a business like manner, it was not about racking up a big scoreline, but making sure that unlike the last League game at Swansea we didn't lose our shape and composure in the final third of the game.

Most Southampton fans were glad to hear that it was once again an unchanged side and that paid dividends after only 4 minutes when Jan Bednarek headed home to not only give Saints the lead, but put them firmly in control.

From then on there was only going to be one winner, that is unless as mentioned we upset the balance of the team as we did at Swansea.

The only real surprise is that it took another 34 minutes to get a second, Johansson in the home side's goal having to be in top form and the woodwork also saved the Millers when Ryan Fraser smashed a shot against the post.

But neither the post of the keeper could stop the second, a well worked move saw Ryan Fraser back heel the ball to Adam Armstrong who fired home, it could have been three with Will Smallbone seeing Johansson pull off a Worldie.

In the second half Saints controlled the game, the performance was about game management rather than piling forward to rack up the goals, Russell Martin has clearly learned a lesson from the final 30 minutes at Swansea, he kept the game tight and didn't make substitutions for the sake of it, he kept his back four intact and that is the key.

Possession football is all about building from the back, you have to have a back line who are well drilled and organised, if that is disrupted then you start to have a problem, as I have said over the past few weeks, our only worry is that we don't have the back up for the first choice back four that played at Rotherham should there be injuries and suspensions.

The first change wasn't made until the 73rd minute when Joe Rothwell came on for Flynn Downes and Loanee David Brooks making his first appearance in a Saints shirt to replace Ryan Fraser.

With 9 minutes left Sekou Mara came on for Che Adams and then in the final minute Shea Charles on for the excellent Stuart Armstrong.

These were well made and controlled substitutions, unlike at Swansea were we made too many changes too quickly and completely lost shape and discipline.

At Rotherham this was the opposite, we kept our focus, kept our shape and stayed in control.

We could have scored more in the second half and would have had their keeper not been in such fine form, but our aim was to take the three points not to chase goals.

That is the best way of playing, chase goals and you can get caught out, stay disciplined and the goals will come.

The stats told it all, we had 74% possession, we had 10 shots on goal of which 7 were on target, that shows we were creating good chances, whereas although Rotherham had 8 chances of their own, only 2 were on target, the second of which was a standard save for Gavin Bazunu in injury time.

The good news came at the end of the game when news of Ipswich's defeat came though and we moved back up to 2nd place and for the first time we are there on merit, we are two points clear of Ipswich and one above Leeds with a game in hand.

The situation is now firmly in our own hands, yes it was before in that we have to play both Ipswich and Leeds, but now we are the club in the driving seat and we are relentless.

In many respects this was perhaps our best away performance of the season, some will say yes but it was only the bottom of the league team, but it was the style we did it in that was the talk of the travelling Saints fans after, I have used all the phrases before in this review, but focused, disciplined, shape, organisation and well drilled are just some of them.

Russell Martin has turned us from a team with none of these last season and at the start of this one a squad that was changing on a weekly basis in August with departures and arrivals, to what is now over the best 21 games the best team in the division in terms of not only our play, but in points gained.

After 8 games we were the worst defence in the division, now we are the best over that 21 game period and the manager should be congratulated on that.

Yes the cynics will say that a season is 46 games, but the reality is promotion is won in the last games of the season, not the first, it is about who is the in form team in the final third and we have to keep on doing what we do so well.

This was a team performance, but I say that most weeks so it is no surprise, in fact the only surprise of the day was that Kyle Walker-Peters had perhaps his most subdued game, he didn't have a bad one, he was a solid 7/10 in this one, but by the standards he has set, he was a little quieter than usual.

There were a few candidates for man of the match, Adam Armstrong is always in the running, Stuart Armstrong looked strong and of course Ryan Fraser, but I am going to focus on the unsung heroes of the team here as it is their contributions that often get overlooked.

Will Smallbone has had some criticism in certain quarters, but truth is he is the workhorse of the side, he does all the stuff that doesn't get the plaudits, win the ball and play it short and simple, this has been an essential part of the tea.

Gavin Bazunu was little maligned last season, but he is getting better with every game, he didn't have a lot to do in this game, but he is growing with confidence in every game, as I said earlier possession football is about building from the back and that includes the goalkeeper.

Ryan Manning is another who has been a whipping boy, he himself has admitted that he had a difficult start to the season and he found himself dropped for a few games, but since coming back into the side after James Bree's injury he is showing us why Russell Martin bought him, if his last 6 games had been his first 6 then he would be being talked about in glowing terms now, hopefully the cynics will start to notice.

So we march on 23 undefeated and 21 of those in the League and it is that 21 game unbeaten run we have to preserve.

Photo: Action Images

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A1079 added 10:55 - Feb 5
Agree. A workmanlike, professional performance.

The scoreline in the 1st half would have been greater say for some excellent goalkeeping by the Rotherham keeper and the woodwork. Smallbone was a little slow in getting going but once he did he was influential. KWP as you say had a quieter day and looked a bit out of sorts but it was not a bad performance. The 2nd half was largely just played out and from a spectacle was quite dull to watch.

Good away support and a better range of songs are starting to filter through - I even heard a rendition of the Woolston Ferry which I have not heard for a while. I still haven't worked out the words to the Stuart Armstrong song but did my best to go along with it.

Rotherham one of the quietest home supports I think I have ever known. A poor footballing side really but I respect they have limitations of squad and finance and they probably are doing the best they can. I don't know if their keeper had a really good day or that is his normal standard but if the latter then it won't be long before he moves to a stronger club.

Given my car overheated and spewed out coolant and I needed to get the AA, thank god the football and result saved the day for me.

milton58 added 11:08 - Feb 5
What rubbish you sometimes talk. Promotion is not won in the final games of the season. Promotion is won by the team who gains the best results over the season - winning or losing at any point impacts the promotion chances of any team. So every game is about getting the 3 points be it the first or last game of the season.

SaintNick added 11:32 - Feb 5
Thank you for your kind words and for stating the obvious, although it is pedantically speaking not the team that gets the best results but that which gets the most points.

But the point that you missed is that quite often teams fall away Ipswich being a case at the moment, the first 40 games are when you build the foundation for promotion, but quite often it is the final 5-6 games that you actually win it.

We could be on the same number of points as Leeds or Ipswich after 40 games, nothing has been won at that point, so what matters then is those last few games, in fact at that point the first 40 games are now irrelevant, they are been and gone, all that matters is the last 6 games, you will win or lose a game and in doing so win or lose promotion

Block8 added 12:27 - Feb 5
Agree with most of the report Nick but our most under rated player in terms of match reports is Flynn Downes. He allows Smallbone the freedom to play by doing all of the dirty work. The reason KWP was quiet was because, like Manning, he sat in a more defensive position for most of the game. This was obviously under instruction from RM. We have very good wingers now (classing AA as a winger here) so there really is no need for the FB's to bomb on, allowing us to keep a stronger defensive position.
Our away days have become fun again COYR

highfield49 added 13:14 - Feb 5
So many aspects of the team performance have improved over the season, but what a pleasure to see so many shots on target. It's not so long ago that the opposition could almost have played without a keeper because we were so ineffective around the final third.
Clearly it's far too soon to write off Ipswich and Leeds in the promotion run in but with the sheer quality of players we have, now further upgraded with the acquisition of Brooks, it's difficult to envisage any drop off in our performance.
Whilst it's great to be have the opportunity to watch the evolution of the team it also made me realise how fortunate we are compared to the Rotherham supporters. It looks as though their team is destined for relegation but I sincerely hope that they get a few wins to lift the gloom in the months ahead. In fact if you take points off Leeds and Ipswich this month I'll be celebrating as well.

underweststand added 13:28 - Feb 5
Not the most exciting match of the season, more of a b*g-standard away win against a struggling side who have shown in the past that whilst they struggle at this level, they are a good bet for a top 6 spot in League One and then perhaps lose in the playoffs.
Once again their goalkeeper kept the score down to a respectable level and there was always the chance that they might score on a breakaway. He might be "worth another look" in the summer - after Rotherham are relegated and McCarthy finally leaves the club.

Our normal good start with an early goal, from Jan B. who looks a commanding figure wíth time on his hands, but overall we lacked the usual aggression for spells in the game, but all things considered it was another 3 points in the bag.
Downes and Smallbone are beginning to look like a good MF pairing, and the short sub. app. from David Brooks didn't go unnoticed.

Colburn added 13:53 - Feb 5
I haven’t posted for a while, partly due to not being able to attend games and also because of the unbalanced views on some players due to personal bias, which belittles the quality of the rest of most articles. It is clear that after 21 games unbeaten that we now have the right structure, personnel and blueprint for success. Our losses came due to the sudden but not unexpected personnel changes at the end of the summer window. No matter what happens for the rest of the season, hats off to Martin and indeed Calderwood, whose addition has produced wonders for our defensive game.
All players will have the odd bad game, take time to settle in and take time to get match fit after returning from injury. The latter is frequently mentioned about some players by the author of this blog, when excusing their rustiness, except when the return from injury involves Jack Stephens. Irrespective of whether right or wrong in his assessment, fair treatment to all should be granted and whatever you think his best is, it needs game time to get there. So we do have a back up for our centre backs in Stephens and also Charles can play there. Jack was good enough for Bournemouth while we were relegated and you have been rather tiresomely quick to jump on the anti-Jack bandwagon again recently and unfairly.. bit puerile and you’re better than that.. and if you trust in Martin, you trust in his opinion of your pantomime villain. In times when there is no loyalty from players to clubs, it staggers me how little you think of him and how frequently you run Jack down.
However Nick, I will defend you on the point of the back end of the season being where the stronger teams come to the fore and the last 8-10 games are where things are won or lost and we are in a better place than all bar Leicester atm with good spirit and momentum. We have a tough run of games late March and early April so a lead of 5 or 6 points over those behind will be ideal.
Finally, agree with the above post on Downes.. he’s our most important player and we should try everything to sign him in the summer.

stmichael added 14:11 - Feb 5
Bit disappointed with the 2nd half as we gave them far too many opportunities to fire free kicks and long throws onto our penalty spot. Like Swansea we did not finish the game with a 3rd goal and it was uncomfortable viewing.
Stuart Armstrong's race was run after an hour after which he became their best player constantly losing the ball and misplacing passes.
When Brooks came on I was sure it would be for Stuart and was amazed to see Fraser taken off instead.
Might be a bit churlish but when we are so much on top we need the 3rd goal otherwise we will get punished one day as Plymouth so nearly did at St Marys..

SaintEPW added 14:47 - Feb 5
Great result - good report.

One comment - We rightly applaud the fact that back four were kept intact and less risk...... then worry that we have no back up for the back four ?????........unless we also find ways to rotate the back players - then there will be no back up Martin has to keep on seeking to make changes .......keep taking that that players coming back from injury ...or coming into the team....are able to get back up to speed .....

StTed88 added 20:09 - Feb 5
I almost never comment on this site, but I am a reader of probably 20 years. I just wanted to say thanks to Nick for all his efforts in keeping this site going. I check in every week to read the previews and verdicts and always enjoy them. I might not always agree but football is subjective. The people who come on here and give Nick a bashing really need to take a look at themselves. Thanks Nick, keep up the great work!

UgandaSaint added 20:46 - Feb 5
Like StTed88 I would like to thank Nick for putting in the time and effort to keep this site running. Nick, I often disagree with you, but then I disagree with some of the negative posts on here too. We all have our favourite players, and our least favourite too and I would get shot down in flames if i told you who my least favourite is. If I could be granted one wish (besides getting promoted) it would be that Bazunu doesn't get injured, he is now our key player in that his back-up is way below his standard.

pintsizedsaint added 22:33 - Feb 5
Can I also thank Nick for his dedication and tolerance of putting up with unnecessary and unwarranted abuse. For gods sake, you don’t have to agree but you can be polite and respectful to views. Oh, and some actual logical reasoning would be nice too.

sidsaint added 17:05 - Feb 6
I would like also to add my thanks to Nick and to so many of the other contributors. Due to age and distance I am not able to see as many games as I used to but am proud to be able to read the comments of many of our contributors and therefore be part of the Saints community. Lets hope we get back to where we and our support deserves to be.

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