Southampton 1 – 0 West Ham
A close game between the two early Championship pacesetters was decided by a solitary headed goal in a tense encounter at St Mary’s Stadium, to send Southampton 5 points clear […]
The stage was set for a cracking game; a sell out crowd, floodlights on, with the top two teams in the division fighting to go top of the table. Southampton were looking to extend their incredible 16 game winning streak at home, while West Ham were hoping to maintain their unbeaten away record.
Sam Allardyce, the West Ham manager, sent his team out playing 4-4-2, with John Carew, the Norwegian centre forward recently signed from Aston Villa, leading the line alongside Sam Baldock, who Southampton missed out on signing in the recent transfer window.
With Adam Lallana injured, Nigel Adkins set Southampton up playing 4-4-2 diamond, as against Derby at the weekend, with the only change being club captain Dean Hammond playing in place of Jack Cork.
West Ham had the better of the opening exchanges, with Matty Taylor, a former Pompey player who received a frosty reception from the crowd, having a low shot pushed round the post. West Ham’s gameplan seemed to consist solely of playing the ball long to Carew, with Nolan and Baldock feeding off the knock downs, which is a shame when you consider West Ham have a rich history of playing attractive football, not to mention the fact that they have some of the best technical players in the division.
Gradually, as Southampton started to get more possession of the ball, their passing game started to pick holes in the Hammers defense. Richard Chaplow was superb in midfield, chasing down every ball and harrying the West Ham players. The Southampton full backs, Richardson and Fox, were important in providing the width due to the narrow midfield, and this almost paid off as a ball lofted to the back post was nodded down by Lambert to Connolly, whose shot was gathered by Manuel Almunia, on loan from Arsenal. Sam Baldock then had a great chance to put West Ham in front after a similar move, Carew nodding the ball into the 6 yard box, but Baldock could only muster a weak shot straight at Davis.
Almost on the stroke of half time Southampton won a corner, which was met with a thumping header from Jos Hooiveld, for his second goal in front of the St Mary’s faithful. Hooiveld has put in some superb performances of late, and Adkins must surely be looking to make his loan deal from Celtic, which expires in January, permanent.
The second half kicked off with West Ham getting lots of crosses into the box, which were defended well by the Southampton centre backs. On 53 minutes Soton hearts were in mouths as a Jose Fonte slip allowed Baldock to run at the defense, but his shot from outside the box curled, agonisingly for the West Ham fans, just round the post. Shortly afterwards, some neat interplay set up Connolly inside the area, but with the ball stuck under his feet somewhat he could only drag the ball just wide of the near post. On 60 minutes a quick free kick from West Ham gave Nolan a chance to level the scores for the visitors, but he shot straight at Kelvin Davis and the ball was cleared. Allardyce felt the need to change things up at this point and brought on Mark Noble for Papa ‘The Wardrobe’ Bouba Diop. Not long after Adkins also made his first change, Dan Harding replacing Chaplow after a particularly crunching challenge. This signalled a return to a flat 4-4-2, and almost immediately reaped rewards, Guly shooting straight at Almunia after good work from Schniederlin.
The West Ham fans were then baffled, as with 10 minutes to go and losing, Allardyce brought on Joey O’Brien, a right back, for Carew. Adkins then brought on Cork and De Ridder for Guly and Connolly.
The last 5 minutes of normal time were as frantic as they come. Steve De Ridder almost made an instant impact with a delightful chip, which was well tipped over. Down the other end a Noble cross was deflected onto the post with Davis watching on helplessly. De Ridder then had a goal ridiculously disallowed when a bodycheck on the edge of the box was punished immediately, with no advantage played, despite De Ridder being clean through. Lambert, who described this game as the biggest of his career so far, took the free kick but it was well smothered.
St Mary’s erupted as the final whistle brought an end to a tense encounter. A club record crowd of 32,152 had watched a win which, despite it still only being October, seemed very significant.
West Ham: Almunia; Faubert, Reid, Faye, McCartney; Lansbury, Bouba Diop (Noble 66), Nolan, Taylor (Piquionne 20); Baldock, Carew.
Southampton: Davis; Richardson, Fonte, Hooiveld, Fox; Hammond, Chaplow (Harding 74), Schneiderlin, Guly; Lambert, Connolly (Cork 82).
Highlights available here: http://news.bbc.co.uk/sport1/hi/football/15377004.stm