18/02/2012: Saints 4-0 Derby

Saints returned to the top of the Championship today following a thumping 4-0 at St Marys. The home side were in complete control for most of the 90 against a lacklustre Derby outfit. The first 15 minutes were played at a fairly slow tempo, with both sides misplacing passes due to the adverse weather conditions. Saints had much the better of the possession however, and played as well as they possibly could on a difficult surface. On 15 minutes Nigel Adkins's men had the lead when Jos Hooiveld bundled the ball in from a corner. From that point on Saints grew in confidence, and gradually started to play with a bit more flare. Derby sat with two banks of four, but the hosts still managed to find plenty of gaps to create decent openings. On 24 minutes Adam Lallana twisted and turned with his back to goal, before curling a shot just round the post. Just before the break Rickie Lambert had a free kick brilliantly tipped over the bar by Rams keeper Frankie Fielding. At the other end Derby posed little threat going forward, with Nathan Tyson looking isolated on his own up front. The few efforts they did have on goal mostly came from set pieces. Kelvin Davis did well to save a fierce low drive from Jamie Ward.

Derby made a reasonable start to the second half, but any hopes they had of a comeback were effectively dashed on 57 minutes when substitute Aaron Martin smashed the ball home from a corner to make it 2-0. Saints seized control from this moment, and never looked in any danger of letting their opponents get back in it. The home side dominated possession, and had a deserved third goal on 65 minutes. Danny Fox made a brilliant run down the left flank, beating a few players before cutting inside and crossing for Lallana, who volleyed in from close range. Saints pushed hard for more goals, and eventually got a 4th when Tadanari Lee brilliantly angled a shot into the top left hand corner. It was one of the goals on the season, fully deserved after such an enthusiastic second half showing. The final 15 minutes petered out without much incident. Derby had a few long range efforts, but never really tested Davis.

Saints were completely worthy of their 4-0 win today. Nigel Adkins's men were well and truly back to their best, with big performances from the likes of Adam Lallana, Morgan Schneiderlin and Rickie Lambert. The team is now playing as well as they have done all season. With Richard Chaplow coming back in and Lee making a great impact from the bench, Adkins now has options that he didn't have earlier in the season. Saints were not adversely affected in the slightest by the two changes at half time (Although I think it goes without saying Jos Hooiveld will be needed back ASAP). Today was a wonderful display of football. Hopefully there is plenty more of it to come in the upcoming weeks.

Attendance: 24,536 (1,057 Derby fans)

Match Ratings:

Davis: 7. Had little to do for most of the afternoon, but did make one particularly brilliant save just before half time.

Harding: 6. Looked slightly sloppy on the ball, but fairly solid defensively.

Fonte: 7. Dealt with everything Derby threw at him very comfortably

Hooiveld: 7. Flawless at the back and another goal before he was forced off injured.

Fox: 8. Excellent going forward, provided assists for the first three goals. Did particularly well in setting up Lallana.

Chaplow: 6. Misplaced a few passes, but worked very hard up and down the line. Looked a lot sharper than he had previously against Millwall.

Cork: 7. Kept things ticking in midfield with a decent range of passing

Schneiderlin: 8. A class act as always. Broke up everything in front of the back four. Great tackling and interceptions.

Lallana: 8. A bundle of energy all game. Skill opened up plenty of space, causing Derby all sorts of problems.

Sharp: 5. A pretty quiet half. Didn't really get into dangerous positions, but looked ok on the ball on the rare occasions he did get it

Lambert: 8. No goals, but some excellent build up play.

Substitutes:

Martin: 7. A goal and a very good defensive display. Made one excellently timed sliding challenge.

Lee: 7. Formed a great second half partnership with Lambert. Great movement and technique. Wrapped up a good display with a fabulous goal.

Puncheon: 6. Looked comfortable on the ball.