26/08/2014: Millwall 0-2 Saints
Ronald Koeman recorded his first competitive win as Southampton manager at Millwall, as his team progressed to the 3rd round of the League Cup. Saints were poor in the first half, but cruised to victory after the break.
Koeman named a stronger side than expected for the trip to The New Den. Eight of the players who started on Saturday against West Brom featured from kick-off. Victor Wanyama started as the deepest central midfielder, with James Ward-Prowse and Steven Davis given licence to push on. Lloyd Isgrove was deployed on the left, with Shane Long on the right.
Saints had a few half-chances early on, but neither side managed to get going during the first 15 minutes. Individual mistakes and sloppy passing were a regular feature of the first half. The ball often bounced from one end of the pitch to the other, with neither side able to take control in midfield.
Millwall attempted to attack from out-wide, but were invariably thwarted before they had the opportunity to get the ball in the box. Saints looked disjointed, and there appeared to be a major disconnect between the midfield and attack in particular. The visitors were fortunate not to concede from a routine goal-kick. The ball bounced all the way to Magaye Gueye who fluffed a relatively simple chance. The move pretty much summed up the dreadful first-half.
Saints improved immediately in the 2nd half. Jack Cork came on to shore things up in midfield, but Koeman also made a few more subtle alterations. Saints lined up in a much more unified fashion, with Shane Long tucking in to give more support to Graziano Pelle. The team also pressed much more aggressively. Saints dominated the remainder of the game, controlling possession and creating countless chances. Pelle had the first major oppourtunity of the 2nd period with a shot on the turn. From the resulting corner Cork headed in unmarked for 1-0.
Millwall continued to battle hard. Jermaine Easter had a couple of decent efforts, but the gap in quality between the two teams was telling for the most part. Pelle headed narrowly wide of the post from Nathaniel Clyneís swift cross. Saints continued to pass the ball quicker and with more purpose. The home side were often punished on the counter too. Pelle came close again when he hit the post. Dusan Tadic twisted and turned before curling just wide on the edge of the area. Saints finally put the game to bed in stoppage time. Steven Davis cleverly played the ball through a couple of Millwall defenders, allowing Pelle a clear run at goal. The Italian was finally rewarded for his 2nd half tenacity, firing low past David Forde at the near post.
It was concerning how poor Saints looked at times during the first half with so many prominent players on show, but thankfully things improved immeasurably after the interval. Koeman did little to mix things up on Saturday, but thankfully showed a lot more flexibility in south-east London. Saints will obviously be tested a lot harder in the Premier League, but the level of fluency in the 2nd half was encouraging and hopefully something we can take into the next few games.
Jack Cork really showed his worth once again. The midfielder has been linked with a move to Crystal Palace in recent weeks, and may still go. It seems absurd that Saints could let such a valuable performer slip through their grasp. The club have had numerous opportunities to get the player signed up to a new contract over the last 18 months, but havenít done so for reasons not too clear. He usually has a positive impact on the way Saints play and is unbelievably consistent. Saints look strong in that area of the pitch right now, but that could all change within the next 12 months or so. If Morgan Schneiderlin doesnít go within this transfer window, heíll certainly be gone by next summer. Victor Wanyama could start to attract interest from higher up the football food chain soon if he maintains the form heís shown in the league. Taider is only on loan and is so far unproven. Cork hasnít been courted by Champions League outfits, just mid-table sides. Letting him go would be extremely short-sighted. He can still play a valuable role at Southampton.
Forster: 7. Strong in the air again. Didnít have too many big saves to make, but still inspired confidence in the back four
Clyne: 7. Plenty of rapid bursts down the right. Didnít let anything get past him
Fonte: 6. Distribution not as strong as it should have been in an iffy first half. Had it fairly easy after the break
Yoshida: 7. Looked slightly uncomfortable on the ball early on, but strong in the tackle
Targett: 6. Made some good clean challenges, but lack of experience showed in other areas, particularly his positioning. Delivery mixed
Wanyama: 5. Won a few duels, but not as strong as he has been on the ball in league encounters
Davis: 7. More like the Davis of last season. Threaded the ball about very well. Notched an assist and caught the eye with another skilful pass with the outside of his foot to Tadic
Ward-Prowse: 6. Like most, more effective in the 2nd half. Displayed some good skill at times
Long: 6. Made a couple of good runs in the first half, but not really involved enough. Much better after the break
Isgrove: 5. One decent burst of pace and a sliced clearance at the other end before coming off injured
Pelle: 6. Not a lot went for him in the first half. Looked a different player after the break. Always getting in the right positions and some good flick-ons. Came close several occasions before finally finding the net
Tadic: 7. Showed his class on the ball once again. Involved in several goal-scoring opportunities
Cork: 7. Changed the game at half-time. Calmness and intelligence in midfield helped to settle Saints down. Hopefully the start of yet another renaissance, not a goodbye
Ramirez: Displayed a few classy touches in the few minutes he was on the pitch
Saints - Cork (53) Pelle (90)
Attendance: 6,014 (1,011 Saints fans)
Referee: Dean Whitestone
Millwall: Forde, Hoyte, Webster, Williams, Briggs, Chaplow (OíBrien 63), Abdou (Thompson 76), Powell, Gueye (Onyedinma 63), Marquis, Easter
Subs not used: Gerrar, Gregory, Goodman, Siafa
Saints: Forster, Clyne, Fonte, Yoshida, Targett, Wanyama (Cork 46), Davis, Ward-Prowse, Long (Ramirez 90), Isgrove (Tadic 28), Pelle
Subs not used: K Davis, Stephens, Gardos, Taider