Saints were unlucky to go down to their first home league defeat of 2011 tonight. Their opponents Bristol City snatched the win with a 79th minute Stephen Pearson goal, after Nigel Adkins's men had missed countless chances to score. Let's not take anything away from Bristol City though, they came to play football from the off, unlike many teams who come to St Marys and merely 'park the bus'. City boss Derek McInnes employed a 4-4-2 formation at kick off, with Albert Adomah playing off Nicky Maynard up front. The Robins worked incredibly hard at closing down space, but were also threatening in attack. They were on top in the opening stages, with Saints players misplacing passes due to the slippery surface. The chances soon arrived however, with the home side getting better and better as the half wore on. Guly put a brilliant through ball to Steve De Ridder on the halfway line, with the Belgian winger running nearly half the length of the pitch before cutting it back for Adam Lallana, who couldn't quite get his shot away in time. Midfielders Jack Cork and Morgan Schneiderlin also had rare efforts on goal. Schneiderlin came closest, with a long range strike that was tipped over the bar by David James. Rickie Lambert powered a header just wide from a corner before the break. City occasionally caused problems of their own too. The tricky Adomah worked a number of openings with some mazy dribbles, just as he had done in the previous clash between the two sides at Ashton Gate in November.
The second half started with just as much intensity, with both teams giving it a really good go. City thought they had the opening goal early on, but Nicky Maynard's effort was ruled offside. At the other end, Danny Fox smashed his volley just wide of the post. Saints continued to pressure, with Guly drawing a decent save out of David James. Rickie Lambert then brilliantly broke free inside a crowded penalty area to fire a powerful volley straight at the keeper. They would come to rue those missed chances however, especially on 79 minutes when City's Stephen Pearson broke the deadlock. Neil Kilkenny picked up Frazer Richardson's sloppy clearance, before hitting a low drive from 25 yards. That shot was parried by Davis, as was Maynard's subsequent effort. Pearson made no mistake when the ball came back to him however, handing City a 1-0 lead. Saints threw everything forward in a desperate last ten minutes, but never really looked like scoring. They were far too predictable, against a well organised away side.
A very disappointing result in what was an entertaining game. Saints had more than enough chances to win it, but it just wasn't our day. No doubt Jose Fonte was a huge loss at the back. Before tonight, the club's last home defeat in the league came against Brentford last December, which also happened to be the last league game Fonte missed. It also didn't help that Lambert and co had absolutely no protection from the referee. Bristol City players were allowed to manhandle and hold the shirts of Saints attackers without being punished by Darren Deadman. City did do a decent job of marking Adam Lallana out of the game. Nigel Adkins may need to mix things up in terms of formation soon, because we've become a little too predictable. Teams have had plenty of success against us recently with a high pressing game, so a different approach may be needed. Still it's not all bad. Saints are still top, and in a much better position than most could have ever imagined at the start of the season. Roll on 2012.
Davis: 8. Made some crucial saves and also commanded his area superbly
Richardson: 6. Did well going forward, but his weak clearance led to Bristol City's goal.
Martin: 6. Not nearly as comfortable on the ball as Fonte, and never looked totally convincing.
Hooiveld: 8. A level above the rest of the defence tonight, didn't do a lot wrong, with some great sliding challenges.
Fox: 6. Passing from open play was pretty poor on the whole, although still some decent delivery from set pieces.
De Ridder: 7. Created some great opportunities, especially in the first half, running at defenders with his pace. Final ball was sometimes lacking, but full marks for effort
Scheiderlin: 8. Great box to box display. Swept everything up just in front of the back four with some decent tackles, but also got forward to good effect.
Cork: 8. Passing excellent as always, and got in a few sights on goal
Lallana: 6. A few good moments here and there, but on the whole, very quiet.
Guly: 8. Brought others into play with some good hold up play, and also created space with some good dribbling.
Lambert: 7. Was up against it tonight, with Bristol City defenders all over him, but still made a decent contribution, with a number of shots on goal.
Connolly: Looked lively in the final ten minutes
Hammond: Added a bit more energy to the midfield
Holmes: Put in one particularly excellent long ball after cutting inside on his left foot.