Saints' losing run came to a halt today with a satisfying 1-1 draw with Manchester City. Many feared the worst prior to kick-off, with several big names missing. The home side stepped up to the plate however, and were well worthy of a point.
Saints were fairly tentative at the start, perhaps understandably so given what had happened in the Aston Villa game. Jack Cork was deployed very deep throughout, operating almost as an additional centre back when City had the ball. James Ward-Prowse and Steven Davis moved up and down the pitch as required, with Adam Lallana and Jay Rodriguez tucking in to defend the flanks when the visitors attacked.
Pochettino's men stood off their opponents in the early going and were fairly cautious when moving the ball about. City looked intense and confident during the first 20 minutes. Steven Davis shot wide on 5, but the visitors were mostly in control. City went ahead on 10 minutes. Aleksander Kolarov cut a low cross back from the left. The ball evaded several Saints players before falling to Sergio Aguero, who completed a simple finish. Manuel Pellegrini's men had a few chances to further stretch their lead, and for a few moments at least it looked as though Saints could be in for a long afternoon. Alvaro Negredo, Aguero and Sami Nasri had opportunities, but as the half wore on the home side came back into it.
Saints found a lot of joy down the flanks, with Calum Chambers and Luke Shaw pushing on to great effect. The movement from the midfield and attack was decent too. Cork had a low drive from distance on 29 minutes. A few tricky looking crosses came to nothing. Chambers then missed a header at the back post. City would occasionally threaten on the counter, but Saints were very much in the ascendency towards the end of the half. The equaliser arrived on 42 minutes thanks to a moment of pure genius. Dani Osvaldo picked up the ball just outside the penalty area slightly towards the left, surrounded by City players. He twisted Vincent Kompany to such an extent that the Belgian fell over. He then made space for himself against Pablo Zabaleta, before curling the ball over the fingertips of Costel Pantilimon and into the top corner of the net.
The crowd was boosted by that goal just before half time, and Saints responded with an energetic start to the second half. The pressing was upped, and the home side looked more likely to grab a winner than their opponents did. The best chance arrived on 52 minutes. Rodriguez embarked on a brilliant run into the box before being thwarted by Pantilimon. The ball came back to Osvaldo who blasted over the bar despite having a relatively clear sight on goal. Further chances arrived for Rodriguez and Davis. City looked dangerous in spells too, with Kolarov and Aguero smashing further efforts towards goal. Panic set in when it looked as if Dejan Lovren would need to be substituted, but the Croatian bravely fought on, and then nearly scored from a set piece, only to collide with teammate Jose Fonte. The chances seemed to dry up towards the end, with Saints tiring slightly. As well as the home side had played for most of the match, you got the feeling both teams were pleased with a share of the spoils when the referee blew for full-time.
Considering how many important players were missing, Saints can be very proud of this result. I said after the Sunderland game that complaints about our supposed lack of squad depth were overstated. Today proved that we do have players that can come in and do a good job. Jack Cork provided an invaluable service in his role just in front of the back four. Calum Chambers looked like he very much belonged too. Steven Davis and James Ward-Prowse are completely different players to Morgan Schneiderlin and Victor Wanyama, but they nevertheless plugged that gap in midfield well. Dani Osvaldo is clearly a star, who is getting better every game. Pochettino made mistakes against Chelsea and Aston Villa, but got it pretty much spot on this time out. Cork's positioning and tactical awareness was crucial in ensuring Gazzaniga wasn't exposed to many shots from City's talented attackers. The team looked a lot more balanced than they have done in recent weeks. It was important for Saints to stop the rot. The games don't get any easier in the coming weeks, but if we can take some of the principles from this fixture into future encounters then we could well pull off a few more surprises.
Attendance: 31,299 (2,541 Man City fans)
Gazzaniga: 6. Understandably nervy early on. Made one good save just after half-time, but otherwise wasn't tested too much
Chambers: 7. Filled the boots of Nathaniel Clyne very well. Looked more willing going forward than he has done previously and also solid at the back. Faded a tiny bit towards the end
Fonte: 6. Poor header led to the City goal, and there were a few other minor mishaps, but overall fairly solid
Lovren: 7. Playing through the pain barrier towards the end. Superb in the tackle as always
Shaw: 7. Rapid bursts down the left flank opened up the pitch, particularly in the first half
Cork: 8. Offered a great deal of protection to the back four, and also spread the ball out well
Ward-Prowse: 7. Energy was crucial, covered so much ground
Davis: 7. No goal against City this time, but technically excellent. Always in the right place at the right time and kept things moving even in congested areas
Lallana: 7. Drove the team on, and produced the usual creativity
Rodriguez: 7. Not everything he tried came off, but some fine individual skill made for some exciting moments
Osvaldo: 7. Quite probably as sharp as he has been all season. The goal was incredible. If you were being really harsh you could criticise him for missing a few second half chances, but overall you've got to be happy with his afternoon's work
Lambert: Not involved too much
Ramirez: One decent piece of play to work the ball to Rodriguez, but nothing else to note really
Reed: Nice to see him make his Premier League debut. Got clatter a couple of times, but had the confidence to turn an opponent down the right flank