21/03/2015: Saints 2-0 Burnley
Saints made it 7 points from 9 with a relatively comfortable win over Burnley. The home side just about edged it in the first-half, and were well on top in second. Saints remain in 6th place with 8 games to go.
Ronald Koeman made a few alterations to the initial setup, with Morgan Schneiderlin starting as the lone holding player. Steven Davis, Dusan Tadic and Sadio Mane lined up in behind the front two of Shane Long and Graziano Pelle.
The game took a while to get going. Unlike other recent visitors to St Mary's, Burnley refused to sit back. The visitors were functional going forward. Saints played out from the back, but the delivery in the final third early on was mostly disappointing.
The game was held up for several minutes when Fraser Forster sustained a nasty looking knee injury. His replacement Kelvin Davis was called into action fairly soon after coming on. Sam Vokes had a good effort stopped on 23. From the resulting corner Burnley had another shot blocked.
Saints made tentative strides going forward in the final third. Pelle had half a chance from a Mane cross. A few more followed before Shane Long opened the scoring on 37. Tadic got things going when he crossed in from the left. The ball was then cleared out to Nathaniel Clyne, whose shot deflected through the legs of Pelle and into the path of Long, who side-footed the ball in from close range.
Saints were galvanised after that goal. Pelle hit the bar on 42, before Burnley went straight down the other end. Davis did very well to stop Danny Ings. Saints nearly made it 2-0 when Steven Davis played in Clyne outside the area with an inventive corner. His shot trickled just wide via a deflection. Davis then had his header tipped over by Tom Heaton. Kelvin Davis made an equally impressive stop at the other end a few moments later.
Burnley's attack was stymied in the 2nd half when Victor Wanyama slotted into the centre of the park in place of Dusan Tadic. Saints looked more fluid going forward, with players rotating positons to good effect. Davis hit the side netting from a tight angle on 47. On 53 Long's well struck half-volley went just wide of the post. Saints' second goal arrived five minutes later. Bertrand combined well with Davis on the left before fizzing the ball across goal. The unfortunate Jason Shackell stuck his knee out, putting through his own net.
Saints played keep-ball as Burnley ran out of steam going forward. Pelle had a couple of opportunities. He headed straight at Heaton from Mane's cross, and came agonisingly close to getting on the end of Long's dangerous pass. Saints were occasionally a bit sloppy in possession and eased off slightly during the last 15 minutes. Burnley didn't have the quality to punish the home side, however. Saints cruised to victory on Koeman's 52nd birthday.
Just when you think the season is going to slip away, Saints hit back with an impressive run of form. Koeman managed to arrest the slide before Christmas by mixing things up and he's done the same again now. His willingness and ability to adapt has certainly given the team an added edge. None of the other European challengers seem to be letting up, so it'll still be difficult for Saints to crack the Champions League spots, but whatever happens from here on in, it'll go down as an incredible season. Saints need just four more points to better their highest points total for a Premier League campaign (set last year) and are almost certain to finish at least 7th.
Forster: Not involved before his early injury
Clyne: 7. Another good showing. Always a threat on the right
Fonte: 7. Looked fairly comfortable for the most part
Alderweireld: 7. Made one particularly important tackle in the first-half with the game at 0-0. Passing a bit up and down, but excellent in bringing the ball out from the back
Bertrand: 8. Showed his skill on the ball, making a number of positive runs down the flank
Schneiderlin: 8. On top of his game once again. Cleaned up everything in front of the back four. Briefly dropped off at the start of the 2nd half, but soon started bossing things again
S Davis: 7. Thrived in a more advanced position. Involved in many of Saints' best attacking moves
Tadic: 6. Some good wing play. Contributed to the first goal
Mane: 8. Adapted well to the deeper role, roaming around the pitch. Crossing very good
Long: 8. A real menace in and outside of the penalty area. Rescued a few lost causes with his willing running and some intelligent movement
Pelle: 6. Slowly getting better. Got into the right positions and a couple of near misses
K Davis: 8. First competitive appearance of the season. Made three outstanding first half saves. Nearly caught out on the ball by Danny Ings in the 2nd half, but otherwise decent
Wanyama: 7. Helped shore things up in midfield
Saints - Long (37) Shackell OG (58)
Attendance - 30,864
Referee - Roger East
Saints: Forster (K Davis 13), Clyne, Fonte, Alderweireld, Bertrand, Schneiderlin, S Davis, Tadic (Wanyama 46), Mane, Long, Pelle
Subs not used: Yoshida, Gardos, Ward-Prowse, Djuricic, Elia
Burnley: Heaton, Trippier, Duff, Shackell, Mee, Arfield, Jones, Boyd, Barnes (Wallace 82), Vokes (Jutkiewicz 74), Ings (Sordell 88)
Subs not used: Gilks, Keane, Reid, Kightly