Perhaps the only way you can assess a game is how you feel at the end of it. Cold, a little damp, mildly disappointed at not winning, but some relief that we didn’t lose - and sheer delight at a clean sheet. I’m not sure what others think (or feel), but for me it was a case of no steps back but none forward either, other than a more solid shape to the team at the expense of quality. We should be under no illusion that we are now in a relegation scrap and the rest of the season is just about staying up. If this is accomplished it is a case of job done and nobody should be looking to pass any sort of judgment on the basis of one game under the new regime (I can’t comment on QPR, I wasn’t there). If today proves to be a basis from which we can build that’s fine.
It proved to be a game that we didn’t win because four good chances in the final 20 minutes of the first half were not converted. One was shot wide, two brought outstanding saves by the Southampton keeper, who has to be given whatever man of the match award is going. But Southampton made one change for the second half and thereafter dominated possession, passed the ball better than us, and through the second half looked the more likely winners without creating a great deal – one superb save by Weaver being the exception. Until the final few minutes when Todorov made some things happen and almost won the game for us. Overall nobody can really quibble about a draw being a fair result; but if we had scored when we were on top and gone into the break ahead it could have been much better.
The team saw Youga go the way of Moutaouakil in the pursuit of more physical presence, with Cranie retained at right-back and McEveley making his debut on the left. Fortune was preferred to Primus alongside Hudson, while Bailey returned in place of Racon from Tuesday alongside Semedo in the centre of midfield. Gillespie and Bouazza provided the width and Gray and Burton were paired together up front. More solid, more dependable, but no great pace about the team.
The first half an hour was fairly even, but with Bailey and Semedo having the better of things in midfield and McEveley getting forward to good effect we started to dictate the game. Burton and Gray seemed to work well enough together and the chances then started to come. That they weren’t taken was as much to do with their goalkeeper as profligate finishing.
The second half was more of a disappointment as less came through midfield, Bouazza did another disappearing act, and their tactical change saw us resorting more to rather aimless balls forward. During this spell we could have lost the game. Sam came on to replace Gillespie, then Todorov for Gray and it was the latter move that saw us look more effective going forward once again. I’m not sure what the guy has to do to start, but he still looks a class apart to me and I hope he will feature more in the games ahead. In the final minutes Holland came on for Bailey.
Overall the quality wasn’t great, but a home game where we don’t concede a goal has to be a blessing at the moment. Again, it’s whether we can build on this, because the more negative interpretation is another home game without a win. That’s five now and 10 games overall. And Suzanne didn’t get her win. I’m trying to think of an appropriate Piaf song, but at the moment Je ne Regrette Rien doesn’t exactly hit the mark, nor does La Vie En Rose.
Of the new boys, I thought Gillespie played well. He knows his stuff and can be relied on to contribute effectively. Burton also looked like he knew the score and what was required, while not setting the place alight by scoring. McEveley had a mixed game. Defensively he was caught out a couple of times and once lost the ball badly and was slow at getting back. But he got forward to good effect some times and added drive and solidity, as did Cranie. Fortune had a good game and seemed to work well with Hudson, Semedo made plenty of tackles and covered well. Bouazza? From now on I’m inclined to judge him on whether he scores as he seems to contribute little else. The phrase defensive duties doesn’t seem to apply to him. He didn’t score. Perhaps the biggest plus point was Weaver. After recent games his confidence could have been low, but he showed character in showing no after-effects and when called on to make the save he did.
Weaver: 8/10. Well done.
Cranie: 7/10. Looked solid and adds height to the back four. In contrast to recent games we looked relatively untroubled from set pieces, which has to be attributed to the players who came in.
McEveley: 6/10. Not far short of being an 8 but made some mistakes which could have been costly. Too soon to pass judgement as he looked like he could become a star. More than a passing resemblance to Danny Mills.
Fortune: 7/10. Slotted back in effectively, good game.
Hudson: 7/10. Better game than against Sheff Utd and quietly effective.
Bouazza: 5/10. Contribution still inadequate. Frustrating.
Semedo: 7/10. No real errors, but sometimes looks lost when in possession.
Bailey: 7/10. With Semedo lost control of midfield in the second half, but a steadier game than those of late.
Gillespie: 7/10. Good professional, a git when he plays against us but now he’s one of us.
Gray: 6/10. Not bad but needed a goal when we were on top.
Burton: 6/10. Too soon to judge, he’s only been with us a few days. He and Gray did carve out chances in the first half.
Todorov: 8/10. Made a clear difference when he came on and nearly won it for us.
Sam: 6/10. Not much time to make a mark, had a couple of good runs.
Holland: Not on long enough for a rating but we know all we need to here.