Southampton 1 - West Bromwich Albion 2
For the first forty two minutes there was absolutely no indication we could get anything out of this game. Lethargic and sloppy, it seemed only a matter of time before Southampton would convert one of their many crosses and it just had to be Shane Long who would do it.
Give credit to the lads though. Their goal seemed to energize us and Phillips finished off a slick move with clinical efficiency.
The over-enthusiastic Nyom, on a yellow and perhaps lucky not to see a second card, was subbed at half time by the, errrrmm, level headed Jimmy Mack. A few minutes in and HRK produced a wonder strike from a neat Phillips feed. Does he have any more goals like this in him or is that his quota for the season?
Pulis surprised me by not waiting until the seventieth minute to bring on Mozza for Chadli. Once again Chadli was a shadow of his former self pre-injury. Mozza might have headed a third and then near the end we managed to cock up a two on one when a bonus goal seemed likely. Nevertheless, a win is huge after that first half display. Eighth with 26 points at this stage is better than I could have hoped for, so we can't complain.
Let's hope we get something for the amazingly fit Berahino in the window. And sign a midfielder who can hold the ball up and make an accurate pass - something we still lack. Happy New Year to all!
A brilliant result from a performance that was bewildering.
Right up until Southampton's inevitable goal we were atrocious with possibly Robson-Kanu, Yacob, Evans and GMac the only players to take any credit.
We were all over the place - players running into each other, criminally stupid fouls and tackles, giving the ball away as soon as we were under any pressure whatsoever and we were being run ragged.
Despite this there were some glimmers - Southampton were making crazy decisions in dangerous areas of their own half, trying to play like Barcelona without anything like the quality and HRK, to his great credit, was giving them problems on his own through sheer hard work and physically battering them, despite any support.
However we couldn't get Brunt, Phillips and Chadli into the game, Fletcher was having one of those games where he looked like a grandad trying to play football with teenagers - he was tripping over the ball, giving it away with every pass, losing it cheaply. Nyom was doing his best to get sent off, Dawson's throw-ins were the only part of his game that were capable of finding a blue and white shirt. We looked totally at sea.
Yet somehow after they scored we strung 4 passes together for the first time in the match and cut through their backline with ease - with a largely anonymous Chadli showing that one bit of quality on the slide to slip us in behind and Phillips finished absolutely brilliantly.
2nd half was like a different match - the decision to remove Nyom and put Brunt there was obvious (Galloway has now missed out on so many minutes that it's not fair to put him in - I struggle to see the benefit of him being on the bench in front of our own youngsters) although I'd have got Morrison on straight away and tried Chadli wide.
We pressed much higher, kept picking up easy balls in Southampton's half through their risky pedestrian passing and scored another fantastic goal through Robson-Kanu.
And soon afterwards Morrison came on and, after his customary terrible 10 minutes (in nearly 10 years coming on as a sub he has always been the same), he got up with the pace of the game and managed to give us that bit more control on the ball or at least ran the clock down further by holding it longer.
In truth we should have scored more - Morrison's header chance probably came too soon (his first or 2nd touch?) and we showed terrible quality and decision making when 3 on 2 having again robbed a clueless and one-dimensional Southampton deep in their half.
I was left pondering after the game whether the whole thing was a bit of Pulis genius - basically to ruin and avoid participating in this game for as long as possible or until we had to due to there being 2 matches in 48 hours - thus making it only more like a 45 minute high intensity training game, or whether it was an organic reactionary game of chaos. Having seen Pulis's after-match interview I'm still unsure.
Good time to play Southampton with Charlie Austin and Nathan Redmond missing, plus we had 2 more days rest after the last game than they did. So no excuses?
No this didn't seem to count for much as the Saints were the better team in the first half. Predictably Long scored and also predictably he dived again in an attempt to get Nyom sent off.
But in the second half we were much the better side and probably should have scored more.
First-footing for HRK, at Hogmanay, sees the year out with a bang
As adverts for the best league in the world go, the end of year "clash" between its 8th and 9th placed sides probably didn't generate much more interest in it for non-supporters of either of those two sides, and might even had have some of the less ardent of those hoping for a quicker end to 2016, so that most of this match could be consigned to the history books, as very little in it is going to make the highlights reel.
The game, though notable enough in itself at the start, for Southampton fans as the one in which their manager made SIX changes, and for Albion fans as the game in which Robson-Kanu, a player in the running for the UEFA goal of the season, finally got a start, so offering the ever running Rondon a festive season furlough, and in which Leko returned to the bench in place of Olsson, only really came life for five minutes either side of half time, although HRK would be involved in all three of the four lively bits.
With yet another Albion game seemingly destined for yet another nil-nil half-time scoreline, one of Albion's previous ("Should Auld Acquaintance be forgot and never brought to mind") lone chasers of the lost cause, Shane Long, being marked at a corner by Nyom, and looking like a Jack to Nyom's beanstalk giant, made a run across the six-yard line where he ran past HRK, who seemed to be doing what Rondon is often asked to do at corners, which is stand around and pick up the space in front of the near post, however with this being the very space into which Nyom needed to run so as to track the diminutive Long, the former was still trying to manhandle his team-mate out of the way as Long, unchallenged, headed home beyond keeper Foster.
Two minutes later though, Albion were back holding the point that they'd started the game with, after a move, started by Yacob, saw Brunt's and HRK's slick first time passes across the front of the Southampton box give Phillips enough space to step inside his defender with one touch and fire across keeper Forster with a second. Given the execution of this goal, it's a shame we rarely have three people ahead of ball, let alone manage to then string a series of passes between them more often - but, hey ho, it doesn't matter how you get to the break on a level pegging, what clearly matters is that you do.
There was still time for Nyom to repeat his manhandling of HRK, although because of the repeat being an assault on an opponent and not on a team mate, Albion could easily have been going to the break with only ten men leaving the field at that particular whistle, Nyom having already been booked at a whistle earlier in the half.
The half time whistle though would be the last one that Nyom would hear as a playing player, with Pulis clearly deciding that it was only going to be a matter of time before his makeshift left-back got his marching orders and so he turned to the obvious player on the bench who we'd brought in on loan to fill our hole in the left back spot whilst Brunt, the previous incumbent there, returned from injury, but who then of course had since returned to the side as the right-sided midfielder with the left-foot wand. No, actually I made that up: despite having Galloway on the bench and being in need of a left back, Pulis brought on another left-footed wide player, McClean, to the right side of the midfield three and moved Brunt, his preferred left-footed starter on the right, into the left back role. Got that? Good. Or not good, depending on how you like your football.
Shortly after the restart, keeper Foster would smash a clearance skywards that fell, after a short bout of contested play around the halfway line to Phillips, ten yards or so inside the Soton half but, before he could be crowded out by the five or six defenders still getting into position under the clearance, his sharp first time ball set HRK, the only player ahead of him, free through the inside left channel and when he reached the edge of the penalty area he smashed the ball with even more force than our keeper Foster had at the start of the "move", that their keeper Forster would get a hand to, but to which hand the ball paid no attention as it forced its way inside the post to give Albion a lead that, as you might expect, they never looked like letting go of, and to which they should really have added a third goal at the death, however they were unable to find the right five-yard pass with which to make use of a three on one advantage, and so ended 2016 with a 2-1 win that saw them swap places with their opposition on the day up and into eight place.
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