Third game in a week and here come the Welsh, with
Cardiff City arriving at St Mary’s. It’s ironic that Cardiff are the visitors
in a week when it became apparent that there was still an issue over the
compensation argument between Saints and Cardiff‘s nearest and dearest
neighbours, Swansea City. There could be
a bit of Swansea related edge to the game today as well of course with Russell
Martin, Flynn Downes and Ryan Manning all having represented the Swans against
Cardiff as recently as last season. Russell Martin himself has four wins out of
four against Cardiff whilst manager of Swansea so I’m sure he’s going to get a
very friendly welcome from their fans today.
It became apparent after the game against Bristol City on Wednesday that the injuries to Moussaldeen Djenepomana and the one picked up by Ross Stewart, were going to keep both players out until after Christmas at the earliest and whilst that’s bad news on both counts but that’s what you have squads for and Saints have the players that will hopefully step up.
Cardiff’s headline signing this summer was of course their old boy Aaron Ramsey, who left and had a pretty good career at Premier League level with Arsenal. He’s on the lap of honour of his career now which is why he came back to Cardiff and shock of shocks, he’s been injured for months so we won’t be seeing him today. Manager Erol Bulut arrived at the club in the close season having managed three teams in the Turkish Superlig, including Fenerbahce but he’s never lasted anywhere more than 6-18 months even though the results have got have been okay. This kind of suggests a manager that falls out with the board.
Saturday and it’s fucking cold as I take the walk across the Rupert Lowe Itchen Bridge towards the ground. It’s lovely up here as the cold wind blows. Lots of shelter from the elements up here. Not. The team news saw Che Adams named in attack, which I guess will mean the diamond midfield played in the second half against Bristol on Wednesday. Ryan Manning is again preferred to James Bree and Shea Charles is in again ahead of Will Smallbone, who must have a knock because he’s not even on the bench. With the two injuries mentioned, Sam Amo is back and Tyler Dibling finds a place on the bench for the first time in quite a while.
Away we go and Saints are on it from the start – it’s our ball and you’re not having it. Ten minutes of that and Baz to Bednarek, who carries it forwards down the left before picking out Manning, high on the left wing as the fullback needs to be with a diamond midfield. There’s a blur of passes on the edge of the box – Stuart Armstrong to Adams to Downes to Alcaraz to Adam Armstrong, one touch, left foot, top corner from the edge of the box. Fucking brilliant goal and Mr Gerritforward a couple of rows behind me chokes on his pie.
Immediately after we score is always a concern but Saints are dominating the game and even if we don’t have the ball, we win it back before Cardiff can do anything with it. Manning knocks it out to the left to Stuart Armstrong, who plays 1-2 with Alcaraz Perez who is cynically taken out with a forearm smash in the face by Tanner but Stuart Armstrong carries on gets the cross over, which flicks in the air off a defender and there is Adam Armstrong to nod into the empty net from a couple of yards. 15 minutes and two goals up and all the travelling Cardiff fans who have just found out that there trains have been cancelled must be wondering about getting absolutely murdered in this game. It’s not been the best 15 minutes for them.
Maybe Cardiff are hoping that the fog really comes in but they do build up quite nicely down the left before pinging a ball over the top and suddenly, Grant is in behind THB but Baz is off his line superbly to dive in and head it and the follow-up shop from 35 yards is comfortably cleared by THB. Normal service is resumed with Bednarek switching out to Stuart Armstrong and his cross is fumbled by the goalkeeper Runarsson and Adam Armstrong has a free header at the back post which he can only direct back to the relieved goalkeeper.
Saints drop off a bit for the last ten of the half after that and Cardiff have a bit of a spell with a cross coming in from the right and it’s met by Grant at the back post on the bounce but he can only spoon it over the bar.
Half time and lovely. Two up and comfortable. Another goal would make it completely dead but it’s going to take a hell of an improvement by Cardiff to even make this interesting for them. Second half and Saints start to play straight away, knocking it around finding Adam Armsatrong wide on the right and he slides it across and Che Adams smashes it into the net first time but the flag is up straight away and judging by the lack of complaints, he is very obviously offside.
Cardiff are still here though and break down the right as KWP overcommits and Grant gets to within 30 yards and goes for the far post with a low effort which only goes just wide. Really good effort to be fair. The first substitutes happen on the hour, with Aribo and Fraser coming on for Armstrong in Alcaraz. Aribo immediately looks lively (do not adjust your sets) and picks up cross from the right by Shea Charles and drills it low onto the outside of the post and wide.
Adams has had a few Trampolino moments today but there’s a good bit of hold-up play and he sends Adam Armstrong away and his cross to the back post it’s just nudged by a defender which takes it away from Wee Man Fraser’s little legs and he can only slide in and hoof it over the bar.
Aribo twinkletoes through two players in midfield with before putting a ball through to Fraser who instead of shooting, tries to tee up Adams who falls over his own feet in missing the ball and the the ball in his trampoline nose.
The chances just keep on coming as a THB diagonal out to Fraser starts the move and Fraser goes directly across the pitch and finds Adams and onto Armstrong and it should be a hat-trick but he drills it straight of the keeper who shovels it over the bar
With Mara now on for Adams as we try and see the game out, Mara brings out the party tricks to find Fraser, before trying to shut himself and 25 yard when he really should’ve passed it to the slightly irate hat-trick seeking Arma.
Adam Armstrong dribbles in the corner to waste time but Cardiff fuck it up and he manages to wriggle along the goal line before crossing it back for Fraser who hits his sixth shot in 20 minutes straight at a defender and with that, the ref decides that Wee Man is never going to score and that it that.
Well that was about as comfortable and easy as it’s ever going to get in any league game. Cardiff never threatened at any point and the only thing we can possibly complain about is the fact that we should’ve scored about six. Adam Armstrong, with one brilliant goal and one poachers goal in the first 15 minutes, killed the game and from that point on it was just damage limitation for Cardiff but quite how we played the whole of the second half without scoring is beyond me. The game was another one that highlighted that we are a very good side but a proper centre forward to play with Armstrong, who can stick the ball in the net makes us an excellent side that would certainly be looking at a top two place come the end of the season.
Right from the first whistle today you sensed that Saints meant business and even the Mr Gerritforward critics of the style of football the side are playing these days, can’t have been anything but impressed by the first goal, starting as it did with Gavin Bazunu and being passed all the way up the pitch until Adam Armstrong picked it up just to the right of centre and curled it into the top corner with his left foot. It’s an absolutely outstanding goal, whatever way you look at it.
Lessons have clearly been learnt from previous games where we haven’t pushed on and it took all of four minutes to knock in the second goal with Charly Alcaraz and Stuart Armstrong combining for the latter to cross the ball which was deflected up in the air for the captain to heading past a helpless goalkeeper. Game over and managed very well for more or less all of the remaining 80 minutes or so.
Besides Adam Armstrong who will take all of the plaudits from publications that can’t think past the goalscorer, Flynn Downes, Shea Charles and Ryan Manning all had superb games. We are kind of getting used to it with Downes at the moment but Shea Charles looked a hell of a lot more comfortable in that number 8 role than he did against Bristol City in mid-week. Those two add some proper strength to our midfield and allow Stuart Armstrong to do what he does best and try and unlock the opposition defence. Will Smallbone has certainly got his work cut out to get his place back in the side from Charles.
Ryan Manning actually looked like a proper full-back today who was more about defending than attacking. He was so much closer to his man today and there wasn’t the usual Manning Chasm down our left side where he is so far infield that the winger can have a cup of tea and a bath and still cross the ball in unopposed before Manning gets out to him. He was excellent today and didn’t put a foot wrong. This is probably another benefit of James Bree doing well in his position for a few weeks and Ryan having to up his game.
And finally and most surprisingly, Joe Aribo was superb when he came off the bench for Stuart Armstrong and now I’ve said that, I’m off for a lie down. In mitigation, it was favourable conditions with Cardiff just looking for the final whistle at that point, but he used the ball very well, looked very dangerous, looked a natural in that position in midfield and get this…. showed some energy. Though it was in less minutes, Sekou Mara also took advantage of the situation and put in a good cameo. Both of these players will have done themselves a lot of good in the eyes of the manager who wants players to come into the team when they are given their chance and perform and show they can be trusted to do so, like James Bree did a few weeks ago. Now, the two of them have to do it again in their next performances, no matter when it is or how many minutes it’s for, because until they do that, they will always be seen as a bit of a risk and I will be rolling my eyes and whispering ‘fuck no’ to myself when they come on. Even though he has been unlucky to be left out of the side at the moment, James Bree is not really seen as a risk anymore, whereas he was before the recent run of games.
It was a good day for Russell Martin and he acknowledged that afterwards but the key thing for me was that he revealed that he gave the lads a hard time at half-time because they had let Cardiff get a toehold in the game in the last 10 minutes of the first half. To do that, even when you are 2-0 up and relatively comfortable, for me anyway is the mark of a manager who wants to continuously drive standards and won’t tolerate any slippage. He also gave it some back to the Cardiff fans, reminding them of how many times he has beaten them in a row now and also giving a reminder of his Swansea days with what may or may not have been a re-enactment of the 'Swim Away' gesture that got him in a bit of hot water when he was Swansea manager.
Onwards and a tricky game next week away at in-form Watford who only have one defeat in their last nine and that was to Leicester, but with a full week to prepare, I expect us to get the result to keep us in touch with the other teams up near the top. Everyone won today but as I continually say, it’s only your own results that you can control so do your thing and the league table will look after yourself.
We have been waiting for a comfortable win and today we got it. Up the fucking Saints - and bring on Wesley Hoedt next week.