18/10/2011: Saints 1-0 West Ham

Saints opened up a five point lead at the top of the Championship with a deserved, but hard fought win over West Ham. Nigel Adkins made one change from the side that drew 1-1 at Derby on Saturday, dropping Jack Cork for Dean Hammond. Saints lined up in a 4-3-3 formation at kick off, with David Connolly playing through the middle, and Rickie Lambert and Guly Do Prado on either side. The home team were on top from the beginning, and looked to play a patient passing game in order to break a well organised West Ham side down. For all the possession though, the Hammers defence limited Southampton to just a few chances in the first half. Hammond had a couple of early opportunities from long range, while Connolly and Richard Chaplow also had efforts on goal. The Hammers showed the odd moment of quality here and there too. Kevin Nolan should have done better when he was found in plenty of space on the edge of the area, but he fired over the bar. It was Saints who broke the deadlock though, when Jos Hooiveld headed in from a Danny Fox corner just before half time.

Guly was employed in a deeper role after the break, leaving Connolly and Lambert up front. West Ham nearly levelled early into the second half when Fonte's mistake let the ball through to Sam Baldock, who missed his one on one with Kelvin Davis. With the visitors in search of a goal the contest became a lot more open, leading to chances for both teams. Connolly had a shot go agonisingly wide of the post, while Guly had a close range effort well saved by Manuel Almunia. The introduction of Mark Noble for the lumbering Papa Bouba Diop made a positive difference for West Ham. Adkins looked to tighten things up towards the end of the game, by bringing on Dan Harding and Jack Cork for Chaplow and Connolly. It was a nervy last few minutes, as West Ham launched high balls into the box in search of an equaliser. They nearly got it on 86 when Noble's cross was deflected past Davis on to the post. Saints were still a threat on the break however. Substitute Steve De Ridder thought he'd made it 2-0 in stoppage time, but the referee had blown up for a foul just outside the area before he slotted past Alumina. The visitors had one last effort in the dying seconds with a goal mouth scramble, but the ball was eventually recovered by Davis, and another three points were secured.

Yet another fantastic night of football at St Marys. Nigel Adkins got his team selection and tactics spot on as usual, and outfoxed his opposite number Sam Allardyce. The decision to drop Jack Cork raised a few eyebrows pre-match, but it proved to be an inspired decision. Saints won the midfield battle, and also limited West Ham's most threatening attacking players with good defensive work. For all their problems the Hammers still possess a very good squad full of Premiership experienced players. Last night was a big test for Southampton, and they passed it with flying colours. We did it without our best player Adam Lallana, and had arguably our second best player Jack Cork on the bench for most of the match. It's a great time to be a Saints fan right now and there's nothing to suggest the good times won't continue for the foreseeable future. The club is extremely healthy top to bottom at the moment, with Nicola Cortese and Adkins's great organisational skills paying dividends. Last night it felt like we were back in the Premier League already, with a sell out crowd and big match atmosphere. This team deserves top flight football, and if we carry on at this rate we'll be having games like this every week next season.

Attendance: 32,152 (3,168 West Ham fans)

Match Ratings:

Davis: 8. Made a number of great saves to keep West Ham out. Punching and catching also top notch

Richardson: 7. Didn't get forward quite as much as previous games, but did his job very well defensively

Fonte: 6. Slightly shaky at times, slip up early in the second half could have cost us

Hooiveld: 8. Fantastic all round display. Calm under pressure at the back and a good goal.

Fox: 8. Best performance in a Saints shirt to date. Great range of passing.

Hammond: 8. Sprayed the ball about well

Schneiderlin: 8. Set the tempo of the game. Passing and vision first class.

Chaplow: 8. Was everywhere. Defended very well with some great sliding tackles, and also got forward with much success.

Guly: 7. Passing and positional sense very good as always

Connolly: 7. Not everything he tried came off tonight, but still a hard working display and the usual good movement

Lambert: 7. Good hold up play and flick ons.

Substitutes:

Harding: 6. Added more defensive protection on the left hand side

Cork: Helped to limit space and keep possession in the closing minutes.

De Ridder: Caused lots of problems for the West Ham defence after coming on