Southampton grabbed a crucial three points at Reading to hugely boost their survival hopes whilst also surely consigning Reading, and manager Nigel Adkins, to relegation. It is somewhat ironic that the team that Adkins brought into the Premiership is the one that has surely put the final nail in the coffin for his new team as a manager, but the away sides’ performance meant that they thoroughly deserved the win. Not only was it a significant win, but the comfort of it after a shaky opening 25 minutes shows how the club is progressing under Mauricio Pochettino, which arguably justifies the harsh removal of Adkins in January.
Although the result turned out to be a comfortable one for the Saints, they began on the back foot and found themselves struggling to cope with the intensity of Reading. Interestingly, Reading came out and attacked Southampton with their own game plan; they pushed high up the pitch with good intensity and forced us into playing the ball quickly and sloppily. As a result of this, the Saints defence made a couple of poor errors which led to two good chances. Mariappa forced a fine save from Artur Boruc at the far post, which came after the best chance which Adam Le Fondre managed to sky from eight yards out under no pressure whatsoever after comically bad defending from the away side.
Failing to take advantage of this opening to the match proved to be Readings undoing; Southampton gained in confidence and began passing the ball better and taking advantage of more openings against a side that is decidedly dodgy at the back and after a good move punctuated by a superb chip over the top from Lambert, Rodriguez showed far more desire than Federici and tapped the ball past the Aussie into the net.
From then on the game was very comfortable for Saints. Reading’s earlier efforts to push high seemed to desert them and the away side were given far too much time on the ball to pass it around and make it all look very easy. It certainly wouldn’t have been exciting for the neutral to watch at this stage as Southampton were keeping the ball with such ease without ever creating a huge number of goalscoring opportunities, but it was surely impossible not to be impressed by Southampton’s total dominance at this stage.
Adam Lallana’s beautifully crafted goal put the icing on the cake but there was still time for Artur Boruc, an impressive performer on the day, to almost take the ball over the line inexplicably, and for Guly Do Prado to somehow blaze over an unguarded net after a 93 minute counter attack.
All in all, it wasn’t the most exciting game out there, but for a Saints fan it was a joy to behold. After a nervy start, they were able to control the game with such ease that Reading never looked like scoring from the 25th minute onwards and that was testament to the whole team for their wonderful display. It’s hard to pick out just one player from such a good team performance, Schneiderlin and Cork produced their usual fantastic displays in the middle, tackling well and passing wonderfully, but for me the man of the match was Jay Rodriguez. Rodriguez looks a new player under Pochettino and after singling him out for praise after the victory against Liverpool, it is impossible not to single him out again.
His partnership with Lambert was again very good, and he scored a well crafted goal whilst also chipping the ball perfectly into Lallana’s path for the decisive second goal. His movement, touch, and all round performance was top notch and at only 23 years old he is surely just going to keep improving under Pochettino’s stewardship.
A special mention must also go to the defence who kept a rare clean sheet, particularly Boruc who, bar his one moment of uncertainty, produced a brave and composed performance which just enforces his claims for a new contract. All in all, a fantastic day for Saints which justifies Nicola Cortese’s hugely controversial January decision to remove Adkins. However, given the job Adkins did at Saints, I believe I speak for many when I wish him the very best in the future, and I hope, and expect, to see Reading back in the Premier League very soon indeed.