Fulham v Southampton
24th November 2018
Stuart Armstrong scored his first two goals for Saints today
IBO Reporter : channonite
I have really not enjoyed the last few matches and to be honest, I enjoy going to the dentist a lot more these days. This match though was frustrating in the extreme. First of all, the positive. We saw Armstrong blossom into the player we thought we might be getting, as he scored his first two goals for the club. Balanced against that, we saw the utter collapse of the defence on more than one occasion. Hoedt in particular, once again looked on the inept side of hopeless. The other CB's must be dreadful to have him preferred over any of them.
I get that Hughes strong point is not the defence, but this is getting bloody ridiculous.
The release of the team sheets an hour before kick-off showed that Targett was going to fill in for the suspended Bertrand, but once again Hoedt was in the centre of the defence, with Yoshida alongside. Cédric was once again right wing-back. Midfield had Lemina and Højbjerg (who was captain for the day), with Armstrong playing just in front of them, with Gabbiadini and Redmond either side of the Scot. Charlie Austin was on his own at the front.
I know that it is hard to believe, but up until Armstrong scored his first goal for Saints, I thought that there was only ever going to be one winner and that wasn't Fulham. The team were playing crisp, sharp football, with the midfield trio of Lemina and Højbjerg dominating. Armstrong, Redmond and Gabbiadini were causing all sorts of problems for the Fulham defenders. The weak link in all this was Austin, who just was not quick enough to take advantage.
The first chance for Saints to take the lead fell to Gabbiadini, who just could not find the gap, from an acute angle, after some fine build up play by four, or five of his teammates. Once again and throughout the game, Gabbiadini made good runs and got himself into good positions, only to find that there was no-one with the vision to deliver the ball to him.
Still, it was no surprise when Saints took the lead in the 18th minute with Armstrong scoring his first ever goal for Saints. Redmond showing persistence and not a little skill got to the byline and hooked it back, only for a Fulham defender to head it straight into the path of the onrushing Armstrong to volley past Rico in the Fulham goal. It was the least that Saints dominance deserved.
It was at this point that the old defensive weaknesses re-appeared. It was weird, but the team was playing better with the score at 0-0, then after they took the lead. A crisis of confidence that Cédric alluded to in an interview afterwards "We were winning 1-0 and I had a feeling that we [would] get the 1-1 because we were very exposed, and then maybe after 1-1 our head was gone immediately,” he said. "We need to be more experienced in managing the game. It’s very small margins. When we concede we immediately get so down mentally, we get frustrated, maybe afraid to lose."
The equaliser was made to look far too simple as, against the run of play, the Fulham players were gifted the freedom of the Saints penalty area. Le Marchand passed across the face of the penalty area, giving Mitrovic time and space to head the ball beyond McCarthy into the far corner. 1-1.
Ten minutes later, just two minutes before the end of the first half, Sessignon got the better of Cédric and crossed the ball across the face of three Saints defenders, until it got to Schürrle, who made no mistake in thumping the ball past McCarthy. 2-1.
Even then there was still time for Mitrovic to almost make it 3-1, only for McCarthy to save at full stretch and Højbjerg to blast the ball against a Fulham player and out for a goal kick.
It was a considerable relief when the Mr. Oliver blew for half-time. It was at this point that I realised that I had hardly clapped eyes on Charlie Austin at all in that first 45 minutes.
Half-time: Fulham 2-1 Saints
To their credit Saints came out all guns blazing and it wasn't long before Saints were level again. After some great interplay between Gabbiadini and Cédric, which ended with a very cute backheel from the Portuguese right back, right into the path of Armstrong, whose shot fair shot past Rico. His second ever goal for Saints, as well as his and Saints second of the day. 2-2.
However, the old anxieties and lack of belief surfaced again a few minutes later, when Hoedt tried to be too clever on the left wing in a tussle with Schürrle and only succeeded in passing the ball to the unmarked Cairney. In short order the ball was crossed into the box, where Sessignon out-jumped Yoshida and the ball fell to Mitrovic, who toe-poked the ball into the far corner of the net. 3-2.
At this point Hughes probably should have taken off the ineffective Austin and put on the speedy Obafemi. He duly took off Austin, but replaced him with Elyounoussi. Clearly the wrong call. Eventually he did send on Obafemi, but took off the best Saints player on the pitch in Stuart Armstrong. The error of judgement was highlighted by the youngster running Fulham ragged and almost scoring twice. I would like to see this kid get a run in the first team, he certainly looks a step up from Austin.
Time evaporated and Fulham clung on to earn three precious points and heap more pressure on Mark Hughes.
Full Time Fulham 3-2 Saints
This was probably Saints best attacking performance in a long while, it was just a shame that the defending was so appalling. This is clearly a side that is wracked with self-doubt and one crying out for a leader. I would also argue that the side just do not look fit, the way that they continually cave in towards the end of games, but I am willing to concede that this may just be the general effect of the lack of confidence.
Plus points for me was the emergence of Armstrong as a genuine goal scoring midfielder and the duo of Lamina and Højbjerg, who both had good games. Redmond and Gabbiadini both deserved more luck and both got frustrated by the lack of service from their team-mates.
The down side was the extremely brittle defence. Hoedt looked hopeless once again. Cédric looked good going forward and contributed the assist for Armstrong's second goal, but he just didn't defend that well. Even Yoshida looked a shadow of his old self. Surprisingly Targett looked very poor and I did wonder if he might even be deliberately looking bad against the team he helped to promotion last season and for whom we know he wanted to sign. He is too professional to do something like that though. Isn't he?
So, we may well be entering the dog days of Hughes career at Southampton, he will be taking with him the record of being Saints worst ever Premier League manager, which is amazing, considering he is being compared to the likes of Branfoot, Redknapp and several other no-hopers. Let us just pray that the next manager instils some backbone into the team and they stop self-destructing.
A very happy Armstrong celebrates scoring one of his two goals
26 Mawson - Booked 45'
20 Le Marchand
24 Seri (Johansen 68' - Booked 90')
14 Schürrle (Kamara 74')
3 R Sessegnon
9 Mitrovic (Ayité 86')
6 Hoedt - Booked 73'
23 Højbjerg - Booked 68'
17 Armstrong (Obafemi 81' - Booked 90')
10 Austin (Elyounoussi 68')
Saturday 24th November
- Mitrovic 33', 63'
- Schürrle 43'
- Armstrong 18', 53'
Referee: Michael Oliver
- Fulham 37%
- Southampton 63%
- Fulham 10
- Southampton 19
Shots on Target
- Fulham 5
- Southampton 8
- Fulham 2
- Southampton 5
- Fulham 10
- Southampton 6