Southampton were denied a deserved victory on Saturday against Wigan as Shaun Maloney’s late equaliser consigned Mauricio Pochettino to only a second point out of a possible nine after taking the job following Nigel Adkins’ controversial sacking. However, Saints fans have much to be encouraged by if a fantastic first half display against Everton, a truly dominant second half display against Manchester United at Old Trafford, and Saturday’s display are anything to go by.
Football is ultimately a results driven business, and for Southampton it is crucial that positive performances are reflected by points gained, but the level of control exerted during periods of all 3 games played under Pochettino suggests that the Saints have more than enough quality to survive. How then, you ask, do you explain the fact that in 3 games where Southampton could arguably have had 7 points, they have come away with only two? First, and foremost, the opening two fixtures of this spell were against Everton, a team chasing Champions League football next season, and top of the league Man United. Most neutrals would have seen Southampton getting nothing in either of those games, and being comfortably beaten by United on their own patch. After a difficult first half there, Southampton would go on to dominate the game to such an extent that even Sir Alex Ferguson was forced to acknowledge his side were lucky to win the game, and that the Saints were the best team that Man United have faced at Old Trafford this season. As encouraging as that display was, it placed even more importance on the fixture against fellow strugglers Wigan, who had thoroughly outplayed Southampton at St. Mary’s earlier in the season and, in the words of Southampton Captain Adam Lallana, had taught Saints a ‘footballing lesson’.
Both sides were desperate for the 3 points, and it was important that the team carried on the tactical approach that has been used since Pochettino’s arrival, in order to put Wigan under pressure. By pressing Wigan high up the pitch, Saints were able to dictate proceedings, particularly in the second half, where Saints dominated possession. Wigan were unable to deal with the pressure put on them when they were on the ball, and this also opened up the pitch for the away side, as we were able to drop the ball back to the uncontested centre backs in order to keep the ball comfortably. This is no mean feat against a Wigan side who themselves look to dominate possession, and is a very positive sign of how Southampton are looking to play under their new boss.
Obviously, possession is all well and good, but it has to be turned into chances and during the first half, this didn’t happen enough, with potential openings being snuffed out either by poor decision making in the final third or indecision. Indecision from Jason Puncheon proved particularly costly when he lost the ball on the edge of the Wigan box before they went up the other end to win the corner from which they would score the opening goal. In the second half though, the end product was much more encouraging, and numerous opportunities were created, and spurned, before Lambert deservedly levelled. Perhaps even more encouraging was the rapid counter attack which led to the second goal from Morgan Schneiderlin. To have the ability to counter with such devastation adds another string to the Pochettino bow, and could be a way to threaten the opposition even when the side isn’t playing at their best. Encouragement is one thing, results are another, and it is staggering given the way the game went, and the lack of threat that Wigan presented, that we were able to concede two goals, and this is something that must be addressed in training immediately.
The obvious negatives for the away side were their inability to defend set pieces. It seemed that the team lacked a leader in this situation to organise the players and remind them of their jobs, and despite decent performances in open play, the responsibility for that has to go to the centre backs, Yoshida and Jos Hooiveld. Surely, after this, a debut beckons for Vegard Forren? Aside from that, it is difficult to find too many other negatives from the performance, especially in the second half, as Southampton put their opponents under huge pressure, pushing high up the pitch, dominating possession and creating numerous good opportunities. Rickie Lambert was, predictably, the creative hub of the side, winning countless headers, and creating many of the sides’ best opportunities. Jay Rodriguez had his best performance in a Southampton shirt too, really impressing on the left wing, and setting up both goals, the run for the second goal particularly impressive, and Adam Lallana looking typically composed after coming off the bench. Ramirez, was quiet though, as aside from his fantastic run and inexplicable miss, he was largely unseen, which given his undoubted potential, was a slight cause for concern.
In the end though, a point was all that was achieved and, as encouraging as the performance was, you can’t afford to drop two points to the teams around you when the performance is that dominating, and it’s exceptionally difficult not to feel hugely disappointed by the result in the end. That said, the visit of champions Manchester City on Saturday has all of a sudden become a tantalising prospect for Southampton fans and I, for one, can’t wait to see how we fare against them.