Written by Neil Dawson
This was a derby draw that didn’t just cement the stereotypes of stalemate derby’s…it firmly buried them in a box under a new motorway bridge. Southampton have nearly morphed into a time-warp Stoke or Blackburn Hughes side and Bournemouth never pick this fixture for their A game. The result…you guessed it…nil all.
The game started with an unchanged Bournemouth side and a rare bit of action. Oh what might have been had King and Smith not got in each other’s way when the fullback seemed destined to slam his team in the lead following a great run and 1-2. The game would have opened up, the crowd would have got going… it didn’t happen though and precious little followed it for the succeeding 87 minutes.
The game became tense, ref Probert is the walking definition of ‘pernickety’ and when he didn’t stop the game a Saints player was quick to take to the floor at ten-minute intervals and break the flow up. It was a travesty Lerma got Mom today when Saints physio put in a shift that busy…what more did he need to do?
Bournemouth had a clear game plan, tap it around the back, draw Saints in then hit it long down the channel for King and Wilson. It should have worked but King and Wilson were second to 80% of these balls and even when they were first, control was poor. This led to Southampton picking the ball up deep but with their central forwards having two speeds (slow and stop) the ball spent its entire time in the midfield. This meant there was one shot on target for both sides in a very dull first half…a volley easily held by Begovic although Austin finished like a man who hadn’t scored in 12 games when he ran the ball off the pitch when let in by a rare Ake slip.
The second half started as the first with a gilt-edged chance for Bournemouth. Lermas barnstorming run and cross was headed wide at the far post by King. Cherries Norwegian top scorer had become an internet sensation with a midweek sitter miss for his country and it may have affected his confidence as demonstrated when he shanked horribly from Wilson’s ball on a plate minutes later with the goal at his mercy.
This had briefly woke the crowd up but normal service soon resumed, the crowd and team feeding off each other in a lull that gave Saints the ascendancy. They weren’t dangerous though and the quality of the final ball from both sides in key positions was League one at best. Armstrong did force Begovic into an untidy sprawling tip over from a searing volley on the one occasion it came together in the middle part of the game.
Eddie tried Stan for a very off colour Brooks and Ibe for King but the pattern didn’t change in fact it was Southampton, having gained confidence throughout the match, who finished stronger. They should have scored twice…once when Armstrong wanted a touch too many 8 yards out and right at the death when Gabbiadini looked like he should have buried a header with Begovic scrambling to get back across. It would have really ruined the day but any form of clinical finishing would have been totally out of character for this game.
Begovic 7 – tidy handling and saves when needed.
Francis 6 – tidy enough at back but less involved going forwards.
Ake 7 – watchful blocking, good in the air, outpaced their forwards.
Cook 8- some outstanding blocks and tackles when crucial.
Smith 7- up and down well and watchful defending.
Brooks 4- a shadow of the player at Watford..not involved.
Cook 5- didn’t really get his passing range going and disappeared.
Lerma 7- sponsors mom. Grew as the game went on with blocking and chasing.
Fraser 5- off colour apart from a few bursts. Very deep.
Wilson 5- battled gamely but lacked quality today.
King 4- looked knackered from the start, second to every ball.
Mom. Steve Cook for me…we would have lost this without him, brave and unsung. Threw his body on the line time after time.
Mixed feelings tonight. Disappointment that yet again we choose a low key performance for our local rivals but relieved as this was a game we would have lost 1-0 in previous years and Hughes brand of football does not deserve a win. We need to be honest and accept it was only Saints poor finishing that stopped this being really depressing so let’s be happy about that!
So where did it go wrong? Three reasons for me…
1) Tired stars. Our season has rocketed on the back of four speedy front players on top game. Today three of them looked tired/unfit after the international break. Two had late fitness tests and two played two games in four days. It showed and it’s not really surprising we need them to play well to win as everyone else is a supporting cast in our new effective style. In hindsight, a start for Stan or Mousset (if fit) might have put a spark in…but you can’t blame Eddie for going unchanged.
2) Southampton’s formation. A matchup 4-4-2 didn’t help us…when we play against a sitting midfielder King drops in to mark them and links the play. Today he didn’t have to and him and Wilson were too flat and us to rigid in three lines. This is something we saw a lot of on poor runs last year that until today had not happened this season.
3) Southampton’s break up tactics. Hughes is a master of this. Played the game in segments around his own injury breaks. Sat deep and narrow to close space..hoped for a break. You wouldn’t want to watch it but credit where it’s due it took a free-scoring fluid opposition and turned them into a team that looked like they hadn’t scored all year.
Onwards and upwards, a shame not to win but arguably more important not to lose.