Russell Martin’s return to SA1 ended with a comfortable first forty-five minutes where the generosity of the Swans midfield was exposed for all to see and rarely will the former Swans boss have an easier time of it as Southampton looked for that whole period if they could score at will.
At the end though he must have been breathing a sigh of relief that they came away from SA1 with all three points as the Swans hit the post twice and forced two good saves from the keeper in the last quarter of the game to threaten to take something that for large periods we did not deserve.
What will be the unknown in all of this was how much of that was down to us raising our game in the last quarter and how much was Southampton doing what they did in the early stages of the second half and take the foot off the gas knowing that the damage had been done in the first period. Either way it leaves Luke Williams with some optimism for the future but the overall game will also have laid bare to him exactly the deficiencies that we have in the squad.
The Swans boss has talked several times about wanting to play a high tempo quick game but simply put at the moment he is lacking the personnel to do that highlighted in the first forty five minutes by the midfield being bypassed with some ease by a Southampton attack to which we simply did not have an answer.
Two goals inside the first twenty minutes effectively ended the match as a contest but the truth was that – Carl Rushworth aside – none of our players turned up for the early kick off and failed to get themselves into the match. You can point at a slick move that saw Ashby cross into space and a clattering of Jamal Lowe eventually ending with Jamie Paterson scoring with his head but thirty seconds of good football cannot mask the inability of our side to even show a desire to close down Southampton in that first half. And I have no doubt that Luke Williams pointed out much of that in his half time team talk.
The first half was summed up by us giving Flynn Downes the space to restore a two goal lead pretty much within a minute of the restart and that secured the three points for the Saints who no doubt could not believe the generosity of the Swansea City side. Had it not been for the aforementioned Rushworth then Southampton would have been totally out of sight and already ahead of the five goals that they put past us on Boxing Day.
For me that first half was simply inexcusable. Southampton played the ball around a side that retreated at every opportunity and the fact that the visitors managed 70% possession in the first half tells you much about how the game panned out.
The second half looked like it could easily have been one of those halves that degenerated into absolutely nothing. Southampton knew the points were secure and despite a couple of early attacks from the Swans they were comfortable at keeping us out and, truth be told, up until past the seventy minute mark there was only one team that looked as if they were set to add to the scoring.
A double change (Patino for Cullen and Bolaise for Ashby) was already in the offing when Jamal Lowe pulled out so Yates for Lowe was the third of a treble change for the Swans and it was broadly at that point that things started to look different. All three new additions added a level sadly missing for most of the game – that level of wanting to get the ball back – and the Swans started to benefit from it.
Some neater and intricate passing took place and somehow a Jamie Paterson ball across the area was hit against the post by Yates when it looked easier to score. Paterson himself forced a save just a minute later from Bazunu who deflected the ball onto the post ad the Swans were effectively the width of a post away from having levelled the game. It wouldn’t have been deserved but there would have been none of the 15,000 home fans that would have complained about it at that point.
Bolaise forced a good save with a powerful downward header from Bazunu again and in stoppage time Paterson hit a neat free kick that was tipped over the bar as the keeper was called again into action. As referenced earlier it is difficult to know how much of this was down to us upping our game is difficult to say but we will certainly be trying to take the positives that pressurising the opposition can produce. Who would have thought that effort and desire could create goal opportunities? Not the Swansea City of the first half that is for certain.
Ultimately today there was little doubt that we were beaten by the better side but there is also little doubt that we made it far easier for them than we should have done. Whatever your take on the last twenty minutes of the game the evidence of what a little bit of pressure can do to a Southampton defence was clear to see and on another day we could easily have escaped from this game with a scraped point that for large periods we did not deserve.
It was written on these pages prior to the game that today was a little bit of a free hit for Williams due to the form of the opposition but whilst he didn’t take that I have little doubt that he will have taken plenty of positives from the last twenty minutes even if nothing else. He also will have learned a lot about certain players from today’s performance but not all of it will have been good things.
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