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Birmingham City 3 v 4 Southampton
SkyBet Championship
Saturday, 2nd March 2024 Kick-off 15:00
Southampton At Birmingham City The Verdict
Sunday, 3rd Mar 2024 21:00

No one said it would be easy, but Saints dug in and found their form in perhaps one of the most entertaining games of the season, could this be a turning point.

Cometh the hour Cometh the man is the saying and that man was Joe Aribo as Saints one again put in a team performance is a game that had more twists and turns than a Mathew Le Tissier goal from the 1990's.

The game could not have started more badly for Southampton, the Blues took the lead after only 2 minutes, there was a very big suspicion of handball about Miyoshi's opening goal of the game.

But Saints soon found their rhythm and went close on several occasions before Adam Armstrong finished with aplomb after a through ball from David Brooks.

It then looked like there would be only one winner, but just before the break came the next twist, a hopeful long through ball might well have gone straight through to Gavin Bazunu, but Jan Bednarek's attempted header took some of the pace of it and it left Stansfield through to lash home and gibe Birmingham a lead at half time that they scarcely deserved.

But after the break Saints kept their composure and two goals in the space of four minutes saw Will Smallbone find David Brooks who cut inside and curled home a glorious goal from outside the box, then Smallbone found Che Adams in the box who after almost slipping fired home to give Saints the lead.

Now we were on top and when 3 minutes later Sanderson was given a straight red for a foul on Smallbone, there was now surely only one winner.

But the game turned again on 77 minutes when Bacuna fired home from close range after the ball had come back off the post, now it was Blues who had the bit between their teeth and although they didn't look like winning the game, they were determined to hold on to what they had.

Cue a triple change and Saints poured forward in search of the winner, but as the 6th minute of 9 signalled for injury time, it looked like Saints had again shot themselves in the foot with some shoddy defending.

But then came one of those moments that we all go to football for, Stuart Armstrong's corner was headed back across goal and Joe Aribo took a touch before sweeping the ball home to sent the travelling Saints fans behind the goal wild.

So a great game that saw Southampton having to show great character to stick to the task in front of them.

Although they had Flynn Downes back in the side, they were missing both Kyle Walker Peters and Ryan, but truth is we have gone from a tight defence to poor organisation and a lack of structure at the back.

During our unbeaten run our foundation was built on having a solid central defensive pairing in Taylor Harwood-Bellis & Jan Bednarek, so why is Russell Martin so keen to keep breaking it up at every opportunity.

Once again Jack Stephens was shoe horned into a back line, but what I can't understand is why he is played in the centre, the back line was fluid, at times it was a back four with Harwood- Bellis at right back and Bednarek & Stephens in the centre and Ryan Manning at left back, but when we attacked that reverted to a back three, Stephens holding the centre and Manning pushing up.

But as was shown in all of the goals, we were vulnerable on the break and players getting caught out of position, unsure of where they needed to be.

We lack leadership, in truth when your captain isn't in the team every week, but is suddenly skipper when he does come in, it is not good for the team's organisation.

If we are going to challenge for automatic promotion we can't keep relying on our ability to outscore the opposition, we have to be tight at the back, our problems stem from the fact that we are not playing our strongest players in the right positions, we are constantly changing the Bednarek/THB partnership up, when that has been our foundation.

I appreciate it is a squad game, but sometimes it is change for change sake and to shoe horn in a player.

But there were also many plus points, David Brooks scored a screamer and also had an assist and showed that the loss of Ryan Fraser can be covered, Will Smallbone is an unsung hero, hopefully, he will get some credit from those who have been quick to criticise him, as he was pushed to the front of the celebrating players at the end, it showed that his team mates know how critical he is to the side, as is Flynn Downes.

We are creating chances and scoring them, our 69 goals being only 2 behind highest scorers Leicester, but the worry is that we are now conceding too many, we have to address that.

We now have a great chance to do so with two home matches this week, we have to bang in the goals, but also cut out the lapses in concentration at the back, do that and the Championship race will swing back in our favour again.

Photo: Action Images

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davidargyll added 21:29 - Mar 3
Yes a victory is a victory, and 10/10 for digging in right to the end to secure it but Oh my goodness what very ordinary defending against a team that is fighting for its life and was, latterly at least, down to ten men!

That said though, virtually every team in the Division has something to play for, which I reckon could still be the case for a few more games yet. As a result, everyone is going to be going hell for leather to scrape together those few vital points that will drag them up a notch and unpredictable results become likely, eg QPR beating Leicester. (Currently I reckon there are as many as nine promotion and ten relegation contenders but conceivably by April Fools’ Day, things will be clearer and the mid-table, “on-the-beach”, candidates should by then be more apparent).

In the meantime, I wouldn’t be surprised if our next few games are like v Birmingham, ie tight matches but hopefully with an improving up-front performances. So how do we make sure our quality squad doesn’t commit harm kiri, aka improving our defence, without changing the system?

I know others have highlighted this but, judging by Birmingham’s first and third goals, not to mention recent howlers against Hull and Millwall, the positional play of our back line continues to be patchy at best, resulting from FAR TOO MUCH BALL-WATCHING!!! Haven’t the likes of Manning and/or the rest of the back four ever heard of man-to-man marking?! It’s so infuriating when such an easily corrected error continues to plague us.

I commented last week about the number of goals we have conceded being comfortably ahead of our nearest rival, and of course this only got worse after Saturday. So to stop the rot, our defenders must WATCH THE MAN NOT THE BALL! Because if/when they do - which importantly at most will require modest the slightest tinkering to RM’s much beloved (not) tippy-tappy - I am pretty certain our defence will instantly become much more watertight.

I do not believe an automatic promotion slot is impossible for us so long we stop leaking silly goals and tighten up at the back. So COME ON RUSSELL,JUST TELL THEM TO STOP BALL-WATCHING…YOU KNOW IT MAKES SENSE!!

TimSaint added 21:51 - Mar 3
We e been missing Fraser Richardson from our side for more than 10 years !!
I believe you mean Ryan Fraser :-)

AirFlorida added 21:56 - Mar 3
Hopefully corner turned (again). With the top three to play away I hope the force is with us when we play Leeds on 'May the 4th'. 😂

Boris1977 added 22:10 - Mar 3
Making hard work of it again. As much as I do not like RMs methods, and particularly messing around with the two CBS a win is a win and the team are playing for each other.


SanMarco added 23:12 - Mar 3
Shocking defending that on this occasion was saved by good attacking. Downes' injury and RM's decisions have led us to suddenly looking sh1te at the back again. No room for any more errors if we are to challenge for top two.

That said it was an exciting game though. I'd settle for a quiet 2-0 win on Weds though.

JoeEgg added 06:58 - Mar 4
Defeats at home to Hull and Millwall, and 16 goals conceded in 7 matches, is all really disappointing for a team with the squad strength that we have. Fortunately other teams at the top have also got to win their matches and the pressure is on them all!
We are a difficult side to understand, at times producing some great and entertaining football, scoring some wonderful goals sometimes just when needed, but also regularly giving away stupid goals with a defensive system that should have been sorted by now. We also have a poor conversion rate frequently failing to hit the back of the net after wasting numerous excellent chances!
The conclusion - impossible to predict how things will eventually turn out for the top four but realising that we are bottom of the pile of four at the moment largely through our own mistakes. Does our defensive coach not get tired of the way our manager continues to mass around with his defensive line-up or the way we defend? Russell Martin can applaud himself as much as likes, but his persistent tinkering with team selections and especially the formation of his defensive unit, are losing us points we can ill afford to surrender.

City_boy added 08:02 - Mar 4
The defence has been all over the place since RM stated messing around with the successful pairing of HB and Bednarek and his insistence on always trying to find a place for Jack Stephens.

felly1 added 08:59 - Mar 4
Stephens has only played in 1 match out of the 7 defeats this season.
Great game, great win. Downes is the key man.

highfield49 added 10:42 - Mar 4
It's a very short few weeks since Ipswich looked done and dusted in the automatic promotion stakes and it's clearly far too early to pencil in the final table.
Surely the greatest factor in our recent wavering form has been the absence of Downes rather than tinkering with the defence? As Leicester found out against QPR, and games where our rivals have also come unstuck, plans don't always come to fruition. No matter whether or not our, arguably, best back four are available every game there will always be times when lapses in concentration, wrong decisions and poor refereeing result in defeat.
There isn't a team in the league that is unbeatable and, if we can get our strongest players refreshed and fit for the remaining games, we are very much still in the mix. The fact is that even if we were sitting ten points clear at the top of the table it still wouldn't guarantee promotion.

mattlegod added 10:59 - Mar 4
There seems to be a common thread through the report and comments for which I holeheartesly agree.. Downes is essential for us to control midfield. Stop trying to shoe-horn Stephens into the team, we have played at our best without him.

IanRC added 11:50 - Mar 4
Exciting, but potentially heart stopping and should’ve been much easier. Is Manning, the worst fullback we have ever had. Miles away from his man for the first goal, and stood right behind Jan Bednarek, instead of covering his man for the second. Thought Jack Stephens was actually quite good going forward. Would much prefer however, if he dropped Manning and played Stephens there leaving the excellent Harwood Bellis and Jan Bednarek as our centre pairing

Joe Aribo and Flynn Downes excellent. Good to see Adam Armstrong, getting on the scoresheet again. Sulemana on far too late again when will Martin learn?. Not too much room for slip ups on the run in now so I hope Martin gets his tactics sorted out quickly.

Farlow added 12:17 - Mar 4
Wholehearytedly agree with all of IanRC,s comments.Hopefully James Bree will be fully fit soon.Much as our defending was poor it was a great result.I am worried about our goal
difference tally as it,s so tight i think it will be crucial at the season,s end.

ItchenNorth added 13:29 - Mar 4
After a decent hour vs Liverpool, what has James Bree got to do to get a start ! He's just a really solid full back and will settle the backline down rather than us endlessly being wide open.

LordDZLucan added 16:26 - Mar 4
The centre back pairing for the defeats against Bristol City and Hull and the almost defeat against Huddersfield was Harwood Bellis and Bednarek so the facts show that the poor results are nothing to do with disrupting that partnership. As felly1 has said the common factor in our poor performances has been Flynn Downes missing from the side. Keeping him fit from now until the end of the season is key.

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