Date: 12th February 2007 at 1:08pm
Written by:

Vital Southampton contributor mitch01 has sent in his report on the WBA match.

Saints fans not at the Hawthorns yesterday could be forgiven for thinking that Southampton would be pleased with a draw away at West Bromwich Albion, the side with the best home record in the division.

However, the 2000 fans who did make the long journey north knew differently, as they saw Southampton bang and bang at the proverbial Albion door only to be denied a win by two laughable refereeing decisions.

It was West Brom who began the game the brighter as the front pairing of Kamara and ex-saint Phillips gave Southampton`s back four real problems, Kamara coming close to rounding off a smart move inside the first minute. The visitors, though, refused to be rattled and a deft touch from Rasiak sent Kenwyne Jones clean through on six minutes, only to be cynically fouled a yard outside the box by Curtis Davies. The immediate reaction of the Saints fans was that of delight, for surely West Brom`s most valuable player was about to be dismissed for a professional foul; but Mike Pike felt differently, showing Davis only a yellow card. Bale`s free-kick was sent a yard over the crossbar and Southampton already had reason to feel hard done by. A spate of long ranged West Brom efforts followed as the Baggies began to press the Saints further and further into their own half, but on 18 minutes Southampton caught them on the counter. Viafara collected the ball on the right touchline before sending a weighted pass to Rasiak at the byline. The Pole held off Paul Robinson to send the ball across the six-yard box to meet Kenwyne Jones, darting between static Albion defenders to finish confidently.

The travelling support proceeded to raise the noise levels higher and higher but the pattern of play remained constant with Albion forcing Southampton back almost at will and Burley content with his side creating chances on rare moves up the pitch. Chaplow and Phillips both had chances to equalise but Chaplow miss-hit his drive and Phillips` shot grazed the post with Davis beaten. But it was far from one-way traffic as Skacel bore down on goal from the left, only to be denied by a superb saving challenge from McShane and the rebound was blocked by Davies. Perhaps that was Saints` best chance to extend their lead before Albion once again began to press, with Koumas, Gera and Kamara all having shots blocked by the monumental Chris Baird, who seemed to be single-handedly denying the home side an equaliser. Saints were in desperate need of a change in tactics and Burley reacted by instructing Jermaine Wright and Jhon Viafara, Southampton`s midfield pairing, to sit in front of the back four to relieve pressure on the defence. This change seemed to have stemmed the tide but thirty seconds into stoppage time Kevin Phillips beat the offside trap to poke past Davis from 5 yards. Southampton`s defence appealed to Amy Rayner in vain but replays later showed her decision to be the correct one. The delighted Phillips ran straight to the away support to reply to the abuse he had received throughout the half. The half-time whistle blew with both sets of supporters applauding the efforts of their sides.

The second half started in alarmingly for the Saints as West Brom changed their approach to gain more ground on the visitors; pass after pass was sent over the heads of the full-backs Makin and Bale and Albion suddenly threatened every time they crossed the half-way line. Baird was once again holding the side together with clearance upon clearance alleviating pressure, but Koumas was still causing problems for Makin who was out-paced again and again by the Welsh international. And it was Koumas who came close to giving the Baggies the lead on the hour mark, with his cross-shot beating Davis but not Bale on the goal line. This, however, proved to be Albion`s final meaningful attempt on goal, as new signing Saganowski replaced the ineffective Rasiak for Southampton and immediately began to make an impact on proceedings. It could be argued that it is far from a coincidence that Southampton`s best football in recent weeks has come only when Saganowski has been on the pitch. The Pole`s debut brought a first half performance against Derby which was one of the best of the season, and the final half-hour at the Hawthorns was equally impresive. Bale made his first significant attacking run down the left as Albion retreated but his square ball just evaded Jones who was free at the far post. Now Viafara and Wright seemed to have the confidence to dictate play, and Skacel and Surman were suddenly well provided with passes from them. This allowed Southampton to get more crosses into Kiely`s area, and from one of these from Bale only needed better contact from Jones at the near post to trouble the goalkeeper on-loan from Portsmouth. Even Wright, not known for his shooting, came close with a low drive that Kiely saw wide, but the Irish veteran was soon called into action again as Skacel almost capped off a splendid run with a low shot to Kiely`s left. It was clawed away by Kiely but Surman was fastest to react and looked certain to score the rebound, only for Kiely to make a miraculous save from close range.

By this stage the Saints were completely rampant and Saganowki`s movement again opened up the home defence for Jones to run clear. Kiely came steaming out of his area but Jones` finish looked to have beaten the ‘keeper, only for Kiely to palm to ball away with his left hand at least 8 yards out of his area. This provoked furious reactions from Saints fans and players alike, and their anger turned to full-blown rage when Pike waved play on. It was one of those moments where, as a supporter, there was no doubt in the furious claims, the cries from the away ends couldn`t even be described as ‘claims`, they were merely a pre-cursor for the decision that they thought must be made. However, once again Southampton`s luck was out and West Brom`s was in, and the Saints players had to try to raise themselves for the final twenty minutes knowing that they should already have been well clear of their promotion rivals.

Even then Southampton had a final chance, as Saganowski chased a long ball forward only to see his volley loop harmlessly over from 15 yards. The final ten minutes came and went fairly uneventfully, with Davis making a routine save from Ellington late on, but the final whistle was followed by the Saints players crowding around Pike, demanding an explanation for why he denied them 2 precious points which would have taken them into fourth position, only a point from an automatic promotion place. As things are, however, Southampton lie in fifth spot, but Sunderland`s win at Plymouth has brought them level on points with both Saints and Cardiff, meaning that the next three matches are vital. The encouraging news is that the next three are all games that will be classed as very ‘winnable`, two home games against lower mid-table sides, and Coventry away in between. Taking good points from these games is of massive importance for the Saints, as other sides are beginning to drop points at the top, and things can change so quickly in the division. It is quite conceivable to think that Saints can take maximum points from the next three games, possibly taking them into second or third, but they will have to be more ruthless, and give the referee no chance to make these match-altering decisions in the first place.

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