Saints v Wolves - On the Cross verdict
Report of match Southampton 0 Wolverhampton Wanderers 0 played 6th August 2005
Reporter Chris C
Saints 0-0 draw with Wolves showed that there is still much work still to be done both in terms of organisation and personnel, after a lively game that saw plenty of chances at both ends, but some less than Premiership quality finishing.
Hajto Lundekvam Powell Higginbotham
Prutton Oakley Belmadi (Wise, 50) Quashie
Jones (Walcott, 73) Fuller (Delap, 90)
Despite all the clues pointing to Harry retaining the 3-5-2 formation from the Anderlecht game, Saints returned to their familiar 4-4-2, albeit with debutant Belmadi in a free role in midfield. The change in line-up may well have had to do with injury doubts over Delap and Wise that kept them on the bench.
Saints had four debutants and it showed, as the side failed to gel in the first half, despite some promising phases. It took the introduction of Wise to get Saints organised and moving, as he provided some welcome leadership in midfield. Expect to see Harry revert to 3-5-2 against Luton on Tuesday night.
After the contractual problems of the past week, Antti Niemi was a class apart with a series of quality saves that kept Saints in the game. Miller will still be wondering quite how Niemi kept out his goal-bound shot when one-on-one. On this performance, he should not be allowed to leave for any price.
Last season Saints were overrun with right backs, yet here were only able to field centre half Hajto playing out of position. Wolves had a lot of joy down the left in the first half with a series of crosses putting the new defensive pairing of Lundekvam and Powell under pressure.
Powell had a decent no nonsense debut alongside the ineffective Claus who on this display had picked up where he left off from last season. This meant that Danny Higginbotham spent much of the half picking up the pieces limiting his effectiveness down the left flank.
Although Saints improved in the second half, we clearly need a rethink in central defence and Harry needs to experiment with three at the back sooner rather than later. Claus will miss the next game after a needless red card (despite the contribution from the referee), but Kenton and Cranie are still available to cover.
For all the talk of our strength in central midfield, Wolves showed how organisation can overcome ability as the Saints midfield struggled to dominate until the introduction of Wise.
The selection lacked width and coherence. If Harry is going to play four in midfield then he urgently needs to find a left midfielder. Belmadi enjoyed a shock debut in a free role and while showing good touches he drifted out of the game too often and was substituted by Wise on 50 minutes.
Both sides lacked a clinical finisher, although Wolves had to face Antti Niemi in inspired form. Saints new partnership of Jones and Fuller failed to gel, although they were not helped by a lack of support from midfield.
Fuller showed good skill on the ball, but a lack of composure in front of goal blazing two good chances wide and wild. Jones was anonymous as the talented Lescott kept him in his pocket all afternoon.
How Saints fans were rueing the departure of Peter Crouch as they badly missed his link play and cool head in front of goal. Despite Jones’ hat-trick against Anderlecht, Harry needs a Premiership quality striker and fast.
The biggest cheer of the day was saved for the cameo kid, Theo Walcott, who became Saints youngest ever player and was so excited to get on that he forgot to put his shirt on! Again he showed lightening pace and a bag of tricks, narrowly failing to earn Saints a penalty. His first touch was on the halfway line, but rather than tapping it back to Wise and settle in, he turned and ran at the Wolves defence, setting the tone for an exciting 20 minutes.
Inexperience meant the final ball was often lacking, but he almost set up a late winner with Matt Oakley hitting a tame shot at the keeper when well paced. Harry will have to manage his talent very carefully and expect to see him on the bench rather than in the starting line-up in the early part of the season.
While both sides may be happy with a draw, this game showed how tough a challenge Saints face in this league as we reorganise for the season ahead. Whatever your views on Glenn Hoddle, he can certainly get a team organised and Saints will have to work hard on the training field to get the new personnel to gel.
Unfortunately, there is little time before Saints next game on Tuesday night, as Saints travel to newly promoted Luton, who earned a shock away win over Palace.
Man of the match: Antti Niemi put the problems of the last week behind him, reminding Saints fans that we have a world class keeper on our books
Lemon of the day: Claus Lundekvam – despite some signs of the old Claus, all too often he was outmuscled and out-of-position, with the icing on the cake the unnecessary red card.
Cameo of the day: Theo Walcott will be hoping his impending GCSE results show as much potential as his first appearance for Saints.
Thorn in the side: Central defender Lescott was a dominant presence in defence and a threat from set pieces. A career in the Premiership surely beckons.