Tuesday, 22 March 2011

Hard-Earned Point

When at 0-1 Llera’s effort came back off the underside of the bar and we didn’t get the penalty for him being manhandled to prevent a clean contact, most of us thought it was going to be another of those games of late where whatever else might be said we didn’t get the breaks. Instead we did manage the equaliser –and a very nice goal it was too. If the game had gone on another 10 minutes we might well have won it, although bringing on Doherty for the final couple of minutes to shore up the defence was a fair indication that, given our circumstances, it was more important not to lose it at the death. It was a merited point, earned through effort and commitment, with Southampton for all their poise and organisation not creating much themselves in the way of goalscoring opportunities and ending up paying the price for wanting the game to be over once they’d gone ahead.

The team saw the first three names changed, with Elliot surprisingly fit to return in goal, Solly given the start ahead of Jenkinson and Francis, and Bessone returning at left-back to replace the now departed Fry. Llera and Dailly were retained, with Doherty as back-up, as were Semedo and Parrett in central midfield and Nouble and Wright-Phillips up front, while the wide berths saw Wagstaff keep his place but Racon chosen over McCormack on the right. Still no place from the start for Eccleston or Reid, so again genuine attacking threat down the flanks was sacrificed for solidity.

The plus side of this approach was our generally being able to contain Southampton, especially with Bessone doing splendidly defensively to neutralise the threat of the much-vaunted Oxlade-Chamberlain. The downside was inevitably little or no service to the front men, who had to feed off scraps. And through a rather edgy first half you had the impression that we were one mistake away from again finding ourselves in a position from which it would be hard to get anything from the game. They looked dangerous from set pieces, with one or two nasty moments, while Racon flashed a low ball across the face of the goal. But for the most part, with Semedo and Parrett not surprisingly still working out how to play together, obliging Racon to keep moving inside, the play was scrappy. No bad thing to make it to the break on level terms, but again there was that fear that we would let one in sooner or later; after all, you have to go back to early February and nine consecutive games for our last clean sheet.

There was no real change in the second half as Southampton continued with their own measured approach and both defences generally on top. But the deadlock was broken after about an hour, with an element of controversy. Parrett I think had gone down with a knock but like Southampton it appeared from where I was sitting that Llera had simply overhit a pass into touch. We tried to claim it was deliberate, but they weren’t buying it and from the throw worked their way down the line to win a corner. A half-clearance dropped inside the box for one of their guys to volley in a low shot. There was an air of inevitability about it, not from the flow of the game but from our recent experience.

However, there was no getting on the players backs. It’s a different situation when you’re up against a strong Southampton side with a large following to going behind at home against Exeter, Carlisle, Tranmere and Brentford – or anywhere against Dagenham & Redbridge. Instead the players’ heads didn’t drop and with Solly and Wagstaff getting more joy down the right and Racon influential we were at least still competing, without creating much. But to get something out of the game we did need more of a threat, so Eccleston duly replaced Wagstaff. Wright-Phillips had fluffed his only opening to date, miscuing a low cross, and again it seemed that the Llera effort would end up being the decisive moment. But with about 15 minutes left Eccleston picked up the ball, moved inside and played a square pass to Parrett, who dinked it over the defenders and into the box for Wright-Phillips to toe-poke it past the keeper. It’s what the guy does, we just need to supply the ammunition.

With the fans’ spirits raised and the momentum with us, for a while that we might even win the game. Anyinsah came on for Nouble and I think most of us expected Reid to make another late appearance. However, Southampton regrouped towards the end and went in search of a winner of their own – including a loud shout for a penalty which left me and the ref unmoved and a near disaster as Dailly directed a header back which Elliot had not been anticipating - and by the end, with Doherty on, we were ready to take the point. It’s not as if we harbour thoughts of a play-off spot any more and in the run we’re on the priority was not to give up what we’d won back.

The most encouraging thing about tonight was that players’ heads didn’t drop and the supporters responded in kind. That attitude, if sustained, should be enough to truly stop the rot after the false dawn of a home draw against Tranmere.

Player Ratings:

Elliot: 7/10. In truth he didn’t have much to do and had no chance with the goal. If the Dailly back-header had resulted in a late winner for Southampton the ratings for them both might have been different.

Solly: 7/10. Decent game, as he compensated for the lack of physical presence with good work going forward in the second half.

Bessone: 8/10. My man of the match for coming back from injury and seeing off their main attacking threat, who was replaced in the second half. Some iffy passes early on, but hopefully he’s due for an injury-free run.

Dailly: 7/10. No complaints here, especially as he ensured that his header back was weak enough to be gathered by a prone Elliot.

Llera: 8/10. A game without howlers in defence is a good one for Mig and, as against Brentford, he was within a whisker of scoring. Deserved to keep his place tonight despite Doherty being available again.

Racon: 7/10. Influential in most of our better attacks and helped out when needed in the centre. No lack of effort despite being asked to do a job which clearly isn’t the one he wants.

Semedo: 6/10. Struggled in the first half especially as he and Parrett looked like strangers, but worked his way through it and more dominant in the second half, which helped to turn things back our way.

Parrett: 6/10. It is clearly asking a lot for a young player to come into a struggling team and be expected to make the play. Opinions afterwards were mixed, but I thought he struggled throughout. However, gets an extra mark for the decisive contribution to the goal.

Wagstaff: 5/10. Came into it more in the second half, but still for me isn’t providing much more at the moment than nuisance value, especially with the goals having dried up.

Nouble: 5/10. Was well contained by their central defence. Had little in the way of service but expect a bit more in the way of causing problems. Still too early to judge.

Wright-Phillips: 7/10. Overall contribution limited and picked up another silly booking. But the guy scores goals and that’s more than enough for me.
Subs: Eccleston (8/10 – high mark for a 15-minute cameo, but unsettled them from the off and helped fashion the goal); Anyinsah (6/10 – no time to make any real impact); Doherty (played a blinder for the two minutes he was on).

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