Southampton 4 Blues 3 .. report

By Richard Barker
Last updated : 30 November 2006

Blues fought back from going 3-0 down early on, but couldn't quite earn themselves a share of the points in a thrilling game at the Legoland Stadium Mk VII.

Blues fielded an unchanged team from that which defeated Burnley on Saturday - though Neil Danns went back to the right and Seb Larsson to the left. Cameron Jerome returned on the bench at the expense of Neil Kilkenny. Southampton included a genuine, bona fide vagrant in their side at right-back (find a photo of Alex Ostlund if you don't believe me) along with 66 year-old former Brazil international Pele in their midfield.

You'll already know the score, and also know that Blues were 3-0 down after about 20 minutes, so the following may come as a surprise; Blues started superbly - better than they have in any game this season. Gary McSheffrey went close with a long range effort, and his and Nicklas Bendtner's movement was causing Southampton all sorts of problems as the home side struggled to get the ball for the first ten minutes. In fact, it was all going so well that Seb Larsson momentarily forgot who he was playing for, thought he was back at Arsenal, and tried a clever header back to his defence when he should have cleared the ball... cue 80 odd minutes of 'Crazy Football Night', sponsored by flybe.com.

Excuse me not going into too much detail on each of the seven goals tonight, but it's past midnight and I want to go to bed. Anyway, Larsson's stupid header was picked up by Trinidad & Tobago forward Kenwyne Jones and the Blues defence backed off him and he hit a fine left-foot strike into the top corner. Seconds later Jones made it 2-0 as the Blues defence let him wander in behind them as a ball was looped forward and then Maik Taylor proceeded to assist his former employers at the expense of his current employers by getting himself into no-man's-land. Jones flicked the dropping ball over the advancing and hopelessly out of position Taylor and Southampton's lead was doubled. Former Hearts star Rudi Skacel made it 3-0 moments later with a good strike from the edge of the area after all the Blues players backed off - again.

So, Blues had dominated the early stages, suddenly Southampton had had three shots, they'd all gone in and Blues found themselves 3-0 down. After 20 minutes. Blues players, management and fans couldn't have been more shellshocked if there'd been an announcement over the PA system stating, "Aliens disguised as G-List celebrities have invaded, the Queen is dead, the Government has been overthrown and the President of our new alien state is Zorg IV dressed as Bobby Davro".

Too often lately Blues have failed to be clinical enough in front of goal when creating chance after chance - it was always going to get rubbed in their face at some point, and here Southampton were not only rubbing it in Blues' face, but stapling it there for good measure. Why don't Blues ever score with every chance they have? If they did, they'd kill teams off and not have all these nervy, tight victories. There was a lesson somewhere here for Blues.

Grzegorz Rasiak nearly made it 4-0 before Blues got themselves going a bit again and McSheffrey went close twice more with some long-range efforts and Larsson curled a free-kick into the side netting. Some of Larsson's deliveries from set pieces are good, but why on earth do we keep letting him take shots from free-kicks? His "efforts" are on a par with those endured all of last season from Jermaine Pennant. Jones went close to getting a first half hat-trick before the break, and then finally Steve Bruce got his troops back into the dressing room to regroup.

Blues were too eager after the break and consequently were poor straight after the interval. Free-kick specialist Gareth Bale hit the post with, well, a free-kick for Southampton before Blues finally did settle and continued chasing the game. By this point Jerome had come on for Danns and Mehdi Nafti had come on for Fabrice Muamba. Blues' night looked as though it was going to be summed up when they hit the post twice in about a minute. First another McSheffrey long range effort came off the corner of the post and crossbar, before Larsson hit the same post following some neat build-up play.

Blues did finally get a goal back midway through the second half following a corner. Radhi Jaidi's header came off the underside of the bar and Jerome was on hand to score a bizarre goal - he was about a foot out, with his back to goal, and he just sort of kicked the ball up in the air and slightly behind him and it went in off the underside of the crossbar which was being hit as often as Solihull's bars are hit during a David Dunn absence through injury.

This obviously lifted Blues and their fans and minutes later it was 3-2. Following some more neat build-up play (Blues were fine going forward) the ball rebounded out to Bendtner who coolly knocked the ball home after spotting Southampton 'keeper Kelvin Davis out of position. Surprisingly Blues' increased control in going forward came from Nafti who was excellent once he came on, picking the ball up from deep and carrying it forward himself and looking for passes, rather than some of the more hit-and-hope stuff that had gone on before his introduction.

Blues now had an equaliser in sight and brought DJ Campbell on for Larsson to make a four-pronged attack. At the same time, Bradley Wright-Phillips came on for Southampton. Wright-Phillips was obviously aware that on Saturday, Campbell had set a new world record for 'Fastest Ever Goal Scored By A Pint-Sized Striker Substitute Who Is Oft-Referred To By His Three Initials'. He duly scored with his first touch after more shocking defending from Blues, but I don't think it was quite as quick as Campbell's at Burnley, so DJC still holds his record despite strong competition from BWP.

This was obviously something of a setback to Blues, and a lot of teams would have given up having put so much into the game to get it back to 3-2, only to have the lead extended back to two goals in a momentary lack of concentration following a substitution. Credit where credit is due though, Blues are made of stern stuff these days, and they kept going with their four-man attack. They struggled to make a breakthrough, however, until stoppage time when lo and behold, they scored again to make it 4-3. Another McSheffrey corner, another Jaidi header, and this time the crossbar let things be and the ball flew into the back of the net.

"So that was it then?", I hear you ask? No chance... after the goal Southampton 'keeper Davis and Southampton defender Chris Baird decided to have a fight which the referee and Southampton midfielder Jermaine Wright had to break up, along with other Southampton players (Blues were back in their own half waiting to try and snatch the most unlikely of equalisers). After Davis and Baird had finally calmed down, Southampton's players once again lost their heads and from the kick-off, rather than keep possession they knocked a lovely ball forward to Stephen Kelly. There were only seconds remaining now, and so the Blues full-back lumped the ball forward. The Southampton defenders were about as composed as Britney Spears after one too many Babychams with Paris Hilton in a Yates' Wine Lodge in LA and all fell over leaving three Blues players through against Davis who was possibly still eyeballing Baird and offering him outside. Campbell got to the ball fractionally before Davis, headed the ball goalwards and it hit that blessed crossbar. Again.

That really was that, this time. Blimey, what a game.

Before the start of the season a very knowledgable football pundit (ie. me) said "write Albion off - the top two this season will be Blues and Southampton", and having seen this and the attacking threats both teams pose, I might just be right - as usual. Admittedly the two defences looked ropier than a Solent sailor's collection of knots, but both teams have clearly got goals in abundance inside them. For Southampton, Jones, Rasiak and Skacel will score plenty and looked dangerous, and then Wright's always a threat from midfield and Bale will score a free-kick every few games before he does a Theo Walcott and joins a big Premiership club, possibly in January. As for Blues, well all four that ended the game up front are threats. Like I say, some dodgy defending aside, these are two fair teams at this level.

As for the game itself, well, every now and then a game like this comes along (Blues had one at Middlesbrough a few years ago that they lost 5-3), and when they do, the best thing you can do is put it down to experience and just move on. You can't focus too much on this game - it'll do your head in. You just have to take it on the chin and get on with it.

If there are any comments to be made than firstly, had it not been for an absolutely crazy five minute spell when Southampton scored three goals Blues might have got a result (though it doesn't work like that, I know). Secondly, could Steve Bruce have made the attacking substitutions earlier? Maybe, but if he had, Southampton might have got their fourth earlier, and in fairness Blues got bloody close to pulling off a miraculous comeback, and if Campbell's header had been three inches lower, we'd have been sat here hailing the substitutions, so I can't knock that too much either.

Like I say, live and learn, put it down to experience and move on. It was a crazy game, it was a rollercoaster for all involved, it was what football's all about, but I'll take a scrappy 1-0 over Plymouth at the weekend please.

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