Saints went down to their first league defeat in over two months at Blackpool yesterday. Ian Holloway got it spot on, with tactically superior Pool running out deserved winners. It could have been a very different story had Saints taken advantage of some good early chances. The visitors started very brightly in the opening stages, and were unlucky not to take the lead when Guly dinked a shot over the keeper and the ball fizzled just past the post. Adam Lallana had brilliantly created the opportunity with a fine through ball. At the other end Kelvin Davis made a superb fingertip save to deny Gary Taylor-Fletcher. Saints were then given a glorious chance to take the lead when Guly was brought down in the area for a penalty. Billy Sharp took up the responsibility in the absence of Lambert, but his spot kick was poor. Sharp looked uneasy in the run-up and fired a weak shot down the middle at the perfect height for keeper Matt Gilks. That proved to be the turning point in the contest. Blackpool won a penalty of their own when Morgan Schneiderlin was adjudged to have fouled Taylor-Fletcher in the box. It was an extremely dubious decision. Stephen Dobbie did what Sharp couldn't do, and slotted the ball to Davis's right. Saints had set up with a diamond midfield for much of the first period, with Guly and Sharp interchanging roles across the front line. It was no match for Blackpool's energetic outfit however. The Seasiders pressed Saints with great intensity, disrupting the flow of the game, allowing their opponents little time on the ball. The pace of wide-men Matt Phillips and Thomas Ince also proved problematic for Danny Butterfield and Danny Fox. Jos Hooiveld squandered another great opportunity when he headed just wide of the post from a corner. Blackpool were quick to capitalise at the other end, with Dobbie slotting in from close range for his second of the evening. Jose Fonte didn't cover himself in glory, having been outpaced in the build up to the goal.
Nigel Adkins threw on Steve De Ridder for Richard Chaplow after the break, reverting to a flat midfield. Guly also dropped very deep, leaving Sharp on his own up top. Saints looked to play a patient passing game from the back, and it worked to a point, although clear cut opportunities were few and far between. Blackpool still looked the more likely in front of goal. They made it 3-0 on 52 minutes when Ian Evatt headed in completely unmarked from a corner. It was abysmal defending from Saints. The visitors improved after that goal, with Blackpool dropping off the intensity levels. The result was academic by that point however, and there was little action in front of goal.
A disappointing day for Saints. I thought the general play was ok, but we committed far too many individual mistakes. When you do that against a side like Blackpool you are always going to be up against it. Saints were unusually poor at the back, and were wasteful at the other end of the pitch too. Rickie Lambert's absence certainly had an impact. Without him we don't have a focal point in attack to build everything around. Guly's link up play was good, but Sharp did little to impress. The former Doncaster man needs to step up his game in the absence of Lambert, Tadanari Lee and David Connolly. Jose Fonte has been outstanding the past few months, but he had an absolute shocker in this particular clash. The same can be said of his former Palace teammate Danny Butterfield, who has looked sluggish in most of his appearances this season. Still, a defeat isn't the end of the world for Nigel Adkins. Saints could afford to budget for a loss after a fine run of form this month. We went down 2-0 at Rochdale at this stage of the season, and followed that up by winning our remaining six matches. As long as Saints can cut out the silly errors in the remaining half a dozen games, there's no reason why we can't do the same this campaign.
I must also give a quick mention to the Saints fans who made the journey. I've been critcal of some our supporters for turning on the team too quickly when things start to go bad this season, but thankfully there were very few dissenting voices inside Bloomfield Road. Some did leave after the 3rd goal, but those who stayed continued to support the team right until the final whistle. It was very pleasing to hear.
Attendance: 13,499 (2,053 Saints fans)
Davis: 6. Made a brilliant save early on, but slightly hesitant for the second goal
Butterfield: 5. Run ragged by Matt Phillips all evening. Positioning not great at times either.
Fonte: 5. A rare off day. Outpaced for the second goal, and generally below par for most of the contest.
Hooiveld: 6. Passing hit and miss. Could have been better defensively too.
Fox: 6. Did ok on the ball and looked decent going forward, but not great defensively.
Chaplow: 6. Worked hard, looking reasonably solid in a congested midfield
Cork: 7. A very good display. Worked his way out of tight areas with decent footwork and tidy passing. Especially strong in the second half.
Schneiderlin: 7. Passing generally decent.
Lallana: 7. Very bright early on, with some exciting dribbles and through balls. Less effective after the break, but still some moments of brilliance.
Guly: 7. One of the better players on the Saints side. Decent movement and passing.
Sharp: 5. Some decent link up play early on, but pretty anonymous after his penalty miss.
De Ridder: 5. Didn't have the same impact he usually has.
Barnard: Game was already long gone by the time he came on. Didn't really do a lot.