Monday, November 26, 2012

Long way down

Southampton 2 - 0 Newcastle Utd

Fitting, I suppose, that it was on a jaunt to the bottom of the country that we sank to new depths. No one could reasonably claim that we were playing well this season even with a full complement of players (injury- and suspension-free), but the previous two performances had been very poor and there's no disguising that this one was significantly worse. The simply truth is that a newly promoted side who had endured a terrible start to life back in the Premier League could and should have beaten us, Champions League contenders last time out, by five or six goals without reply.

There was positive pre-kick-off news for the Silver Fox, facing his old side for the first time since his sacking. Papiss Cisse recovered from his knock against Maritimo, the precautionary substitution paying off, while Spidermag was fit again to captain the side as Sideshow Bob completed the final game of his ban. However, HBA's hamstring injury meant a start for Fergie on the left side of midfield, and, just to underline the paucity of our options at present, the Lone Ranger took his place on the bench.

A Demba Ba header aside, we started sluggishly against a home side buoyed by the win over QPR that condemned Mark Hughes to unemployment, and it wasn't long before Tim Krul was called into action. First he saved a Gaston Ramirez free-kick and then blocked from one-time Toon target Jason Puncheon. Ramirez and Krul were to be central protagonists in the unfolding drama.

Our Dutch 'keeper was a mere spectator when Rickie Lambert's free-kick pinged up off the angle of crossbar and post, but certainly was culpable when the Saints took the lead. Lackadaisical defensive pressure - a feature of our display all afternoon - gave Lambert the opportunity to hit a long ball over the top for Puncheon. Krul did well to reach the ball but should have planted it into the stand. Instead, the lame clearance was seized upon by Nathaniel Clyne, whose volley goalwards was awkwardly headed away by Mike Williamson, only to be collected by Ramirez. The Uruguayan fed Adam Lallana and his close-range poke ended up in the net despite a desperate slide on the line from Williamson.

The Silver Fox took action at half-time, replacing Fergie with Little Big Lad, but the latter had negligible impact, though we did show fleeting signs of improvement. Vurnon Anita squandered an excellent opportunity to equalise, racing on to Cisse's through-ball but seeing his shot kept out by the rat-tailed Paulo Gazzaniga.

That brief fightback resisted, Southampton then extended their lead and once again a combination of defensive sloppiness and Krul was to blame. Puncheon was allowed to collect Lallana's backheel and drive it across the six-yard box, where Krul's parry presented it to Ramirez to wallop home.

Realistically the game was over from that point, and we could have had no complaints if our hosts had added to their tally - Krul made further saves, Puncheon struck the foot of the post (Krul lucky the ball rebounded to safety rather than off his back and in), Jose Fonte crashed a header against the bar with Danny Simpson leaping salmon-like in vain, and, having buried a shot, substitute Jay Rodriguez was harshly judged offside.

For his part, Ba kept on plugging away but we again looked pathetically short of creativity and our best effort came from Davide Santon, his thumping header from Simpson's cross brilliantly clawed away by Gazzaniga.

Our embarrassment was only increased by the fact that this was the Saints' first clean sheet of the season, and they did us the favour of starting with Maya Yoshida who up until now had apparently been coveting the title of the division's most hapless defender. It's a measure of our predicament that Nigel Adkins' side - until recently considered to be in real relegation trouble - have now won as many games as us (three), and we sit just four points above the dreaded horizontal line. We hadn't lost three on the spin since the meltdown that followed King Kev's departure in September 2008 - and we all remember how that ended. Meanwhile, West Brom have nearly double our points tally and sit pretty in third...

Of course, when you're in a rut, turning in gutless, spineless performances on a regular basis, the very last place you want to visit is Stoke. So it's off to the Britannia Stadium we go, then...

Other reports: BBC, Guardian

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