Southampton made light work of playoff hopefuls Preston North End as they eased to their first Championship home win in 13 attempts. Mark Wotte’s side ran out comfortable 3-1 winners, giving their survival chances a massive boost in the process.
Before today, the Saints had won just one league game at home all season, leaving them facing the very real prospect of League One football next season.
However, the south coast club gained ground on their relegation rivals thanks to first half goals from Andrew Surman and a brace from Polish striker Marek Saganowski.
Ross Wallace pulled one back for the visitors, although it proved to be nothing more than a consolation for Alan Irvine’s men, who’s playoff hopes suffered a big blow after today’s defeat.
Saints came out of the blocks flying, taking the game to the visitors right from the off. They created the first real chance of the game after just seven minutes, when Czech international Rudi Skacel crossed from the right, only for David McGoldrick to put his header wide from just six yards out.
Saints continued to pile on the pressure, and they were rewarded for their efforts after 19 minutes. A mistake at the back allowed Saganowski to lay the ball off to Surman who fired home from the edge of the area to give Saints a much deserved lead.
The hosts almost doubled their lead five minutes later when Jason Euell headed Skacel’s deep cross goalwards but North End keeper Andy Lonergan got across to palm the ball wide.
Saints’ fans didn’t have to wait long for the second goal though as, after 29 minutes, Simon Gillett’s long ball was brilliantly controlled by Adam Lallana. He chested the ball down to Saganowski who drilled the ball home on the half-volley from 25 yards out, sending the St Mary’s faithful into raptures.
Jon Parkin should have pulled a goal back for the visitors less than a minute later but the physical frontman could only drag his shot wide, much to the relief of the home crowd.
Parkin then had another chance to get on the scoresheet but he could only find the side netting from close range, before the Saints extended their lead further.
Gillett won the ball in the middle of the park, and he quickly fed the in-form Saganowski. The Pole then ran two thirds of the pitch unchallenged, before turning Billy Jones inside out and then firing across goal for his sixth goal of the season.
The Preston boss was understandably unhappy with his side’s first half performance, so much so that he made three changes at half-time. Youl Mawene, Chris Brown and Richard Chaplow all entered the fray as the visitors threw caution to the wind.
The changes seemed to make little difference though, as Saints picked up where they left off, with Surman and Saganowski linking up well to create a good early chance.
Southampton looked content to sit on their lead while Preston struggled to test Saints’ goalkeeper Kelvin Davis with a chance of any note.
Lallana almost added a fourth for the Saints with a header that was destined for the bottom corner, but Lonergan did well to get across and keep the effort out.
With 18 minutes remaining, Preston pulled a goal back to set up a tense finale. Billy Jones played in Ross Wallace, who turned and curled the ball home from close-range to give the visitors a glimmer of hope.
The visitors pushed forward in desperation, and they came close to reducing the deficit even further as chances fell to Parkin and Wallace, but neither could take advantage to set up a rousing finish.
As the referee brought the afternoon’s proceedings to a close, the St Mary’s crowd breathed a huge sigh of relief. Although a win today gives Saints’ survival chances a boost, there is still alot of work to be done if the Hampshire club are to maintain their Championship status.
Today’s win is definitely a step in the right direction, and the passion and commitment on display bodes well for the rest of the season.
Mark Wotte has come under fire from alot of the St Mary’s faithful in recent weeks, but tactically he was spot on today. The decision to play Euell alongside Saganowski paid dividends, and the timing of his substitutions were perfect. Credit where credit is due, he did well today.
Davis, James, Perry, Saeijs, Skacel, Lallana (Liptak 88), Gillett, Euell, Surman, McGoldrick (Wotton 77), Saganowski (Wright-Phillips 87).
Subs not used: Bialkowski, Smith.
Lonergan, Jones, Davies (Mawene 46), St. Ledger, Nolan, Sedgwick (Brown 46), McKenna, Nicholson (Chaplow 46), Wallace, Parkin, Elliott.
Subs not used: Neal, Whaley.