Saints drew 1-1 with Bristol City in their penultimate pre-season encounter. The visitors controlled most of the game, but would have lost were it not for Billy Sharp's 90th minute equaliser.
Bristol City represented a great challenge for Nigel Adkins' men. The Robins are somewhat of a bogey team for Saints and deservedly won both clashes last term. Derek McInnes got his tactics spot on, stifling the Southampton midfield and hitting on the break. It was a different story this time however. Saints stretched the play, with wingers Jason Puncheon and Jay Rodriguez hugging the touchline, providing plenty of width. Adkins named a very strong team, and a familiar formation, with Morgan Schneiderlin sitting behind midfield duo Adam Lallana and James Ward-Prowse. Rodriguez and Lallana swapped positions on occasions during the first half, as did Schneiderlin and Ward-Prowse.
Saints started the game off brightly, firing a few early efforts at goal. Rodriguez perhaps should have done better when he blasted over inside the area. The visitors dominated possession, working their way up the pitch patiently. There was very little in the way of chances however. The movement and passing from Saints remained first class, but City keeper Dean Gerken was rarely tested. Ward-Prowse was put through on goal, but his shot was blocked. The home side had a few threatening counter attacks, but the Saints defence was always well positioned to deal with any danger. City took a surprise lead against the run of play. Jon Stead curled the ball into the bottom corner of the net from the edge of the area.
That goal momentarily sparked the game into life. Rodriguez had a chance to equalise almost immediately, before Albert Adomah put in a cross at the other end which did not find the feet of a City player. Adomah tormented Saints at Ashton Gate last season, and was at the heart of most of their attacking moves again. He tested Kelvin Davis with a stinging effort, which was the last major chance before the break.
Saints made a triple substitution after the interval, with Frazer Richardson, Steven Davis and returning Olympian Jack Cork replacing Danny Fox, Schneiderlin and Ward-Prowse. Richardson played at right-back, with Nathaniel Clyne switching to the left. The second half followed a similar pattern to the first, with lots of Saints possession, but very little goal-mouth action. The visitors seemed to be trying to walk it in at times. Rickie Lambert floated in a free-kick from the left-hand side which was headed away by a City defender. Saints were making more mistakes as time wore on and the game looked to be slipping away from them. When Cork limped off with a nasty looking injury, Adkins threw on Billy Sharp as a second striker. With the clock running down, Saints pushed forward with greater vigour. Guly fired in a powerful effort, which was saved by Gerken. Puncheon's follow up was also stopped, and the ball fizzled out of play before anyone else could follow up. Most thought that was that, until Sharp nipped in with a last gasp leveller. Saints could have even won it a minute later, but Steven Davis' through ball was cut-out before it could reach Sharp.
There's very little to take from this game that we didn't already know. It followed a similar pattern to all the other pre-season friendlies, with Saints employing the same style and system that is already becoming familiar. Saints looked good for the most part, and should take confidence from the late goal and general performance. All the players who featured – with the probable exception of Dan Seaborne – should be heavily involved this season. Those who remained on the bench will most likely continue to play a bit part role. Billy Sharp has given Nigel Adkins a selection headache with his recent form. The Saints boss may elect to start him against Man City, especially with Rickie Lambert misfiring in recent weeks. The only downer from the evening was the injury of Jack Cork.
Attendance: 2,605 (402 Saints fans)
Davis: 6. Pretty quiet night, but did have to make one crucial save with the score at 1-0.
Clyne: 7. Not as spectacular as previous games, but nevertheless an impressive display. Looked just as comfortable at left back as he did on the right.
Fonte: 6. Distribution a bit hit and miss, but defensively sound.
Hooiveld: 7. Didn't do a lot wrong. Defensively strong in the air and on the ground.
Fox: 7. A very good attacking first half display.
Schneiderlin: 7. Typical Schneiderlin display. Good passing and a few crucial interceptions.
Ward-Prowse: 7. One of the strongest players for the first 30 minutes. Faded slightly before half-time.
Lallana: 7. Didn’t unlock the defence like you know he can, but some decent movement and passing.
Puncheon: 8. Saints' most skilful player. Looked most likely to make something happen.
Rodriguez: 6. Still too early to say what he offers.
Lambert: 6. An improvement to his Ajax performance, but still a level below what you would expect.
Richardson: 7. His best pre-season showing to date. Threatening in attack and strong in defence.
Davis: 6. Solid performance. Kept it simple in possession.
Cork: 6. Neat and tidy in midfield. Such a shame to see him go off injured.
Guly: 6. Not everything he tried came off, but did inject an added level of creativity to the midfield.
Seaborne: Nothing really of note to mention.
Sharp: There where it mattered with yet another goal.