20/03/2012: Hull 0-2 Saints

Saints opened up a five point lead at the top of the Championship, with an impressive 2-0 win at Hull. Nigel Adkins's men started the game extremely brightly, cutting through their opponents with ease. It's hard to believe Hull have the best defensive record based on last night's evidence. The Tigers were incredibly open at the back, and Saints took full advantage. The movement of Guly Do Prado and Rickie Lambert was first class. Both strikers made good runs off the ball, drawing defenders out of position in a successful attempt to create opportunities for others. The two men combined for the first major chance of the evening, with Lambert heading Guly's cross into the path of Hull stopper Vito Mannone. Moments later Adam Lallana had a powerful shot parried away. On 14 minutes the visitor's pressure finally paid off. Danny Fox got to the byline before his cross was turned in by Hull's Jack Hobb's under the pressure of Lambert. Saints should have really been further ahead minutes later when Jack Cork played in Lallana for a one-on-one with Mannone. Lallana rounded the keeper, but somehow contrived to miss with the goal at his mercy. Nick Barmby's side pressed the Saints defence hard throughout, and took control of the game shortly after Lallana's miss. Josh King smashed a shot against the bar on 25 minutes, while Hobbs headed over from a corner. Robbie Brady then missed a glorious opportunity to level the contest when he fired over from close range following a terrific piece of play from the home side. Hull dominated the ball in the last 20 minutes of the first half, but Saints defence stood firm, with centre backs Jose Fonte and Jos Hooiveld performing particularly well.

Hull brought on Aaron McLean for Robert Koren after the break in an attempt to find a leveller. Saints soon countered by bringing on Steve De Ridder for Guly. De Ridder thrived in the open environment, and added his usual spark to the attack. Adkins played the Belgian winger in a deep role on the right hand side, with Lallana taking up a similar position on the opposite flank. Schneiderlin sat in front of the back four behind Jack Cork, with Jason Puncheon playing in behind lone front man Rickie Lambert. The switch in formation allowed the visitors to regain control of the ball, and counter on the break when necessary. After limiting Hull to just a small number of half chances, Saints took a 2-0 lead on 60 minutes. Fonte picked out a terrific run on the right hand side of the box, before firing across goal for Hooiveld to smash in from one yard out. Saints slowed down the tempo of the game in the final 30 minutes, and never looked in too much danger of surrendering their lead. Hull did have a couple of decent long range efforts, but they were well saved by Kelvin Davis.

Another professional job by Southampton. After a great 20 minute spell, Saints had to withstand a fair amount of pressure from an in-form Hull side. Nigel Adkins reacted brilliantly to the situation, and changed the shape in order to kill the game off. Saints were well organised and strong in defence throughout. Any doubts about our capabilities on the road should have been well and truly erased by now. Saints have won four in a row on their travels, and are nine unbeaten away from home. The performances haven't always been quite so easy on the eye, but Adkins has now figured out how to get the best out of his side away from St Marys. Saints are no longer being overrun in midfield, and often look to play more direct in order to get results. Last night's win was incredibly important. With both West Ham and Reading dropping points, Saints are now five points clear of 2nd and seven clear of 3rd. It's not job done yet, but with a fairly kind run-in, we are now in a great position to go on and achieve the Premier League dream.

Attendance: 18,066

Match Ratings:

Davis: 8. Calm under pressure early on, before making some vital fingertip saves to keep Hull out towards the end.

Richardson: 6. Not too many famous crossfield balls, but a solid defensive display nonetheless.

Fonte: 8. Strong at both ends of the pitch.

Hooiveld: 8. Back to his best. Let very little get past him- made a number of well timed challenges

Fox: 7. Put in some great long balls in the first half, and had a big role in the opener. Looked slightly tired in the second half, with a tendency to hoof the ball away.

Puncheon: 5. Looked rusty. Worked hard, but passing and shooting largely wasteful.

Schneiderlin: 8. Given plenty of space to dictate play. Also defensively sound, with some good interceptions.

Cork: 7. Put himself about and looked tidy in possession.

Lallana: 6. A few moments of magic, but on the whole very quiet. Should have put the game to bed in the first half.

Guly: 7. Excellent off the ball running and solid passing.

Lambert: 7. Not quite as influential as usual, but still a threat in front of goal. Linked up well with Guly in the first half.

Substitutes:

De Ridder: 7. Made a decent impact as usual, with his pace causing problems and opening up space.

Hammond: 6. Helped Saints see out the game comfortably

Harding: Solid defensive display