West Bromwich Albion 0 - Southampton 1
A marginal game which I thought we deserved to get something out of without really playing that well.
I thought the starting 11 was reasonable enough - not much to argue with.
For the opening 25 minutes I thought we were the better side although we didn't really press Southampton high enough even though they passed it out from the back at every chance.
Long, who I thought was very good today, was causing us problems though with his pace and strength in the air - and it was him who took two players out of the game winning a long ball he shouldn't have before Southampton worked their opener. Our defensive midfielders went a bit AWOL for that one.
Personally I'd never have let Long go, I'd have him back in an Albion shirt tomorrow and it's slightly odd that Pulis has never signed him because his rapid pace, aerial ability, selfless passing/lay-offs, tireless running and 'home-ish nation' nationality seem to be all of the qualities and attributes that meet how Pulis wants to play or what he looks for. He's certainly more effective than Rondon.
And for the rest of the half after that I thought we ran out of ideas. We had a go and created some openings but generally it just wasn't working - Chadli kept drifting inside giving us no width and blocking space for Morrison, Phillips kept getting crowded out on his wrong foot, Fletcher's passing was terrible, Livermore didn't seem to do anything other than pass the ball short sideways or stand alongside Evans and Dawson and Nyom both gave the ball away cheaply or lacked composure when pressured.
I thought for the final 10 or 15 of the first half it might have been worth swapping Chadli and Phillips over - just to get some width on the right. Or make another tactical change without wasting a sub - maybe even swapping Mozza for Chadli. But Pulis did nothing and we might have gone in 2-0 down but for a very close header at the end of the first half.
2nd half wasn't much different. I sort of understand the sub to get Brunt on to left back for his quality but I wouldn't have made that change first and initially it didn't make much difference.
Phillips looked out of gas so it was worth taking him off (although I still would have given him 10 minutes on the right) - McClean offered us someone who would stay out wide, try and get crosses in and win corners.
But Fletcher making way for HRK was probably the best change because from then on Mozza was very good playing in a deeper role - on a number of occasions he showed great quality to build our play up and work it wide to Brunt who got in a number of crosses we might have done better with.
Mozza in this role instead of Fletcher, with Chadli then in the attacking role behind the striker and two more natural wide players is probably something we need to try more often (dare I say it, start with) because Chadli is too good to leave out and naturally drifts into this role anyway.
In the end we might have done better with a flurry of chances but every time something fell for us our quality just wasn't there - either the final pass/cross, the first touch or the first time effort were poor and Forster made some good saves.
Sunny day, and Southampton cast shadows for Albion to chase.
Pulis rotated three players within his "first choice fourteen" for the visit of Southampton: Morrison coming in for Brunt on the left of the central midfield shield; Phillips for McClean as the opposite side to Chadli's not-really-a-wide-player role, and Rondon moving into the isolation chamber up front instead of HRK.
With the Shrine bathed in bright sunlight, the game began with three minutes of head-tennis but, when the ball finally fell to earth, Southampton would play it slickly along the ground and get it in behind out back four, although the pull-back across our box, failed to find any target. After that the game settled into the familiar pattern of Albion's massed ranks keeping the ball in front of them, via a combination of watching the other side move it around, and giving it away when they got on it.
On 19 minutes, a long ball surprisingly found Morrison close enough to Rondon to get off a left-foot shot from the knock down, which brought a parrying save out of Forster, however the parry then fell to Chadli's left-foot, as he came inside off his flank, and he blazed it high and wide.
Five minutes later, in the melee from an Albion corner, Evans would dive to the ground whilst pulling his marker on top of him, but failed to con the ref, which was a pity, as the ball sailed over the whole melee, resulting in a goal-kick to Soton, rather than a penalty-kick for the Albion.
To make matters worse, from that goal-kick, Shane Long would get enough space between himself and the shadow cast by his marker, McAuley, to kill the long dropping ball and so start a passing move that took the ball across the edge of our box, which ended with it being laid of to Clasie, one of Soton's second-string defensive midfielders, who drove it home from twenty-or-so yards, for his first goal for his club.
After another period of the familiar pattern, the game came alive with an end-to-end spell that started when Fletcher got caught in possession inside their half and could then only watch as a quick throughball appeared to have played in Long, between McAuley and past Evans, however Long then appeared to slow down, presumably hoping that Evans, who had only just been booked for scything down Redmond, might run into the back of him, but Evans didn't take the bait and ended up poking the ball away from the ex-Albion, "left out for a loanee", striker and started an Albion attack that saw Rondon doing well to make something of a cross to the far post, in getting his header going back towards and across the goal, at which point Forster made yet another parried save, with Phillips being the Albion player to smash this one high and wide.
With the half drawing to a close, Evans would, strangely, be asked to deliver a free-kick from out near the touch-line on Albion's left, rather than being one of the back four giants normally thrown into the opposition's box for set pieces, but this turned out to be a "double whammy" in that he wouldn't have been in the box to challenge for a ball that someone else might have delivered, rather than simply booting it all the way across the field and for a throw on Albion's right.
As the shutters came down on the half, Morrison made the odd decision to not leave his station in front of the edge of the box and so pick up a loose ball, but retreated back a yard and into "the shape", which allowed Soton to gain possession and, after the ball had been moved out to Redmond, his cross was met by Long, whose "land of giants journey" had put him up against Nyon this time, but the right-back-turned-left-back did enough to see Long win the header but steer it wide, otherwise, it'd have been 2-0 as the sides left the field.
Ten minutes into our second half staying in the game showing, it would time for the manager to rotate his defence, as Brunt ostensibly replaced McAuley, although three of the back-four would end up swapping positions, Evans being the one getting to stay where he had started.
Shortly after that, Livermore would get a chance to show how high and wide he could lash a partially cleared ball and then, McClean, after coming on for Phillips, not Chadli, would liven things up by driving into the box and forcing Forster to save at his feet, at which point HRK's entrance, for Fletcher, would ensure all fourteen players used in the previous game would get to play in this one.
HRK would combine with McClean to set up Chadli, but, having already had his go in the high and wide competition, he could only shoot straight at the keeper, and with Soton now back with the ball, they'd move back up the field, although it was Foster (our Foster, not Forster, with an "R") giving it away cheaply that allowed Tadic to curl one just past the post.
With three minutes of the five allowed for stoppages to go, Livermore, who, you'll recall, had also had his go in the high and wide competition, choose to float yet another half-cleared ball back over the defence but with so many Albion defenders in the box for the original set piece, it was odds on that Livermore's ball would fall to one of them, and so Dawson would be the one to try and fashion a chance with a volley as the ball dropped over his shoulder and, whilst he got it on target, he could not get enough power or direction to get it past Forster, who parried yet another one away to safety.
Southampton's by now MoM, Forster, would be joined, in his own penalty box, by Albion's usual MoM, Foster, the latter no doubt looking, with ten seconds to go, to strip the MoM award away right at the death by scoring what would have been a draw-winning (?) goal, however the chance from the final set piece of the game would fall to another of Albion's "back five", with Evans the defender unable to produce an effort that Forster wasn't able to slap away to safety.
Albion, of course, remain in eighth, however, having chased Southampton's two-touch shadows around the pitch, for much of the game, would leave it as the looming shadow of Southampton's ability to now overtake them for that place, lengthened.
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