Saints recorded an overdue Premier League victory over West Brom at St Marys. The home side were on top for most of the game, but didn't create an awful lot until the introduction of Gaston Ramirez. The win gives Saints a seven point cushion over the team immediately below them in the table.
Saints were in control for the entire first half, without really troubling Baggies keeper Ben Foster too often. Mauricio Pochettino looked for a positive approach right from kick-off, with full-backs Nathaniel Clyne and Luke Shaw pushing even further up the pitch than normal. The home side dominated possession, but struggled to find enough space in the final third. Some of Saints' decision making in front of goal was poor. Pochettino's men were mostly limited to shots from range. Steven Davis and Jack Cork fired well wide. Rickie Lambert curled the ball straight at Foster, before Jay Rodriguez blasted a wayward effort well over the bar. West Brom had a few breaks on the counter, but otherwise didn't offer a lot as an attacking threat. Steven Reid's long range free-kick flew way over the bar. The visitors were happy to frustrate the home side, which made for a fairly unexciting half.
Saints did play with a bit more urgency after the break, and were unlucky not to be ahead on 51 minutes. Rodriguez robbed the ball from Youssouf Mulumbu just over the half-way, before driving forward with a clear run at goal. The forward pulled the trigger inside the box, but screwed his shot wide. Saints always had control of the tempo, with West Brom happy to sit back, but chances were few and far between.
On 62 minutes Jack Cork was replaced by Gaston Ramirez. This gave Saints the extra attacking impetus that they had previously been lacking. The Uruguayan looked bright from the outset, winning a free-kick shortly after coming on. Ramirez took it, but couldn't quite find a way past Foster. Just seconds later the same player was heavily involved in the Saints opener. Ramirez flicked the ball over from the right with his back to goal. It fell to Lallana in the centre of the box, who composed himself before slotting through the legs of Foster. It was a sublime assist from Ramirez. It's difficult to imagine anyone else on the pitch capable of such a masterful piece of skill.
West Brom were forced into a more positive approach after the goal, which did make for a slightly more open game. Both sides took it in turns to attack, but it was the Baggies who were probably a tiny bit more threatening towards the end. Artur Boruc was in the right place at the right time when Shane Long hooked the ball towards goal. The Polish keeper then did very well to tip a high ball around the post. There were a few nervy moments, but no further chances. Saints survived an edgy final 15 to secure all three points.
Not the best of games by any means, but great to get back to winning ways in the Premier League. We weren't quite on our game going forward until Ramirez came on, but we did have control of the ball for most of the match. The season might have been in danger of fizzling out had the poor run of form continued for much longer. We've averted the slide now, and have a very winnable run of fixtures coming up. With nearly all our injured players returning to fitness you would like to think that we will soon be back to our very best.
Attendance: 28,610 (1,621 West Brom fans)
Boruc: 7. Didn't have that much to do for most of the game, but two very important stops near the end. One mishit clearance a reminder of the other side of the Polish stopper's game
Clyne: 7. A tiny bit sloppy at times in the second half, but overall pretty good both going forward, and defensively
Fonte: 7. One wayward ball across goal in the first half could have proved costly, but otherwise didn't put a foot wrong. Let very little get past him
Lovren: 7. A pretty comfortable outing for one of this seasons star men
Shaw: 8. Pretty much everything about his game was good. Timing impeccable. Made some excellent runs down the wing
Cork: 7. Muscled off the ball once, but otherwise always in control. Protected the back four very well
Schneiderlin: 7. Made some important tackles, and generally had the edge over his opponents for most of the game
Davis: 6. Had his ups and downs. Played a couple of dangerous through balls that didn't quite come off
Lallana: 8. Gave West Brom trouble all afternoon with his quick feet before eventually settling the game
Rodriguez: 5. Aside from the great run just after half-time, a fairly frustrating afternoon
Lambert: 5. A few good bits of link-up play, but not enough of the things he tried really came off
Ramirez: 7. Changed the game, just as he did at Everton. Linked up particularly well with Lallana, not just for the goal
Ward-Prowse: Brought on to add a bit more of a defensive shield when West Brom were pressing towards the end
Guly: Nice to see him back