Saints drew 1-1 with Liverpool in their 7th U21 Elite Group game. Martin Hunter's team we're tactically superb throughout, and slightly unfortunate not to pick up all three points against a very strong Liverpool side.
Saints gave a debut to Vegard Forren. The Norwegian central defender lined up alongside Jack Stephens at the heart of the defence. Liverpool named a very strong side too, with Jonjo Shelvey, Andre Wisdom and Suso all featuring. It was the ideal exposure for many of the Saints players. The game was played at St Marys, where entry was free. Over 1500 fans took up the opportunity to witness the future stars in action. The clash was also screened live on Liverpool TV, which is available at no extra cost to Sky and Virgin customers. It meant that quite a few of Hunter's men had more eyes on them than ever before.
The technique on show from both sides was fantastic throughout. Liverpool moved the ball about quickly, and created the first few major openings, but it was Saints who were on top for most of the opening 45. Alberto Seidi converted Omar Rowe's cross on 17 minutes, only to see his effort ruled out for offside. Calum Chambers then headed just wide from a corner. In a rare defensive lapse, Liverpool's Adam Morgan was put through one-on-one with Paulo Gazzaniga. The striker somehow contrived to miss when it looked easier to score. Saints' high line had been caught out in that instance, but was otherwise pretty solid for most of the night. Naturally most of the eyes were on Forren. It was a decent first outing for the former Molde man. He looked very assured on the ball, and read the game well. Perhaps the only negative was his lack of pace, which could potentially be exposed in Mauricio Pochettino's high-line system. Nevertheless, Forren does look a very capable player, who should be challenging for a spot in the first team sooner or later. He proved to be an asset at both ends of the pitch, opening the scoring with a fantastic volley from a Rowe corner. Forren made a couple of good forward runs with the ball, and nearly scored an even more spectacular volley before the break.
Hunter got the balance close to perfect on this occasion. Defensively we gave little away. Andy Robinson did an admirable job sitting just in front of the back four, with James Ward-Prowse and Corby Moore also providing plenty of dynamism through the middle. The pace of Seidi, Rowe and Jake Sinclair created plenty of problems for Liverpool on the counter. Saints were unlucky not to go further ahead during the second half. Substitute Sam McQueen had a goal disallowed for offside. Saints did most of the pressing, with Liverpool struggling to break down a well organised opponent. They did eventually find an equaliser however, albeit from a set piece. Shelvey floated in a free-kick on the right-hand side, with Krisztian Adorjan taking advantage of slack marking to head in. Liverpool perhaps just about edged it during the closing stages, but there would be no further goals.
A fairly good point, but an even better performance. Like so many games this season however, Saints probably deserved more. It was a worthy exercise for the lads, and the toughest game many of them will have faced in their short careers. Players like Matt Targett and Omar Rowe started the season playing for the U18's, but have since proven they are capable of holding their own against quality opposition. It was also a good run-out for Forren, who may well be selected in the first team squad for the trip to Norwich at the weekend.
Gazzaniga: 6. Didn't have an awful lot to do
Chambers: 7. Starting to make that right-back slot his own. Made one particularly brilliant sliding tackle in the first half
Stephens: 8. Another very assured display from the captain
Forren: 8. As mentioned above, looked strong at both ends of the pitch
Targett: 8. Barely put a foot wrong all night. Read the game very well defensively, but also made some good runs going forward
Robinson: 7. Solid but unspectacular job of protecting the back four. First 90 minutes for a long time
Moore: 8. Arguably his best ever display in a Saints shirt. Anticipation and timing first class throughout
Ward-Prowse: 8. A fine box to box display. Through ball with the outside of his foot in the second half was an incredible piece of play
Rowe: 8. Another good showing from the wide-man. Set-piece delivery excellent
Sinclair: 6. Didn't see too much of the ball. Caught offside a few times
Seidi: 6. Plenty of eye-catching skill, but not too much end product. Picked up a knock in the first half which hampered his game until he was eventually forced off
McQueen: 6. Second game in three days for the wide man
Ariyibi: Only on for a matter of seconds
Jason Puncheon signs a new deal.
Jason Puncheon has signed a new contract with Saints. Nine words I never thought I would say 15 months ago. It's been a remarkable turnaround for the former Barnet man. Puncheon fell out of favour back in autumn 2010, and spent just under 18 months in a bitter dispute with the club. He was initially loaned out to Millwall where he had highly successful seven game stint, scoring five goals. He then briefly returned to St Marys, before being shipped off to Premier League outfit Blackpool. Puncheon proved he had what it took to hang with the very best, putting in a number of accomplished displays for the Tangerines. He was heavily linked with a permanent move away from Southampton, but nobody could agree a fee. Instead he spent the summer of 2011 training with the club's second string. He joined newly promoted QPR for the first half of the 2011/12 campaign, but made just two appearances before resurfacing at Saints in January 2012. Puncheon's frustration then got the better of him. He lashed out at Chairman Nicola Cortese, and vowed to sit out the remainder of his 18 month contract. Incredibly the pair appeared to sort out their differences, with Puncheon being invited back into the first team fold a few days later. He made his comeback in an FA Cup tie at Millwall, and showed plenty of hunger and willingness to reintegrate himself. Puncheon's lack of match practise would eventually catch up with him however, and after a bright start, he would soon find himself on the side-lines again. Puncheon was still training with the first team during 2012/13 pre-season, but very few observers expected him to be at St Marys beyond his current deal. He would really have to go some to earn a new deal, and boy did he ever. Puncheon was Saints' most impressive player during pre-season, propelling himself into Nigel Adkins' starting eleven. He quickly won over the doubters, putting in tireless displays against the Manchester clubs in August. Puncheon then scored impressive goals against Stevenage and Aston Villa. He really couldn't have given much more. Even his harshest critics had to concede that Puncheon was doing the business. His workrate in the incredible 3-1 win over Manchester City last month typified his new attitude. Puncheon has gone from public enemy number one to fans favourite in a matter of 12 months. Credit to him and Cortese for putting their differences aside for the benefit of the club.