1146 on a Sunday night and I’ve just arrived yem in beautiful Lewisham. The match report has been delayed slightly as my friend (aye, I have one) and I decided to stay on in Southampton for a couple of hours because: a) we wanted to dissect what we thought was an excellent performance and b) we found a pub called the Rockstone that was so good we contemplated moving in. If you ever find yourself down there, or you head there next season (we’ll be playing Southampton again as there’s NEE CHANCE we’re getting relegated), pop in for some cracking beer and superb bait.
To the match then. The team announced before kick-off. NEE MIKEL MERINO WHAT’S GANNIN ON HERE LIKE? AM GANNIN YEM. A FEEL LIKE CRYING. That was my initial reaction on receiving the news that our newly permanently signed dashing Spaniard wasn’t starting. However, after the 30 seconds of hyper-ventilation subsided, we realised Clark wasn’t in the line-up either and then we thought, of course, 2 lads who’d played for their countries midweek, haven’t been around for training and the match plan, and might be a little tired probably weren’t in Rafa’s envisaged starting 11 for this match once the final whistle had gone against Liverpool 2 weeks ago. Hayden and Lejeune came into the side and both, as we all know, ended up having significant impacts on the game.
Pellegrino lined-up with a fairly attacking outlook (no surprise given Southampton’s lack of goals this season) but there was nothing there that made me fear for us and that seemed to be the rest of the away end’s impression as the noise it was generating was boisterous, loud and very positive.
Almost from kick-off we went on the front foot. Shelvey to Yedlin, a pass to and return from Ritchie and Yedlin’s cross booted out for a corner. From the resulting corner swung in by Shelvey, Atsu hit a lovely, clean effort just wide. Unlucky.
16 minutes in and, despite the possession (something we’re used to against opposing teams this season), the Saints probably created their first real chance. Redmond got to the by-line, knocked a good ball in, and Tadic should’ve done better. I hate doing this but I have to write it yet again….Rob Elliott should’ve left the line and claimed that before it got anywhere near Tadic’s foreheed.
The next attack of any significance led to the first goal. And what a belter it was. 20 minutes and the clock and a speculative punt forward from Elliott sees Joselu and Yoshida go up for the ball about 40 yards out. It falls kindly for the World’s hardest working human, Matt Ritchie, who plays it out to Pérez on the left-hand side. Van Dijk blocks Ayoze’s attempt at a cross but guess who’s there to pick-up the loose ball? Matt Ritchie, of course. His little dink in the box, deflected of Cedric, is hit first time by Atsu, producing a good block from Yoshida. The ball breaks to the edge of the D, almost bang central. CRACK – first-time, right foot half-volley from the recalled Isaac Hayden which completely wrong foots Fraser Forster (who looked shot of confidence all game) and end-up in the bottom corner. Reminded me of his last goal for us away to Cardiff in April. The celebrations were as you’d expect. Noisy and life-threatening.
A quick word on Southampton’s anti-Ritchie song (he’s ex-Pompey and Bournemouth). What on Earth were those fans singing? I’m convinced it was ‘Matt Ritchie is useless’ which, if it was, isn’t that malicious and is to be applauded for using the word ‘useless’ in a football chant. As opposed to ‘wanker’, ‘bastard’ ‘fucker’ for example. Quite a pleasant insult, all in all.
Southampton had a decent chance to equalise a couple of minutes later. We didn’t clear the ball as we should’ve done and Lejeune produced an excellent block to deny Gabbiadini, throwing himself in front of the shot and seeing it head out for a corner. The corner was played into the box and Elliott completely mistimed his run towards it. Fortunately, it fell to the head of Van Dijk who headed it wide. Van Dijk, and maybe I imagined this, looked utterly disinterested all match.
Another decent bit of wing play by the Saints led to Tadic getting a chance which, once again, Lejeune read and stood up to. For all of their huff and puff, at this point approaching half-time I wasn’t panicked and the feeling around me amongst the fans I was stood with was similar. Yedlin was booked because he breathed to hard next to one of their lads but toward the end of the half it seemed like we’d rode their little storm. Shelvey was at his imperious, controlling best and we were good value for the lead.
We came out for the 2nd half and went on the front foot immediately. A ball out wide to Ritchie from Shelvey, Ritchie in to Ayoze and, through sheer determination, our number 17 number 10 manages to get a ball in which Joselu flicks on the bar. Shelvey’s follow-up shot is saved from Forster. If we’d gone 2 up that would’ve been it.
Then the equaliser arrived. A punt into the box from Redmond and Gabbiadini (hate that name) gets on to it. It looks like Manquillo has done enough by taking him away from the goal but, and credit to him, Gabbiadini spins and puts a good, low shot into the bottom corner. 1-1.
Within 2 minutes we’d regained the lead. Shelvey in to Ayoze, quick pass to Hayden, Hayden to Ritchie, Ayoze continuing his run, cracking ball in to him by Ritchie, first-time shot and a decent save from Forster, spills out and Ayoze puts it in from a very tight angle. Great finish and hopefully a HUGE confidence booster for the lad. Superb. He was substituted not long after for Merino and we were certain that there was a psychological aspect to it, i.e. head-up after the goal and an ovation from the fans. Gayle on for Joselu with an eye on us catching Southampton on the break no doubt.
And then that fucking penalty. Lejeune had a cracking game, let’s not forget that. He had a rush of blood to the head (Long had just more or less kicked the ball out) and it’s a forgivable offence that I’ve no doubt he’ll learn from. Emphatic penalty from Gabbiadini. 2-2.
The Saints then had a few minutes spell which was a little disconcerting but as the game started to creep towards its end it was NUFC that looked the more likely to score. The ball broke in the box and Gayle’s half chance was blocked. The corner we won from that block was swung in beautifully by Ritchie….Lejeune got up…and Davis cleared off the line. How perfect it would’ve been to see Flo Jeu get the winner but it wasn’t to be. Full-time 2-2 and a very positive, committed and entertaining performance. From where I was stood no-one had a bad game. Hayden, Yedlin (who could’ve easily been sent off), Lejeune, Ritchie and Shelvey were superb. Ayoze’s goal was great for us and for him and we’re 9th in the table with a positive goal difference and a very winnable home game coming up. Saturday can’t come quick enough. HTL
Norman Riley – Follow Norman on @likethegoat
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