The recent past, last season apart, has seen Southampton as a happy hunting ground for us. The problem this season was no more Dell, but a bright and shiny new stadium. Typical that we had to be the first visitors and I went along unsure if we would give them the tonking they deserved or put in a performance and result similar to the stadium opening gift we gave to Middlesbrough. In truth we got neither.
First comments must be reserved for the stadium I suppose. It was certainly better than the dingy Dell, but what wouldn’t be. The way Southampton fans had been going mad about this place had me expecting something special. The saying: “If you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all,” could not be truer. Standing in the great big open concourse we could easily have been in Pride Park or any other of the new concrete bowls that have been put together by Bob the Builder. Every time another one of these is moulded together it makes me realise what a fantastic stadium we have, although we do not always appreciate it.
So a brand new stadium, a brand new pitch, but the same old Southampton. A deathly quiet bunch of supporters, although their side gave them little to cheer about, and a lacklustre performance by their players. Yes it was hot, but you would have expected more effort from them on this special occasion. Were we any better? Yes, but we did no more than we needed to for the three points. This was no dazzling display. It was a workmanlike performance where the team grafted for each other. In fact, the kind of display that wins league titles, if I may be so bold. What is clear is that this game was the sort we would have lost in previous seasons, so maybe we are making progress.
Southampton started the stronger, and certainly for the first ten to fifteen minutes we were close to being overrun despite our five-man midfield. However, for all of their possession the Saints failed to threaten our goal once. Defensively we completely controlled the game, with the few efforts that Southampton managed to muster no more than long-range or speculative attempts. There was one moment of panic in the 78th minute when it looked to the world that the prat David Elleray had awarded a penalty for a perfectly fair challenge by John Terry on James Beattie. However, he was merely signalling a goal-kick instead of the penalty that most of the Saints fans were expecting.
Graeme Le Saux, who had been so hopeless last week, had a storming first half and capped it with an excellent cross which evaded the entire defence for Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink to nod in his first of the season. That was our only effort of the first half. Starting with just one up front clearly showed that we had gone with the intention of hitting them on the break.
Jody Morris came on shortly after half time when Emmanuel Petit limped off with what looked like a dead leg, and he helped to tighten the midfield. His non-stop running and snapping at players’ heels gave Southampton less time to settle than they wanted. He was also not far off target with a powerful effort on goal.
I think that we were all amazed to see four minutes added at the end of the second half. I can only assume this was how long it took Elleray lining up for the less than immaculate toilets at half time. However, three minutes into injury time we sealed the victory when a Lampard centre, similar to Soxy’s first half cross, evaded everyone and allowed Mario Stanic the fairly simple task of hitting the ball into the roof of the net.
So there we have it, job done. Some good performances individually, especially from Mario Melchiot and Lumpy, but more importantly a team performance. Something lacking from last week’s game. Doubtless many fans will complain that this was dour and unexciting stuff. Those that do clearly failed to go and watch defeat after defeat away from home last season. If we want to be a successful outfit we sometimes have to graft for the points. You will have no complaints from me, Mr Ranieri, if we can do this away from home every week.