Two points dropped or a point gained? Like most 1-1 draws you look back and think about missed opportunities – and there’s no doubt that having got back on level terms early in the second half we went on to create the chances to have kept the winning run going. But they didn’t go in when we were on top and at the end we were, if not hanging on at least looking less likely to win it than Southampton. So no real complaints – and certainly no cause for panic. Southampton were a cut above any other team I have seen us play against this season and their robust style caused us problems, with some key players below par, perhaps because they weren’t allowed the opportunity to play they enjoyed in other games.
However, in truth the problems today stemmed from the defence – and in particular Llera. He has been superb in other games for us, but today let’s just say he had a bad day at the office. In the first half he was pulled out of position too easily, beaten on the ground too easily, and ended up often chasing shadows. It affected his game generally (resulting in poor clearances) and seemed to unsettle the whole defence and team. It’s clearly wrong to blame one player, with some others not looking as assured as in other games – Semedo was far less conspicuous than previously, Bailey and Shelvey struggled to win their battles, and Racon became embroiled in the physical aspect of the game and seemed flustered. But the result of uncertainty in defence was an inability to consistently control possession and the game. And unlike other matches this season I was nervous towards the end as Southampton looked quite capable of snatching a winner. Maybe for that we should just give the opposition some credit.
With Bailey and Racon passed fit it was the same starting line-up, with no surprises on the bench either. It was clear from the opening exchanges that Southampton were up for the game and they almost took the lead in the first few minutes. Appeals for offside went begging as a Southampton player stole in at the near post and it took an excellent block by Elliot to deny them. As the game settled we started to dictate and push them back, but the relative simplicity of their game plan – they were far happier than us with the ball in the air and to break up play – worked against real dominance, especially with a referee reluctant to produce a card for persistent fouls. Our passing during this period wasn’t crisp enough and although there were good moments – Sam was played in superbly but was muscled out, perhaps unfairly – we didn’t create a clear opportunity. As the half drew to a close Southampton did. A dangerous ball in from the right needed only a touch from one of them, who had got in front of their market, to divert it past Elliot.
We hadn’t played well enough in the first half for this to be any sort of injustice, especially given the uncertainty in defence, and the assumption was some choice words at the break from Parkinson. But there were no signs of any change to the pattern early on. Just when concern was mounting we were, as before this season, gifted a goal. We worked a good position down the left, but the cross seemed to be easy for their keeper. I guess he collided with their defender, or they left it for each other, because instead of being gathered the ball went through to Burton, who made meaningful enough contact to put it in the net. A present for sure, but who cares?
Over the next 20 minutes we went on to create the chances that should have won us the game. We had the ball in the net twice, only to be denied by the linesman’s flag. I’ll need to see replays to be sure. The first one was a delightful ball in from the left which Burton perhaps should have buried but his touch on was then finished off at the far post, by Shelvey I think. It’s quite possible the second touch was offside. The second looked to me like a good goal, with a ball from the right finding a player (I really don’t know which one and I’m not going to guess as like most others I was jumping up and down at the time) stealing in at the far post to put it away. Bailey was played through but a poor first touch saw the chance go betting. And finally Youga went on a mazy dribble that took him past the entire defence only for his shot to come back off the post.
However, nothing went in and counted and towards the end Southampton came back into it, with a few substitutions giving fresh legs (Chris Perry departed with a well-deserved reception from the Charlton fans). Sam landed awkwardly and seemed to turn an ankle, with Wagstaff coming on. But that was the only change we made. I thought that there was a case for bringing on McLeod for Shelvey towards the end to perhaps give us fresh impetus, but that didn’t happen. And through this period we continued to struggle to contain their attack, holding out the risk of losing late on. An always fractious encounter saw one melee and there were injuries and stoppages – which made the decision to add on four minutes at the end nothing more than a joke. But at least the referee bottled the major decisions, as Southampton had a fair shout for a penalty late in the day.
At the close there was a feeling of what might have been, given our period of dominance and chances, but also an awareness that against tough opposition today we came up a little short to truly complain. Again, I think a large part of this was because we were uncomfortable in defence.
Elliot: 9/10. Another superb save and no chance with their goal. Missed once cross, but otherwise very sound – and deserves an extra mark for some excellent early distribution which set up promising attacks.
Richardson: 8/10. Caught out once, but otherwise an excellent game. Got forward well.
Youga: 7/10. A few odd moments, including a booking for deliberate handball, but his run would have been another goal of the season contender had the shot not come back off the post.
Dailly: 7/10. Some good interceptions, but has to take some responsibility this time for the defence not looking as composed as in other games.
Llera: 5/10. Sorry, but this was a poor display – in contrast to what has gone before. He was exposed early on and it seemed to unsettle him for the rest of the match. One to look at the tapes and work on it, but also one I trust just to put down to a bad day at the office.
Bailey: 6/10. Usual committed display, but missed an excellent chance to (probably) win the game.
Semedo: 6/10. Here too it may be a case of giving the opposition credit, but he seemed far less effective than in recent games and seldom featured with the ball.
Racon: 7/10. Some excellent touches and took some rough treatment in a physical encounter. But seemed that it got to him and didn’t always choose the best option, especially some simpler distribution to Sam when their full back was struggling (after being tackled heavily by Richardson).
Sam: 8/10. Always a threat and should have had better service in the second half especially. Hopefully the injury won’t prove serious.
Shelvey: 6/10. Not his best game. With the play often fragmented and Southampton bypassing midfield struggled to impose himself.
Burton: 8/10. It may have been a lucky goal, but he’s there to score them. Also some excellent hold-up play and distribution.
Subs: Wagstaff (6/10: No real influence on the game in the time he was on).
Pardew: 8/10. He may not deserve it, but he seemed to take the period abuse well enough and sent out his team in the right frame of mind to get a result.