Saints got back to winning ways today with a 2-0 pre-season beating of Wolves. The home side had the better of it for the majority of the contest and deserved their victory. Nigel Adkins made plenty of changes from the team that lost 1-0 to Ajax the previous week. Against the Dutch champions he named his strongest possible line up, but today some of the fringe players were given a chance. Morgan Schneiderlin, Luke Shaw and Rickie Lambert sat in the stands, with the likes of Billy Sharp, Dean Hammond and Richard Chaplow lining up from kick-off. Saints started with a 4-2-3-1 formation, with Hammond patrolling in a deep role just in front of the back four. Chaplow played just in front of him, with Adam Lallana occupying the space just behind lone striker Billy Sharp. Guly Do Prado played in an unfamiliar role on the left, with Jason Puncheon operating on the opposite flank. The visitors were also below strength, with new manager Stale Solbakken leaving out Jamie O'Hara and Matt Jarvis amongst others.
The quality of the game was a level below the Ajax match, with plenty of mistakes from both teams early on. The opening moments were very scrappy, with Wolves quick to close down and congest the midfield. The away side seemed oblivious to the fact it was a friendly at times, taking an overly physical approach to the game. Karl Henry and the usual suspects were predictably involved in some hefty challenges. Wolves had a great early chance when Sylvan Ebanks-Blake broke through the Saints defence, but he missed his one-on-one with Paulo Gazzaniga.
After a tricky first 15 minutes Saints gradually took control of the game. The hosts played patiently from the back, constantly switching the ball from right to left in an attempt to find gaps in the opposition's defence. Nathaniel Clyne provided plenty of threat with his pace down the right. On 16 minutes he had a shot tipped over by the keeper. Saints opened the scoring on 22 with a move of the highest quality. Puncheon cut in from the right before playing in Guly, who in turn, fed Lallana on the left of the penalty area. Lallana's low cross was finished comfortably by Sharp. Saints remained on top for the rest of the half, growing in confidence after the goal. On 35 minutes Sharp headed Chaplow's shot just over the bar. Guly, Lallana and Sharp were then involved in a superb bit of play on the edge of the area, which ultimately came to nothing. Guly had a chance to double the home side's advantage just before the break, only to have his low shot flicked wide of the post by Carl Ikeme.
Saints continued from where they had left off immediately after the restart, with Chaplow heading over from Sharp's cross. Saints looked slightly vulnerable to counter attacks on occasions, with David Davis missing a glorious chance from an incisive Wolves breakaway. They didn't have too many efforts on goal however, and never looked like getting back into it once Saints made it 2-0. It was Puncheon who found the back of the net with a powerful strike from just outside the area. Wolves gave no indication that they were about to mount a comeback, with the home side content to keep possession. A host of changes were made for both sides during the second half, with Steven Davis making his debut for Saints. Steve De Ridder hit the side netting not long after coming on, when he might have been better off crossing the ball. An 88th minute daisy cutter which went harmlessly wide summed up Wolves' day.
Overall a pleasing afternoon of football. Saints came up against a different type of opponent today and by and large coped well with everything. Wolves were physical, well organised and hard-working, but were no match for their south coast opponents. Saints are unlikely to line-up with the team they put out today next season, but a number of players did their cause no harm whatsoever. Puncheon continues to shine and is pushing hard for a starting spot at Manchester City. Hammond and Chaplow showed they still have plenty to offer, while Sharp staked his claim with yet another goal. It wasn't a perfect display by any means. As mentioned above, Saints were nearly caught out on the break a couple of times, and there were a few passes going astray every now and then. It's better to make these mistakes now than when it actually matters, though. I'm sure everyone will be a lot sharper when the big kick-off comes on August 19th.
Attendance: 3,978 (420 Wolves fans)
Gazzaniga: 7. Looked a lot more confident. Stood tall for the major Wolves chance early on, but otherwise wasn't really troubled much. Decent handling.
Clyne: 8. Another quality display. Created openings from nothing with his runs down the right. A class act.
Stephens: 6. Looked nervous at times, and struggled to match up physically to Ebanks-Blake. Did improve slightly as the game wore on
Hooiveld: 7. Had little to deal with for much of the contest, but made one absolutely crucial tackle in the second half to stop a clear goal-scoring chance.
Fox: 7. One of the unsung performers of pre-season. A couple of misplaced passes aside, another excellent showing, working the ball well down the left hand side
Hammond: 8. Protected the back four with a number of brilliantly timed challenges. Always looking to receive the ball.
Chaplow: 7. Tidy display with some decent challenges. Worked very hard as always.
Puncheon: 8. The best player on the pitch. A constant threat with his mazy runs, cutting in from the right.
Lallana: 7. Took a while to get involved, but was at the heart of most of Saints' attacking moves, especially in the first half.
Guly: 7. Started slowly, but involved in some decent link up play, particularly in the latter part of the first half.
Sharp: 8. A goal and a great all-round display. Held up the ball well and brought others into play.
Richardson: 6. Solid showing working the right flank
Fonte: 6. Didn't really have much to do
Davis: 6. Kept it simple in midfield. Showed some decent touches
Ward-Prowse: Didn't really have enough time to impose himself on the game
De Ridder (N/A) Rodriguez (N/A) Seaborne (N/A) Chambers (N/A)