Saints picked up their first win since November 9th, and also ended a six match losing streak in the city of Cardiff. Mauricio Pochettino's side were on top from start to finish, and effectively killed the game off long before half-time. The result is extremely important given the run we've been on, and the two fixtures coming up.
The first 10 minutes were fairly uneventful. Saints passed the ball about well, but the game was being played at a slow pace, with neither goalkeeper being properly tested. Cardiff's Peter Whittingham then squandered a gaping chance on 11 minutes. A few moments later Adam Lallana produced a great piece of skill to play in Jay Rodriguez, but the striker couldn't quite prevent the ball from running out of play. The same two players combined again within minutes, and this time Rodriguez made no mistake. The move started when Morgan Schneiderlin's long pass evaded the Cardiff back-four. Lallana sprung the offside trap before squaring for Rodriguez who had a relatively simple finish from close range.
Saints grew in confidence after the goal. There were a few nervy moments at the back during the first-half, but fortunately Cardiff weren't quite canny enough to exploit any minor error. It was 2-0 on 20 minutes. Rodriguez cushioned the ball into the back of the net with one touch following a great diagonal ball from Rickie Lambert. Saints seemed to have so much room throughout the game. The attacking players drifted wide to create space, while the midfield three of Schneiderlin, Jack Cork and Steven Davis had complete control of the tempo. Cardiff attempted to go direct and pinch something from a set piece, but Paulo Gazzaniga usually came out on top in those situations. The game was as good as over on 30 minutes. Rodriguez nodded on Calum Chambers' deep cross, with Rickie Lambert turning in from 7 yards out. Saints toyed with their opponents during the final 10 minutes of the first half, playing keep-ball all over the pitch. Cardiff made a few advancements towards goal, but Maya Yoshida was well placed to cut out a couple of crosses. Just prior to Saints' third Gazzaniga had made two stunning saves. He tipped one shot over the bar, and then had to react quickly when the ball was deflected late.
Cardiff's aerial bombardment continued early into the second half, but Saints were always well prepared. The visitors remained in control during the final 45 minutes, and had further chances to stretch their lead. On 52 minutes Cork fired straight at the keeper from just outside the box following a neat corner routine between Lallana and Davis. Luke Shaw then tested David Marshall after a fine solo run. Rodriguez dragged a shot wide on the hour. Frazier Campell's 62nd minute wayward effort summed up Cardiff's afternoon. The chances dried up during the final 20 minutes or so, with the home side seemingly resigned to their fate. Saints did really well to kill the game off, barely giving Cardiff a sniff.
A very satisfying result and performance. There were a few minor mishaps at the back, and perhaps a better side would have taken advantage, but overall it's difficult to find too much to criticise about Saints' display. In fairness that shakiness at the back can probably be attributed to rust as much as anything else. Both Yoshida and Jose Fonte looked very good once they had acclimatised to the speed of the game. The midfield trio complemented each other perfectly, with Cork, Davis and Scneiderlin taking it in turns to push forward and sit back. Lallana is one of the stand-out attacking players in the Premier League right-now, while Rodriguez rediscovered his finishing touch alongside Lambert, who also looked much better. Even with a number of players still missing, Saints proved they have quality in all areas of the pitch. With men to come back, things are looking very positive going into 2014.
Gazzaniga: 8. Coped very well with Cardiff's aerial threat and also pulled off a series of fantastic saves
Chambers: 7. Crosses hit and miss, but defensively comfortable. Always had the confidence to push forward
Fonte: 7. Great to have him back. Made a series of well-timed challenges throughout the game
Yoshida: 7. Looked off the pace early on, and nearly played Gazzaniga in trouble with a couple of wayward balls, but outstanding after the first 30 minutes or so. Timing impeccable. Made a number of important interceptions and tackles
Shaw: 7. Provided another attacking outlet with some rapid bursts down the flank. Had no trouble cleaning up at the back
Cork: 7. Did a good job of protecting the back four and comfortable on the ball as you would expect
Davis: 8. Always showing for the ball. Helped to maintain a high tempo with quick passing and top class awareness
Schneiderlin: 7. Made some important interceptions, and also handy in possession
Lallana: 8. Unplayable at times, particularly in the first half. Created so many chances out of practically nothing. Brilliantly combined intelligent decision making with clever skill
Rodriguez: 7. There where it mattered for all three goals
Lambert: 7. Sloppy early on, but turned things around with a fine assist. Passing generally good
Ward-Prowse: Looked very energetic
Ramirez: Nothing really to note
Gallagher: Sent on in the dying seconds