Saints and Stoke played out another draw in what was a rather dreary encounter. The weather played its part, as it did in the reverse fixture at The Britannia Stadium, with both sides offering very little in the way of entertainment. Neither outfit managed a shot on target in the second-half, which pretty much summed up the whole game.
Stoke were predictably direct on the ball, and were happy to soak up pressure, sit back and wait for an opening on the counter. Mark Hughes' men were happy to waste time and slow the play down, but were forced to alter their approach slightly when Saints took a 6th minute lead. The home side had been awarded a free-kick just outside the area on the left-hand side. Rickie Lambert curled the ball into the top corner off of the post.
Saints were very much on top following that opener. The chances weren't exactly flowing, but the home side still controlled most of the play. Stoke looked to get it forward quickly. The away side did possess some skill on the flanks in the form of Oussama Assaidi and Peter Odemwingie, with Peter Crouch and Jon Walters providing the physical threat in the box. They had a couple of corners before Saints came close to a second when Nathaniel Clyne broke free in the box on the left and fired straight at Begovic.
Stoke's leveller came very much against the run of play. A neat ball through the centre of the pitch evaded the attention of Luke Shaw before falling to Odemwingie, who calmly finished past the onrushing Boruc from just outside the area. Saints hit back almost immediately on 41, with a slightly fortuitous goal. Steven Davis turned his body on the right-hand side before floating a ball into the box. Lambert was blocked off by Ryan Shawcross, with Asmir Begovic hesitantly waiting for a touch which never arrived. The Bosnian keeper misjudged the flight of the ball, with Davis' cross going straight in. Three minutes later it was Boruc's turn to even things up at the other end. The Polish keeper attempted to punch the ball away, but was beaten to it by Crouch, who nodded just over the line following a corner.
Stoke showed practically no attacking ambition in the second-half, but defended resolutely. They challenged Saints to break them down, but the hosts just couldn't do it. Mauricio Pochettino's men were unsuccessful in trying to play their way through the middle with intricate passing. The movement was far too static. The longer the half went on, the more likely it looked as if Saints weren't going to score. Morgan Schneiderlin had what was probably the only real chance, hitting the side netting towards the end. Saints did try and mix things up slightly during the final quarter, launching some deep crosses into the box, but Stoke coped with the threat with ease. The game had really fizzled out by the end. The visiting players certainly looked a lot happier at the final whistle than their opponents.
A game to forget for Saints. There were a few moments of quality in the first-half, but overall Stoke had it far too easy. Saints just didn't do enough in the final third against a very well organised opponent who really took the sting out of the game. We defended pretty well as a unit, but switched off twice, which proved costly. So much of Saints' recent attacking success has come from the speed in which we break on the counter, but with Stoke sat deep for virtually the entire 2nd half, a different approach was required, but never quite materialised. It's not the first time we have struggled against teams who play like Stoke did on this occasion. Gaston Ramirez had been providing that added guile from the bench just prior to his injury. Hopefully he'll be able to continue from where he left off once he returns, but in the meantime, Saints could perhaps do with a bit more variety going forward.
Boruc: 5. Made to look foolish against Stoke once again with the second goal. Didn't have a lot to do apart from picking the ball out of the net twice
Clyne: 6. Played very advanced for most of the match. Did reasonably well, but didn't really penetrate Stoke's defence. Generally good defensively, but could have offered a bit more going forward
Fonte: 6. A few minor misjudgements, but did ok overall
Yoshida: 7. Usually made the right decisions at the back. Starting to approach the level he was at last season now that he's been given a proper run of games
Shaw: 7. Caught out a bit for the first Stoke goal, but overall pretty good from a defensive point of view. Technique superb, but like Clyne on the opposite flank, he could have done more in the attacking third
Cork: 7. Stood up pretty well to Stoke's physical threat. Read the game well as usual. Didn't let too much get past him
Schneiderlin: 7. Linked the play pretty well. Some impressive tackles too
Davis: 7. Got a bit lucky with the goal, but overall another good display
Lallana: 6. Showcased some great skill as usual, but was very tightly marked throughout. Lacked that killer final touch
Lambert: 7. A great goal and another solid performance. Spent much of the game dropping back very deep. Displayed a good range of passing
Rodriguez: 6. A few good runs and a great first touch, but didn't quite do enough to open up Stoke's back line
Chambers: Pumped a few long balls into the box as Saints looked to take a more direct approach during the final 10 minutes