30th September 2023, Championship.
I think we probably have to dial the optimism down a bit after that one! We knew that at our best we were a match for anyone yet we’ve seen little glimpses of defensive frailty in the last couple of games; Hull missed a late sitter against us and so did Sheffield Wednesday and had those gone in we’d probably not have been quite so bullish when we travelled down to St Mary’s despite those Millwall and Watford wins.
I was nervous ahead of this game; I predicted a draw based on the hope that Leeds would continue with their recent good form, especially defensively, but also on the almost certain knowledge that this Saints side couldn’t possibly continue to be as bad as they had been in the previous four games. I was right about the last bit… Saints were much better than of late – but by no means were they exactly brim full of quality – but I was hopelessly wrong about Leeds. Make no mistake, we were poor in this game, particularly in the first fifteen or twenty minutes.
Daniel Farke’s post-match comments sum it up perfectly: “What was decisive was that our defensive behaviour was not spot on like it was in the last games when we had four clean sheets in a row. We need to be more aware, more awake, sharper in decisive moments. Tiny little moments can make a big difference.”
That was exactly the problem, we were not ‘at it’ from the first minute as you have to be in this division. Farke is convinced that Armstrong was offside for the Saints’ crucial early goal, and, if so, then that’s just bad luck with no VAR to protect us (albeit Farke also pointed out that we still didn’t defend the situation well enough – “you have to drop a little bit quicker to defend the run of Armstrong”.) The second and third Saints’ goals though showed us up defensively.
Talking of the defence, why on earth did we not bring Joe Rodon back immediately? That was a strange decision, especially since we’d all seen Liam Cooper get caught out a few times, both when he came on against Hull and in the early stages of the Watford game. Very strange call that one – I wonder if it had anything to do with Farke wanting to leave out Luke Ayling for this one and yet still wanting one of his two ‘captains’ on the pitch? I’m not sure but we all know the defence looks better with Rodon in it.
For the rest, it’s hard to be too critical as that early goal clearly knocked us off our stride; we were shocked for the next twenty minutes. We did then have a little good spell but without causing Saints too much discomfort. Those next two goals though killed us.
Second half we were much better but we don’t know how much Saints took their feet off the gas and focussed more on protecting what they had. Either way, we were better but still not as good as we knew we could be. Georginio always looked the most likely to create an opening but he is a percentage player – a bit like Pablo used to be -, he tries so many unlikely passes and runs that several of them will go awry. I used to call it “omelettes” when Pablo did it – you have to break a few eggs to make one, just as you have to try a few risky passes to find a killer one. So no problem with that.
Other than Georginio – and Pascal for the way he took his goal – no one else came out of this one with much credit though. Everyone looked a bit under par, and that’s probably why the statistics suggested we ought to have done better in this game than we actually did,
The key ingredient we have to find is consistency. We know how good we can be at our best but if we don’t show that ‘best’ every game then results like this will pop up more often than we want, more often than they can be allowed to if we want promotion this season.
Sky Bet Championship
Southampton 3 (A Armstrong 2' 35', Smallbone 31')
Leeds United 1 (Struijk 58')
Leeds: Meslier (GK), Ampadu, Cooper (C), Piroe, Kamara (Gray 73'), Summerville (Anthony 73'), Shackleton, James (Bamford 81'), Struijk, Rutter, Byram. Subs not used: Darlow (GK), Ayling, Rodon, Poveda, Gelhardt, Gruev.
Southampton: Bazunu (GK), Walker-Peters, Manning, Downes, A. Armstrong (C) (Aribo 85'), Smallbone (Charles 69'), S. Armstrong (Bree 85'), Sulemana (Fraser 59'), Harwood-Bellis, Alcaraz (Adams 69'), Bednarek. Subs not used: McCarthy (GK), Holgate, Mara, Edozie.
Venue: St Mary's Stadium
Referee: John Brooks
Booked: A. Armstrong, Smallbone, Bednarek, Charles (Southampton) Kamara, Cooper (Leeds)