08/12/2012: Saints 1-0 Reading

Saints climbed up to 15th with a comfortable 1-0 win over Reading. The hosts were the better footballing side throughout and fully deserved to come away with all three points. Saints dominated in terms of possession and chances created, but for a while it looked as if it could be another frustrating afternoon.

Nigel Adkins made two changes to his starting eleven, with Kelvin Davis and Jay Rodriguez coming in for Paulo Gazzaniga and Gaston Ramirez. The home team lined-up in a 4-4-2, with both Rodriguez and Lambert taking it in turns to drop very deep. Going forward, Saints' shape was very flexible throughout. Adkins' men started the game very well, controlling possession with patient build-up play. Reading defended in numbers, but the home side were still able to get a number of efforts in on goal. Rodriguez and Morgan Schneiderlin fired just wide, while Royals keeper Adam Federici was also tested.

Reading came into the game a bit more mid-way through the first half, but failed to really test Davis in the Southampton goal. Jay Tabb scooped the ball over following a Jason Roberts cut-back. Tabb later made a fine bursting run through the middle, only to have his final effort stopped. Saints ended the first half strongly, with Jason Puncheon having a perfectly good goal ruled out. Adkins' men had a number of opportunities from set-pieces, with Maya Yoshida going close. The half did end on a slightly sour note, with Adam Lallana limping off with a knee injury. Saints got a bit lax in stoppage time, and were slow to react to a couple of Reading corners. The visitors hit the post in a nervy exchange.

Saints continued to pass the ball around well at the start of the second half, but Reading were proving very difficult to break down. The home side struggled to find space in a congested penalty area, until the 61 minute mark when the breakthrough finally arrived. Lambert and Nathaniel Clyne linked up brilliantly on the right-hand side, before the latter played a perfectly timed through ball into the path of Puncheon, who slotted into the corner of the net.

Reading never matched Saints in terms of quality of play, but did manage to muster up a few chances after the goal. Jobi McAnuff curled the ball just past the post, before Adam Le Fondre headed well wide from a Hal Robson Kanu cross. On 78 minutes Adkins brought on Guly Do Prado for Jay Rodriguez. This allowed Saints to regain control of the game. The home side never looked in danger of letting Reading back into it during the final 10 minutes. In fact, Saints could have easily added to their lead. Guly came close to scoring a screamer just after coming on, firing a powerful effort just over the bar from outside of the box. The Brazilian striker then tested Federici with a low shot inside the penalty area. Reading struggled to get the ball out of their half as the minutes ticked away.

Another solid performance and a very important win. Saints look like a real team at the moment, with everyone on the same page, pulling their weight. Huge credit must go to Adkins for the way he has rectified the defensive problems in recent weeks. The back four wasn't given enough protection at the start of the season, but looks a lot more comfortable now with the addition of Jack Cork, who acts as a second deep-lying midfielder alongside Morgan Schneiderlin. Jose Fonte and Maya Yoshida get better by the week, as does Luke Shaw, who is progressing faster than anyone could have expected. Going forward we created a fair few chances too. Lallana's injury is a blow, but it hasn't come at the worst time, with a two week gap between now and the next game. Not only did the win take us out of the bottom three, it also put us six points clear of second bottom Reading, and eight points clear of QPR, who are rooted to the foot of the table without a win. It's all looking extremely positive at the moment. A win against Sunderland on December 22nd would put us in a really good position going into a difficult run of fixtures.

Attendance: 29,331

Player Ratings:

Davis: 7. Good to have him back. Didn't have too much to do, but brought an air of calmness to proceedings

Clyne: 8. Barely put a foot wrong as you would expect. Set up the goal and flawless in defence

Fonte: 8. Distribution a bit wayward on occasions, but near perfect defensively.

Yoshida: 8. Barely gave Jason Roberts a sniff. Handled everything with calm and precision

Shaw: 8. Never let a player get beyond him, made a number of well-timed challenges

Schneiderlin: 8. Made a number of important interceptions as you would expect. Passing pretty decent throughout

Cork: 8. Usual Cork performance. Swept up everything in-front of the back-four and sprayed same great long passes across the pitch

Puncheon: 8. At the heart of most attacking moves. Another deserved goal, a real battling showing

Lallana: 7. Looked sharp before his injury. First touch top class

Lambert: 8. Often involved in a lot of dirty work further back, rather than in and around the box

Rodriguez: 7. One of his better displays, decent link-up play

Substitutes:

Ramirez: 7. Very clever on the ball as you would expect. Held it up well and drew a number of fouls

Guly: 7. Didn't put a foot wrong after coming on. Created a few good openings, unlucky not to score