Champions, iced

Posted by Chris Rann

OK, OK, I don't want to take all the credit. I might have outlined the way to beat Manchester City in my previous blog piece (Putting the champions on ice), but Mauricio Pochettino and the players have to take some of the plaudits too.

- Mancini slams City performance

Seriously, what a performance. When the champions come to town, you expect a team to be out-tackled, out-battled, out-passed, outplayed and outclassed. And that's what happened, but it was the visitors to St. Mary's who were on the receiving end of a 3-1 trashing. For the past three games, against Everton, Manchester United and Wigan respectively, Saints fans have bemoaned that the results weren't justifying the performances. On Saturday that was put right.

Saints were fantastic from the first kick until the final whistle, despite finding themselves up against a decent-looking City side, and at times referee Martin Atkinson. Saints' new high-pressing intensity was in full effect from the off, with Pochettino true to his word that he will attack every team, caring little for teams' reputation. It didn't take long for City to look rattled, and Jason Puncheon robbed Gareth Barry in the City half to put Jay Rodriguez through, Joe Hart parried Rodriguez's effort and Puncheon finished the move himself.

At this point, you would be forgiven for not expecting too much, a plethora of Twitter pundits and the TV commentary team reminded us that Saints have lost more points from winning positions than any other team in the league. As a Saints fan, you can never be comfortable with a lead of one goal, and only slightly with two, so there was momentary relief when Saints doubled their lead.

Hart will want to forget this moment, as exceptional Rickie Lambert (Still no call, Roy?) powered a shot which the England goalkeeper let slip through his hands and Steven Davis followed in to send the home support into raptures. This was nothing more than the hosts deserved. If this kind of dominance was anything but typically Saints, the corner that led to City's first-half lifeline was. Playing a cross to the edge of the box for Danny Fox to volley is fine, if the ball is perfect and the defender is able to get on the end of it, but it wasn't. Saints gave themselves no chance, and City broke away for Edin Dzeko to halve the deficit. Nine-tenths of St. Mary's feared the worst.

Cue Mr. Atkinson. I'm loath to complain about a referee after a very good victory, but I.... actually no I'm not, it was a horrific decision, and the view he had of the incident makes it worse. Rodriguez was bundled over by Yaya Toure in the box, as clear a penalty as you are likely to see, and Atkinson, just feet away, gave a corner (which indicated he thought Toure played the ball - laughable). As a Saints fan, this felt extremely frustrating, and it now seemed inevitable that City would grab a draw or worse, leaving Saints to rue poor officiating.

But what came in the second half was not a capitulation, quite the opposite. Saints were as good, if not better. Morgan Schneiderlin and Jack Cork, ably supported by Davis, were, yet again, fantastic for Saints, making Toure look extremely ordinary as they bossed the centre of the park. Saints continued to put pressure from the top on their opponents, and it showed that even the expensive stars of City will struggle under relentless, maintained hassling. City were continuously forced into errors. It always looked as if Saints would score next, and they did.

The goal that effectively sealed the result came from an unlikely scorer. As Saints put their opponents under pressure again, Lambert played a ball across the box, and without a slip, or anyone anywhere near him, Barry stroked a sublime finish into the bottom right corner. And it could have been more, as Saints pushed the visitors to their limits, putting in an accomplished and verging on perfect team display.

It would be hard to pick out a man of the match from this, with several players having their best game in a Saints shirt, but for me Cork stood out, but a special mention must go to Jos Hooiveld. Often on the end of some serious criticism this season, the Dutch defender was brilliant, making a staggering 18 clearances.

Saints will travel to Newcastle next week brimming with confidence, then will look forward to welcoming old 'friend' Mr. Redknapp to St. Mary's. Perform like they did on Saturday and it will be another six points.

Keep the Faith.

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