18/04/2015: Stoke 2-1 Saints
Saints' disappointing recent away form continued at The Britannia Stadium with a defeat to Stoke. The game was fairly evenly matched. Saints played ok, but eventually came up short against a more ruthless home side.
Ronald Koeman put Toby Alderweireld in the holding midfield role in the absence of the suspended Victor Wanyama. Dusan Tadic came in on the left, with Sadio Mane starting up front just behind Graziano Pelle. Nathaniel Clyne was restored to the starting line-up too.
The first 15 minutes were fairly evenly-matched. Both sides competed well in the middle of the park without really penetrating going forward. Stoke had a couple of half-chances during this time, using their physicality to good effect. Jose Fonte and Steven Davis were nudged off the ball, but weren't made to pay.
On 17 Pelle fired into the side netting at the near post following good work from Mane. 5 minutes later Saints were ahead. Fonte headed towards the back post from a corner. The ball looked to be heading in, but Morgan Schneiderlin was there to add the final touch just to make sure. Immediately after the goal Marko Arnautovic's free-kick went just over the bar.
Saints enjoyed greater control of the game once they were ahead. The visitors were content to maintain possession and wait patiently for opportunities to arrive. On 31 Pelle shot tamely at Begovic following a good counter. Clyne then skied over the bar from Mane's through ball. Stoke almost got back into it just before half-time, only for Steven N'Zonzi to miss an absolute sitter from a free-kick.
N'Zonzi didn't have to wait long to atone for that miss. His 47th minute shot came back off the crossbar. Kelvin Davis appeared to misjudge the flight of the ball. The Saints keeper thought it was heading over, and could do nothing to stop Mame Diouf blasting in on the rebound.
Saints struggled to regain their composure after the equaliser. On 55 Schneiderlin flicked the ball on from a corner, but nobody was there on the end to follow up. Similarly, Bertrand's fizzing cross evaded everyone. Saints' best chance to regain the lead came on 63. Mane beat Asmir Begovic to the ball on the right. Tadic then picked it up in the box, but saw his effort cleared off the line. It would have been very reminiscent of his strike at Old Trafford had it gone in.
The game petered out a bit during the last 25 minutes or so. Substitute James Ward-Prowse put in a few tricky set-pieces, but Stoke stood firm. A bore draw looked the most likely outcome until the 84th minute. Arnautovic had a shot blocked in the area, before Charlie Adam fired a low shot through a block of players and into the back of the net. Saints threw caution to the wind during the last few minutes by bringing on Shane Long and Eljero Elia. Koeman's side were running on empty by that point, however. They created nothing. With so many attacking players on the field Saints inevitably left gaps at the back. A Maya Yoshida slip nearly let Stoke in for a third in stoppage time. To make matters worse Alderweireld was stretchered off, leaving Saints playing with 10 men for the last couple of minutes of stoppage time.
Saints were slightly unfortunate to lose. Koeman's side put in a reasonable effort, but were undone by a couple of defensive errors, and ran out of steam towards the end. As noted in last week's report, the long season looks to be having an effect on the team. A number of players look burnt-out. Saints are in with a great shout of qualifying for the Europa League, but the excitement has been tempered slightly recently. Hopefully the team can pull one or two big performances out between now and 24th May to end the season on a high.
K Davis: 5. Caught by surprise for the first Stoke goal. Didn't have too many saves to make
Clyne: 7. Competed aggressively in the tackle until his booking. Made some decent runs down the right flank
Fonte: 7. Threw himself in the way of danger and made some good sliding tackles
Yoshida: 6. A few slack pieces of play, but generally well positioned
Bertrand: 7. Calmness personified once again. Stood up well at the back and put in some good crosses at the other end
Alderweireld: 7. Looked good at both ends of the pitch. Won plenty of duels and showed skill on the ball. Nasty looking injury a worry
Schneiderlin: 7. Made a slightly slow start, but very strong after the goal. Spread the ball about well and provided cover for the defence
S Davis: 5. Hesitant on the ball at times. Kind of just there
Tadic: 6. A bit isolated on the left. Involved in a few good attacking moves
Mane: 7. Tracked back well, putting in plenty of good defensive work. Created some openings at the other end too with some sharp passing. Less effective later in the game
Pelle: 6. Offered a presence up front on occasions, with some decent lay-offs
Ward-Prowse: 6. Made a bit of a difference, passing the ball about well
Long: Didn't do too much
Elia: A few decent touches, but didn't really have time to contribute in the final third
Stoke - Diouf (47) Adam (84)
Saints - Schneiderlin (22)
Attendance - 26,467 (1,830 Saints fans)
Referee - Mark Clattenburg
Stoke: Begovic, Cameron, Shawcross, Wollscheid, Pieters, Whelan (Sidwell 76), N'Zonzi, Walters, Ireland (Adam 46), Arnautovic, Diouf (Crouch 76)
Subs not used: Butland, Bardsley, Wilson, Teixeira
Saints: K Davis, Clyne, Fonte, Yoshida, Bertrand (Long 86), Alderweireld, Schneiderlin, S Davis (Elia 86), Tadic (Ward-Prowse 67), Mane, Pelle
Subs not used: Gazzaniga, Gardos, Targett, Reed