Tuesday, 20 November 2012

Saints Come Out On Top In El Sackico

Southampton secured their first away points of the season with a 3-1 win at fellow strugglers Queens Park Rangers. The Saints took a deserving lead through Rickie Lambert heading into an empty net before Jason Puncheon’s curling effort doubled the visitors’ lead on the stroke of half-time. Summer signing Junior Hoillet pulled a goal back for QPR just after the interval. However, Nigel Adkins men finally killed the game off late on when Morgan Schneiderlin’s cross caused defender Anton Ferdinand to turn the ball into his own net.

The match at Loftus Road was deemed by some as “El Sackico” with both Mark Hughes and Nigel Adkins under real pressure after their sides’ poor start to the season. The Saints started the brighter of the two teams and created a great chance in the first few minutes. Jack Cork won the ball in the middle of the park and then began some lovely one touch passing which gave Adam Lallana the opportunity to volley, but his cracking effort just went over the bar. Soon after, Lallana almost got on the end of Jason Puncheon’s cross-shot which deflected of the left post. Winless QPR were looking to their playmaker to inspire them and proved a threat when on the quarter hour mark, he collected the ball from inside the Southampton half, dribbling past two defenders into the box to have his shot saved by Paulo Gazzaniga. Next to test the young Argentine was Junior Hoillet, whose right-footed curling attempt was unconvincingly parried away for a corner. 

Southampton were in the ascendancy and soon enough, their patience paid off as they took the lead after 23 minutes. From Lallana’s corner, which was initially cleared, Cork headed the ball back into the box and the ball finally fell to Rickie Lambert, who headed into an empty net despite getting hurt in the process after Jason Puncheon’s effort was cleared off the line by José Bosingwa. It was one of the easiest goals for Lambert as he notched his fifth goal of the season. QPR failed to respond to the goal they had conceded and it was easy to see why they were at the bottom of the Premier League. On the other hand, the Saints continued their impressive first-half performance by doubling their lead on the stroke of half-time. Nathaniel Clyne won back the ball from Armand Traore on the right and passed to Puncheon who, from outside the box, curled the ball into the bottom left corner with his left foot. It gave the visitors the psychological edge going into the interval, as the QPR fans booed off their players once again.

IN THE MIDST OF IT: Rickie Lambert
Into the second half, the hosts were looking to provide a comeback and almost got back into the game where Taarabt delivered a cross for Djibril Cissé, whose strike was straight at Gazzaniga. On 49 minutes, it was game on as Taarabt provided the perfect cross, from the right, for Hoillet to head home from 10 yards over the on-rushing Gazzaniga. Could this be the start of a terrific comeback for star-studded QPR?

The visitors responded well to the goal they had conceded, as Lambert and Puncheon looked to restore their team’s two-goal cushion but Cesar was equal to both of their attempts. On 65 minutes, Nigel Adkins’ men created another free-flowing move where a combination of passes led to Morgan Schneiderlin crossing from the left to find Lambert at the back post, where he knocked it down for Puncheon, who struck the ball against the ground which directed wide.

A minute later, Puncheon came close once again from outside the area, as his ferocious strike just shaved the post of Cesar’s goal. The 26-year-old, who was arguably having his best game in a Saints shirt, managed to conjure another opportunity as his narrow-angled effort was tipped away for a corner by Cesar. From the resulting set-play, Puncheon delivered the ball to Lambert who headed the ball to Maya Yoshida, whose acrobatic kick was superbly saved by the former Inter Milan goalkeeper. QPR had a great opportunity to level the match on 81 minutes as Taarabt’s corner found the head of Ryan Nelson but his header was straight at Gazzaniga. 

With six minutes to go, Southampton finally killed the game off as a short corner was taken from Puncheon to Schneiderlin on the right, and the latter was found in space to deliver a dangerous ball across the goalmouth where it deflected off the unfortunate Anton Ferdinand into his own net. At last, the travelling support could relax as well as celebrate as they saw one of the best performances from the Saints to date this season. The win for Southampton guided the club onto eight points in 19th, whereas the problems keep piling up for Mark Hughes and QPR as they stay routed to the bottom of the Premier League.

Midfield duo Morgan Schneiderlin and Jack Cork
celebrate Southampton's third goal

Overall, it was a superb team performance from the Saints to secure a crucial victory over one of their current relegation rivals. If you looked at the teams on paper, you’d think that QPR would have the experience and skill to beat Southampton but the truth is that the hosts were very poor during the whole match. Nobody can take anything away from the Saints as they moved the ball very well, creating opportunities aplenty and deserved to score more goals than they did. Jason Puncheon had his best game in a Saints shirt by a mile and certainly contributed for the team so far this season. Having Jack Cork back for his second game has strengthened the midfield in terms of providing cover in front of the back four and is a talented player in that position. There has to be a mention for the young left-back, Luke Shaw, who also had an outstanding game. At the age of just 17, he was composed when defending and on the ball and certainly delivered dangerous crosses into the box. A promising player who will no doubt go onto greater things. The 3,000 fans that made the trip to Loftus Road were outstanding and sang their hearts out for the rest of the many Saints fans across the world. Nigel Adkins has kept his attacking strategy which got the Saints to where they are now and he should be praised for that. Like the match against Swansea, it was another solid defensive performance although they were hardly tested. Bring on Newcastle on Sunday where it will be the return of Alan Pardew!

MAN OF THE MATCH: Jason Puncheon

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