Saints secured their second consecutive win in the U21 Elite Group, with a comfortable 2-0 besting of West Brom. It was a fairly good performance from Martin Hunter's outfit, on a difficult surface.
The game experienced a fast and furious start. Both sides had good early chances, with West Brom firing over inside two minutes. James Ward-Prowse - who had travelled with the first team to Newcastle the previous day - then came close for Saints. After that early burst of excitment, the game entered a bit of a lull until about half way into the first half. Andy Robinson's free kick resulted in a goal mouth scramble, with the ball eventually deflecting over the bar. Robinson was making a long awaited return to the side, having not featured at any level since his cameo for the first team against Sheffield Wednesday in September. Many feared the worst when he had to receive treatment early on, but fortunately he recovered, and managed to play over an hour.
Saints' most threatening player in the first half was Alberto Seidi. The Portuguese U21 international was a bag of tricks down the right flank. He created a few openings out of nothing. Seidi's 25th minute downward header was well saved by the West Brom keeper. The Baggies did have their moments throughout the game, but Saints were far too strong both collectively and individually at the back. The home side took a deserved lead just before the break. Seidi was involved again, brilliantly crossing for Rowe to tap in from close range.
Saints were in complete control for the first 15 minutes of the second half. Ward-Prowse came close to scoring a screamer, with his long range strike bending just past the post. West Brom did come into it a bit more as the game wore on, but Paulo Gazzaniga was equal to everything they threw at him. Gazzaniga has looked impressive recently and may well still have a future with the first team. Saints still looked dangerous on the counter attack, and eventually wrapped things up on 83 minutes, with Jake Sinclair putting the game beyond West Brom's reach.
A reasonably entertaining game and another decent three points for Hunter's charges. Saints have often included a number of over-aged players in these fixtures this season, but this was a true U21 side. It shows there's plenty of depth within the youth ranks. On the night that Gareth Bale put in another world-class showing for Tottenham, the academy is still as important as ever. Plenty of the players won't make it with us, but a couple probably will. More and more should filter out to the lower end of the Football League than before, which is an achievement in itself.
Gazzaniga: 7. Very commanding throughout. Constantly talking to his back four
Chambers: 7. Looks just as accomplished at right back as he does in midfield
Stephens: 8. Has looked really impressive in recent weeks. A proper leader in defence
Turnbull: 7. Distribution occasionally let him down, but defensively sound
Targett: 7. Timing at the back largely spot on
Robinson: 7. Tidy comeback performance
Ward-Prowse: 8. Range of passing was first class as you would expect
Moore: 6. Surface not really conducive to his style. Did a lot of the ugly part of the game well
Seidi: 8. Very lively, particularly in the first half. Blessed with great technique, which could take him far if harnessed correctly
Sinclair: 6. Not entirely suited to the lone-striker role. Had a frustrating evening prior to the goal
Rowe: 7. Didn't always make the correct decisions, but his dribbling ability is there for all to see
Curtis: 6. Had a role in the second goal
McQueen: 6. A return to the U21 setup following an impressive run of form with the U18's
Morgan Schneiderlin signs a new deal
The win for the U21's was made all the sweeter by the news that Morgan Schneiderlin had signed a new contract. His previous deal was due to expire in 2014, but his new contract will run until 2017. If Schneiderlin stays with the club for the duration of that period then he will have been with Saints for nine years. You only have to look at the stats this season to realise how valuable he's been. Schneiderlin has made more tackles and interceptions than anyone else in Europe. Rickie Lambert's goals are vital, and Adam Lallana's creativity is crucial, but nobody is more important than Schneiderlin in my opinion. Rupert Lowe didn't make too many popular decisions during his ill-fated 2008/09 tenure, but credit where it's due for pulling off one of the deals of the century. The exact figure of Schneiderlin's initial transfer fee has never been publicly disclosed, but it can't have been a hell of a lot, given the precarious financial situation we were in at the time. I've been a fan ever since I first saw him step on to the St Marys pitch at Claus Lundekvam's testimonial in 2008, but he has had his critics in the intervening years. Those dissenting voices have slowly died out over time, however. Now that Schneiderlin has started scoring, he really is the total package. As I've said many times before, I truly believe that he could have his pick of any Premier League club if he really wanted to. Schneiderlin deserves great credit for his loyalty. He will surely soon become a Saints legend, if he isn't already.