After 2 games the Saints have 4 points from 6. Ask any Southampton fan at the start of the season if they’d have been happy with that and I have no doubt that the majority would have answered with a resounding yes. However, after an exceptionally frustrating draw with Sunderland yesterday, most will be slightly disappointed, though ultimately relieved that only a point was picked up against Paulo Di Canio’s men.
Given that we were seen as clear favourites for the game there seemed an inevitability that the game wouldn’t go to script, however it was particularly galling to concede such an early goal from a set piece, to such a small player. Positionally, the Southampton defenders got caught out, all rushing towards the near post whilst Giaccherini peeled off to the back post to head it in. After last week’s fantastic defensive display it was a real wake up call to the defence, and a worrying sign for fans who thought our troubles were over at the back. Ultimately though, the defence allayed those fears with a confident performance thereafter and do look a lot more accomplished than last year. Clyne’s uncertain display out of position at left back though reinforced that we do still need a competent left back to provide cover for Shaw, as in Clyne and Chambers at right back, we look strong, but with only Fox as an alternative to Shaw we clearly need a new face.
Going forward we struggled in the first half. Sunderland sat back, understandably given their one goal lead, and we couldn’t find that cutting edge to break them down. Bringing on Osvaldo at half time made a difference though. We went after them, passing incisively and dangerously, creating numerous chances, which showed great encouragement for the future, and hinted at the potential of Osvaldo. We did lack width however, and although I would be happy to see a winger come in during the last week of the transfer window, I don’t expect it to happen as I get the impression that Pochettino doesn’t want the team to play like that. He wants to have interchangeable players across the middle, with quick passing being the key to unlocking teams. This is fine up to a point, but we do need the option of an out and out wide player with pace to mix things up when we’re struggling, and after letting Puncheon go to Crystal Palace on loan, I’m not sure we have that anymore which is a slight concern.
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I don’t want to just highlight the negatives though. In the second half we were dominant, and really put Sunderland under pressure, creating good openings which on another day might even have seen us win the match. We were well worthy of our point, and can take the fact that we have now scored 2 late goals in 2 weeks as very encouraging as well as the resolve of the defence to recover after making a mistake. Dejan Lovren, in particular, looks a class player and is someone who is undoubtedly living up to his price tag.
Overall, I was encouraged by the improvement in the display as the match wore on. I think we ultimately have to be happy with a point given how late on the equaliser was. However, we have got to learn how to break teams down under Pochettino. Against the top clubs we have been very good as we have exploited the spaces they leave when going forward, but when a team sits back against us, we find it hard to find a way through, and this is something we have got to get right if we want to be breaking into the top 10 come the end of the season.