21/04/2012: Middlesbrough 2-1 Saints

Saints missed an opportunity to clinch promotion to the Premiership as Middlesbrough came from a goal behind to win 2-1. Nigel Adkins’s men put in a decent footballing display, but were undone by a mixture of poor refereeing and bad luck. Saints made the best possible start when Billy Sharp gave the visitors a 45 second lead. Adam Lallana headed the ball through to Rickie Lambert in the penalty area, before Lambert squared the ball across goal to Sharp, who fired in to an open net. Middlesbrough enjoyed a decent spell of possession after the goal, but only really threatened from distance. Nicky Bailey and Barry Robson fired just over from outside the area. On 20 minutes Saints put together a terrific passage of play, with the ball passing through most of the team before Richard Chaplow scooped the ball above the bar. Saints were in control for the next 20 minutes or so, but didn’t create too many clear cut opportunities. Danny Fox’s free kick wasn’t too far away however. Boro finished the half strongly, and grabbed an equaliser deep into stoppage time. Bailey smashed in a powerful volley from outside of the box, giving Kelvin Davis no chance. The ball took a big deflection off Chaplow on the way in.

Saints started the second half well and spent the first 10 minutes camped in Middlesbrough’s half. A succession of corners came to nothing, while Billy Sharp had a shot fly over. The away side looked to try and beat the offside trap, with Sharp playing just off the last defender. The former Doncaster man was invariably flagged up however. Then came to decision that changed the course of the game. Jack Cork played in Lallana, who had a clear run at goal before being hacked down by Sebastian Hines. Incredibly, referee Tony Bates decided against showing Hines a second yellow card. It was 100% the wrong decision. Bates would have almost certainly booked Hines for the incident had he not been cautioned earlier. The resulting free kick from Lambert went wide. Saints lost a certain degree of momentum after that. Middlesbrough improved considerably when Tony Mowbray made a double substitution. Tony McMahon tested Davis with a stinging long ranger. Then on 76 minutes Middlesbrough won on free kick on the edge of the area when Jose Fonte needlessly grabbed hold of Lukas Jutkiewicz. Merouane Zemmama stepped up and curled the set piece into the corner of the net. Saints pushed hard for an equaliser, with Cork switching to right back, following the introduction of Morgan Schneiderlin for Danny Butterfield. This gave the visitors greater attacking impetuous on that side. Guly Do Prado came closest to finding an equaliser. The Brazilian had an ambitious 35 yarder fly just over the bar. Minutes later his header was deflected just wide after Danny Fox had smashed a wayward effort at goal.

Saints fans experienced a full range of emotions at The Riverside Stadium. From unbridled joy to disappointment, frustration and anger. It’s hard to fault the effort of the players. Saints gave it everything, and played some fine football. I’m not normally one to put all the blame on the referee, but there’s no doubt the decision not the send-off Hines had a significant impact on the game. Nobody knows for sure what would have happened, but there’s a very good chance Saints would have gone on to secure at least a draw with a one man advantage. It just wasn’t our day. Saints should still be confident of securing promotion. Hopefully Leicester can do us a big favour on Monday, but if not, we should have what it takes to see of Coventry on the final day.

Attendance: 19,077 (2,992 Saints fans)

Match Ratings:

Davis: 7. Couldn’t really be faulted for the goals. Handling and shot stopping decent

Butterfield: 6. Passing hit and miss.

Fonte: 6. Bit of a mixed bag. Made a few brilliant interceptions/tackles, but also stupidly gave away the free kick that lead to the winner.

Hooiveld: 7. Headed clearance lead to the first Boro goal, but otherwise a solid defensive display.

Fox: 7. Some great link up play and forward running.

Chaplow: 7. Typical energetic Chaplow display before being forced off injured.

Hammond: 7. Lost possession at one point in the first half lead to a Middlesbrough breakaway, but otherwise a disciplined midfield display

Cork: 8. A great range of passing and movement. Equally impressive in midfield as he was at right back

Lallana: 8. The away side’s most effective attacking player. Created a number of opportunities with individual brilliance. Great work-rate too

Lambert: 6. A rare off-day. Did very well for the goal, but first touch was surprisingly poor for the rest of the game, and shooting below the usual level. Was very tightly marked in fairness.

Sharp: 7. Another goal and some decent link up play, particularly in the first period.

Substitutes:

Guly: 7. Didn’t put a foot wrong. Unlucky not to score, and some good passing.

Schneiderlin: Looked as sharp as ever. Really himself about in the final few minutes