A tremendous week for Rickie Lambert ended with a last minute winner from the spot for Southampton against West Bromwich Albion, and confirmed that Southampton this season should be a stronger force than last, and will look to push for a spot in the top 10 this season.
A fixture that we lost twice last year, a trip to the Hawthorns was always going to be a tricky start to the season and I think most Saints fans, if they were honest, would probably have gone away happy with a point to start off the new season, so to snatch all three is a great feeling, and is greatly encouraging ahead of the new season.
Another hugely encouraging sign for the side was that we kept a clean sheet. Crucial in helping us achieve this were the two new signings, Croatian defender Dejan Lovren, and Kenyan midfielder Victor Wanyama. Both performed encouragingly on debut, and looked to adapt quickly to the Premier League at a ground were the home side have had a very good record in recent years. Lovren, in particular, stood out for me. He looks strong, composed on the ball, good in the air, and confident in his decision making. Playing for a big club like Lyon has clearly helped in, and despite only being 24 years old, he looks to be a player who is comfortable with his game, and someone who should be a huge asset for the team this season. In fact, the whole defence looked very good. Fonte looked a lot more comfortable than last year, though I still feel the side will be stronger with Maya Yoshida alongside Lovren.
Luke Shaw looks better every game, he was outstanding going forward, as ever, winning the decisive penalty, whilst also looking solid at the back when required, and also, league debutant Calum Chambers made a very impressive start at right back. The emergence of Chambers is a massive relief as it justifies our decision to release Danny Butterfield and Frazier Richardson, and supplies Pochettino with a viable back up to Nathaniel Clyne. It is also testament to the continued success of our youth system, with Ward Prowse taking the numbers of academy graduates playing to four, Adam Lallana captaining the side. I still think some reinforcements in defence are necessary for sufficient depth, a capable back up to Shaw being a priority, whilst another centre back wouldn’t go amiss either, but it fills me with sufficient confidence that even if we don’t make these changes, we should still be ok at the back as the season goes on.
In midfield, Wanyama made his debut alongside Schneiderlin, and impressed with the solidity of his defensive display. Despite former Kilmarnock manager Kenny Shiels claiming that Neil Lennon deserved ‘a knighthood’ for selling the Kenyan for 12.5 million, the strong midfielder showed that he certainly has what it takes to thrive in the Premier League in the role that is most suited to him, which is not too dissimilar to the role that Claude Makelele made his own for Chelsea. However, I would have to say that he didn’t convince me on the ball, and that he will have to continue to be very solid defensively in order to keep his spot. That is purely because the man he replaced, Jack Cork, was desperately unlucky to lose his place as it was. For me, Cork was our second best player last year, behind Schneiderlin, and the connection those two have made such a huge difference to our performances last year. I would like to see Wanyama sitting with Cork, and Schneiderlin given a bit more room to push on as I think we would then look outstanding through the middle.
In summary, I think the focus of the win has to be on our defensive display. We looked composed, solid, and always ready, even when West Brom weren’t threatening, as was the case for much of the first half. When they came at us in the second half, we stood up to the challenge, and ultimately the victory was built on the back of an outstanding defensive display.