Verdict: Saints 2 Swansea 2

Last updated : 31 January 2009 By Saint Bobby

Whilst Saints probably remain odds-on to be relegated to the third tier, there was enough on show here to suggest that the white flag need not be raised over St. Mary's just yet.


Newly installed full-time skipper Kelvin Davis started between the sticks behind a back four of Lee Molyneux, Jean Paul Saeijs, Chris Perry and Lloyd James. Paul Wotton acted as defensive anchor behind a wingless midfield three of Surman on the left, Lallana in the middle and Gillett on the right. McGoldrick and a recalled Saganowski were paired up front in a 4-1-3-2 formation.

Bialkowski, Euell, Schneiderlin, Lancashire and McLaggon filled the bench. Skacel and Wright-Phillips have presumably played their last games in Saints' colours.

1st half: Less fancy play, more blood and guts

In a marked contrast to the style of play under Poortvliet, Southampton sought to get the ball forward far more quickly, perhaps sacrificing some accuracy in the process. There were fewer crisp one touch passing moves. And use of the wings was more limited, replaced instead by a more direct approach down the centre. The early flow of traffic was towards the visitors' goal.

It took a defensive howler to allow Marek Saganowski clean through on goal just after the quarter hour mark. He rounded the keeper and horrified the home support by using every available millisecond at his disposal before calmly slotting past the two defenders on the line.

The unusual luxury of an early Saints lead was enough to ensure that ongoing fan resentment with the Lowe-Wilde board - which had culminated in many hundreds joining a pre-match demo - was left outside the stadium. In fact, to the enormous credit of the Northam End, the most vocal of Saints supporters remained loud and positive throughout the entire match.

Irritatingly, Saints failed to capitalise on their goal advantage. A delightful flicked through ball from Saganowski to McGoldrick gave the young striker the chance to double the lead. But on an abject afternoon for the Saints no. 17, he once again couldn't muster the conviction or the co-ordination to punish Swansea.

The visitors were failing to find a way through. Although the imposing Jason Scotland was demanding the constant attention of either Perry or Saeijs. Then, after half an hour, a bookable offence committed by Molyneux was swiftly followed by disaster. Tragically it wasn't to be for the last time in the day's proceedings.

Although Saints have improved their backline substantially in recent weeks, the defensive midfielders tend to drop back too deep. It would be an exaggeration to say that we sometimes appear to have a flat back seven, but all too often a well drilled back four find their midfielders just a yard - or even less - in front of them. This provides our opponents with too much time and space just outside the Saints' penalty area.

And so it was that, after 33 minutes, Gomez was able to drill a low shot beyond Davis with the Swans first effort of the game. It was an exquisite finish, but he was not placed under sufficient pressure. Kelvin Davis, for all his merits, is at his weakest against accurate, low shots and just doesn't quite have the reflexes to get down as quickly as is sometimes needed.

On the verge of halftime, with his first and only meaningful contribution, Lallana tucked the ball back to the misfiring McGoldrick, who at least managed to get his effort on target this time.

Half-time: Saints 1 Swansea 1

Second half: Self-destruction and redemption

Although not imploding with quite the rapidity they managed against Doncaster, Saints looked second best in the early stages of the second period. And a match which had been fairly combative throughout threatened to boil over. Having luckily escaped a second yellow card just two minutes earlier, Lee Molyneux secured himself an early bath with a reckless challenge after 53 minutes.

This prompted a swift reshuffle, with Surman switching to left back, and Wotton pushing into the centre of a midfield trio in a very narrow 4-3-2 formation. To try and add some further strength to the depleted midfield Euell replaced the out-of-sorts Lallana on the left of midfield just before the hour mark.

Adam Lallana is a richly talented but frequently frustrating player. He doesn't yet have the maturity or confidence to force his way into a match and lacks the adaptability to switch positions as the tactical needs of the team demand. But he surely has the capacity to develop into Saints' most important creative force and he will need to show more than glimpses and flashes of imagination if he is to make a useful contribution to the relegation dogfight.

Just as it seemed that Saints might weather a period of sustained pressure - with Swansea establishing a major territorial advantage - their goal was breached. Davis could only palm out a long range effort to the feet of the grateful - and unmarked - Pintado, who'd only come on a few minutes earlier.

Down to ten men, squandering a lead and cursed with the worst home record in English football. The omens - it's fair to say - were not good.

McGoldrick - who'd failed to assist the tireless Saganowski in any obvious way was finally put out of his misery with a little under twenty minutes to go.

Youngster Kayne McLaggon was his replacement. It's far too early to put McLaggon in the same league as Theo Walcott, but everything I've seen of him suggests he is another first rate and truly exciting academy prospect. He has pace, composure and knows how to draw a foul. Much credit must go to Mark Wotte for this bold and imaginative substitution which did much to turn the tide back in Saints favour.

McLaggon brought a real zing to Saints' attacking play and suddenly the team was less static and predictable. Although Gillett looked so uncomfortable on the right that his passing became increasingly nervy and erratic, Jason Euell and Paul Wotton began to assert themselves in midfield.

With less than quarter of hour left, a speculative long ball found the sly Saganowski in embarrassingly generous space on the left of the penalty area and his deft chip squared the scores.

Although the visitors continued to chase a winner, 10-man Saints looked as likely to snatch victory. It was only into stoppage time that Schneiderlin replaced the two-goal Polish hero, leaving McLaggon as the token lone striker in a 4-4-1 line-up, which held out for a hard-worked and well merited point.

Full-time: Saints 2 Swansea 2

Man of the match: Marek Saganowski

Conclusion: 24 hours left to save our skins

There can be no pretending that the league table is anything other than an ugly sight at present. With a three point gap to safety, a woeful goal difference and a home record that needs reclassifying from "pathetic" to "utterly abysmal", there is much to be depressed about. A chronic financial situation and the widespread, understandable antipathy towards the present board only add to the malaise.

But with less than two thirds of the season gone, there are still 16 games - 24 hours of play - for Southampton to contrive a way to maintain their Championship status. And there are some grounds for optimism. Well, okay, maybe not optimism - but at least hope.

Wotte's first two games in charge have apparently engendered a never-say-die spirit. Two points from two games may not be a massive haul, but it could so easily have been zero.

The return of Saganowski finally means we have a striker who you actually expect to score. I was not the only punter to snap up Ladbrokes' insane odds of 7-1 on him being the first or last goalscorer. He's worth £20 a match at anything better than 4-1. Because, although, we still fail to create enough chances, you do trust the Polish international to take those that do come his way. If he can stay fit and in form - (four goals in his last three games) - he may just be our "get out of jail" ticket in the final stages of the season.

Wotte should also risk giving McLaggon a run in the first team. He is an unknown quantity to our opponents and now is the time to gamble, not to play safe. Surely too, Jason Euell must return to the starting line up - irrespective of the rumours about his exorbitant appearance fees. This is doubly important given that Surman will have to revert to left wing-back as Molyneux serves out his suspension. And Skacel departs.

Without wishing to place still more responsibility on young shoulders, it would be a very welcome boost if Schneiderlin could get himself properly fit and rediscover his early season form.

A line up of Davis-Surman-Perry-Saeijs-James-Holmes-Schneiderlin-Wotton-Lallana-McLaggon-Saganowski may not strike fear into the world's best football teams, but it does read like a middling (or better) Championship line up.

Mark Wotte is right to say that the remaining games are NOT all cup finals. We probably need about five wins and five draws to clamber to safety. After this week's matches, you have to conclude that we have a fighting chance, at least, of achieving that.