Barclays Premier League
St.Mary's - Saturday 25th August 2012
Attendance : 29,604
Through force of circumstance this is not being written just after the game, as I normally do, so please forgive me if my memory is a bit hazy about some details.
This was a momentous day, being the clubs first home match in the Premier League for seven long seasons and my, hasn't a lot changed in the intervening time. Ironically the game was against Wigan, who were promoted from the Championship in the same season that Saints were relegated.
The first difference was that Saints have decided to join the 21st Century and installed an automated contactless entry system. The club emailed fans before the game asking people to turn up early in case there were any delays. They clearly were not 100% convinced the system (or the fans!) was foolproof. As it turned out, there were no obvious problems and the end result was that the ground was fuller a lot earlier than normal, as fans heeded the club's advice and turned up early.
The three other obvious changes were firstly, the two screens at either end of the ground had been completely replaced and looked very modern, with none of the discoloured/blank sections that seemed to plague the old screens in the latter years. The second change was the seemingly compulsory comfy chairs for the dug-outs, looking very snazzy, complete with 'Sunseeker' sponsorship. Finally there were the standard Premier League issue electronic pitchside advertising hoardings, which were a bit distracting at first, but you soon learned to ignore them.
So, to the match itself. Saints lined up, as expected in much the same formation as has been used during the preseason and it was reassuring to see that Rickie Lambert was restored to the starting line-up.
Wigan were slick and well organised. Very much as you would expect from a team managed by Roberto Martinez. Even so Saints were controlling the game during the first half, but you had the impression that Wigan were content to sit back and absorb the pressure, allowing Saints to wear themselves out. Although Saints were fluid and playing some nice football, it just seemed that when they went forward, it was far too slowly and every attack seemed to peter out.
The second half was a different matter. Wigan stepped up a gear and every time they broke forward they were putting Saints under pressure. Eventually Saints were outsmarted and in the 51st minute the impressive Di Santo scored a simple goal.
The scoreline remained 0-1 until almost the end of the game, when Fonte made a hash of defending against Kone and the big forward with the blonde hair style raced away to put the ball beyond Davis. The ironic thing was that Davis had not had much to do all game, but he was not at fault for either goal. 0-2 and that was that, but it is not the whole story. At the Wigan end of the pitch Al Habsi had pulled off at least three, or four good saves, including one from Lallana in the second half, that I thought was going into the top right corner, until this green shape flew across the goal and tipped the ball over. Hooiveld also hit the bar from a Lambert cross, but in the Premier League you have to take your chances when they come along.
More painful lessons for Saints. However, at last I could see the way Saints are wanting to play now and it does work, although they do not execute it fast enough. Without that they are too predictable and present less of a challenge to their opponents. There is little point in being too critical of the players in this game, as there seemed to be several square pegs in round holes. None more so than the slightly forlorn looking Rodriguez out on the left wing. I am sure that the club didn't spend a then club record to make him look so out of sorts and out of position. Signings that have/will happen in the next few days should take care of the speed issue. Then there is Tadanari Lee returning from injury, which is almost like a new signing. The future will be bright, then these first few games back in the Premier League will be but a footnote in history.
Let others agonise about impending doom, safe in the knowledge that the club collectively does know what it is doing.
08 S Davis (Ward-Prowse - 75' )
09 Rodriguez (Sharp - 76' )
10 Maloney (Beausejour - 75' )
02 Kone (Boselli - 90' )
09 Di Santo (Gomez - 67' )
Saints 47% Wigan 53%
Saints 14 Wigan 12
Saints 9 Wigan 8
Saints 10 Wigan 3
Saints 11 Wigan 9