Southampton ended their first season back in the Premier League with a 1-1 draw against Stoke City. The way the game played out was a pretty fitting end to a campaign that started terribly, got much better, raised expectations and then fizzled out quietly. It would be easy to say that there was an 'end of season' feel to the game, but I actually don't think that was the case. Saints played the nicer football, but Stoke (and I often think their football is better than people suggest, certainly better than West Ham's or Newcastle's) often looked the more threatening, neither team really dominating, and both sides creating chances and forcing saves from the goalkeepers.
Saints will play out their Premier League season in an odd situation. Depending how events unfold on Sunday, they could finish as high as 10th or as low as 17th. The opponents are Stoke City, and their chairman Peter Coates is under no illusion that this is a 'nothing' end of season game. Effectively the difference between victory or defeat stands at around GBP;5 million for both clubs, who are in almost identical boats. Hopefully (he says with an air of feint optimism) this will be filtered down to the players of both clubs and we will be in for a cracking last day.
Safety. That was always the name of the game, but as Saints grabbed that last point to survive in a 1-1 draw with Sunderland, there was a distinct air of disappointment. - Match report: Sunderland 1-1 Southampton Far too often Saints fans have walked out of stadiums wondering just how they haven't witnessed a victory, and today was no different. To say that Saints were the better side at the Stadium of Light today would be a massive understatement. They were head and shoulders above Sunderland in every department, yet the points were shared, and Saints were losing with 14 minutes to play.
Saints make the long trip to the Stadium of Light on Sunday hoping that a positive result will see them safe from the threat of relegation. Unfortunately, their hosts are in the same boat, and so it is likely to be one heck of a scrap! It is hard to gauge what to expect from the current Sunderland side, as they have not long been taken over by the unpredictable Paolo Di Canio. Many scoffed at their decision to dispense of Martin O'Neill at such a late stage in the season. Not me. I think the chairman probably saved their season, replacing one of the most overrated managers in Premier League history -- a merchant of terrible football -- with an up and coming talent who will provide entertainment both on and off the pitch.
....I mentioned it once, but I think I got away with it alright. So here we are. A few weeks ago this situation seemed impossible, but with two games to play Saints sit just four points above 18th place and relegation back to the Championship. Their form since Christmas would suggest this impossible, but sadly Saints are paying for their terrible start to the season. It is easy to forget that Southampton had just four points after the opening ten fixtures, having lost the opening four games on the bounce (they would be the first team in Premier League history to survive such a start).
So I find myself in a hotel room in Qingdao, China. It's 00:30 on Sunday morning. I've just witnessed (sort of) Saints go down to a 1-0 defeat at White Hart Lane and I am laughing to myself at the hopelessness of following your team from distance. After countless attempts to navigate a way through the strict Chinese internet restrictions and lots of Google searches for bars in the district that might be showing the game, I accepted defeat and the stark reality that I was going to have to rely on hotel bandwidth.
Saints will be wondering exactly want went wrong in their 3-0 home defeat by West Bromwich Albion on Saturday afternoon. After a six-match unbeaten run, the home side would have been looking at a tie against the out of form Baggies as both a good chance to make their Premier League future official and get some revenge for the thoroughly one-sided reverse earlier in the season. They did nothing of the sort. In short, Saints were awful, lacking in ideas, lacking in composure and were helpless as their opponents ran riot.
It will be a prominent occasion for Saints Saturday when they take on West Bromwich Albion knowing that a point will likely secure their Premier League future. Those who witnessed Saints reverse performance at the Hawthorns in November could never have believed that this day was ever possible. Saints went to the Midlands that day with just four points from their opening nine fixtures, rock bottom of the table and five points adrift of 17th place. Their performance was nothing short of dire in a 2-0 loss.
Saints played out a goalless draw with Swansea at the Liberty Stadium this afternoon, but no one could accuse either side of settling for a point. In what was very much a proverbial 'game of two halves', both sides had opportunities to take the victory, and both sides had spells where they frustrated their opponents. As it happens, a point is likely the fairest result. Both sides had spells of dominance, both sides had moments of brilliance, and both sides had their goalkeepers to thank at times.
Saints head to Swansea on Saturday for their fist league fixture in the city since a 3-0 defeat in 2008. Both sides are unrecognisable from that match, both fighting for a top 10 place in the Premier League, and both swimming in plaudits for their attractive style of play. In fact, Swansea City could well be the best blueprint for Saints to follow now that they are back amongst the big boys, though with just three points separating them, Saints may be looking at overhauling them. The quickest way to get that particular ball rolling would be to of course take all three points on Saturday.
Saints travel to Swansea on Saturday knowing that they will likely be facing off against two Welsh clubs in the Premier League next season (three if you count Gareth Bale), with Cardiff City having secured promotion this week. It will only be the sixth time they have taken on the Swans in the top flight (they have never played Cardiff in the top division) and only the eighth time they have faced them in 48 years. Visits up the M4 and across the Severn Bridge have primarily been to Cardiff in recent history for Saints, but just how do the Saints fare 'Yng Nghymru'?
Well, Southampton's 1-1 draw with West Ham at St. Mary's on Saturday afternoon is never going to win any awards for its beauty, but in terms of the season outcome it put both clubs another point closer to Premier League safety. In what was a scrappy, niggly first half, referee Mike Dean was getting bad reviews from both sets of supporters as strange free-kick decisions were made against both teams. Saints looked the more composed on the ball, as you might expect, but West Ham have picked up points with their dogged style, and Saints let themselves be sucked into that style of contest.