29/12/2012: Stoke 3-3 Saints

Saints threw away a two goal lead in a thrilling 3-3 draw at Stoke. Saints were 3-1 up at half time, but tired late on. The result puts Nigel Adkins' men back in the drop-zone.

Adkins sprung a few surprises in his initial team selection. Nathaniel Clyne dropped out with an injury, with Maya Yoshida moving to right-back. Jos Hooiveld came into the starting eleven to partner Jose Fonte at centre-back. Jay Rodriguez took Steven Davis' place in the hole, while Guly Do Prado was preferred to Gaston Ramirez on the left.

Stoke were predictably direct and physical from the word go. From the very beginning it was an open game, with both sides creating chances. Saints regularly found gaps on the break. Prior to this fixture the home side had conceded just four goals at the Britannia, but their defence was breached after only nine minutes. Guly curled in a perfectly flighted cross to the back post, for Rickie Lambert to power in. Stoke concentrated most of their attacks down the flanks, and that was where the first goal came from. Ryan Shotton beat Luke Shaw on the right-hand side before fizzing in a low cross. Former Saint Kenwyne Jones flicked the ball with the back of his heel into the net.

Saints sought to match Stoke in their play, using a more direct approach than usual. The visitors showed plenty of ambition going forward, which has often been lacking in previous games. The second goal arrived on 24 minutes. Hooiveld started the move off with a long ball to Lambert. The Southampton number seven then had his strike turned on to the bar by Robert Huth. Jay Rodriguez was there to tap in the rebound. Saints continued to steam forward in search of more goals. It was 3-1 on 36. Lambert nodded a long ball down to Rodriguez in the box, only for Stoke's Andy Wilkinson to turn the ball into his own net. Saints expended so much energy in the first half, and more than matched Stoke in terms of intensity. The home side struggled for creativity before the referee blew for half-time.

Stoke cranked up the pressure in the second-half, but for all the set-pieces, Kelvin Davis wasn't troubled too often. Saints still looked dangerous on the break, and had a number of chances to wrap the game up. It was all very tense. Rodriguez nearly created a great opening for himself, rounding Asmir Begovic, before having his shot blocked. Guly really should have made it 4-1 when he received the ball with the goal gaping. The Brazilian had to react quickly when Begovic parried Rodriguez's effort, before blasting the ball over the bar. That was a real let-off for Stoke, who capitalised to make it 2-3 moments later. Saints had chances to clear the ball away from danger before Matthew Upson eventually found the net. The former England defender steered the ball through Davis' body following a corner. Saints then missed another glorious chance to wrap the game up. Rodriguez broke down the right, but selfishly chose to go alone when Morgan Schneiderlin was open in the middle of the box. Stoke had Steven N'Zonzi sent off for a vicious lunge on Jack Cork. Saints should have seized control of the game from that point, but the one man advantage was barely noticeable. Stoke continued to press. Saints were being penned back, defending deep and inviting pressure. It seemed as if the visitors were running out of steam. Having said that, Saints were still defending well enough to limit Stoke. It was going to take something special to find a way through, and fortunately for Stoke, Cameron Jerome stepped up and produced a piece of absolute magic. The substitute hit a perfectly struck half-volley from 35 yards, which went in off the post. There was nothing Davis or anyone else could do about this one. Jerome will probably never score a goal like that again in his life. Stoke looked the more likely during the seven minutes of stoppage time, with Davis pulling off a decent stop from Peter Crouch.

A game very low on quality, but high on excitement and drama. It was the type of match that epitomises everything it is to be a Saints fan. It's difficult to assess whether its two points dropped or one gained. On the one hand, most would have probably been happy with a point before-hand. There's no question Stoke probably deserved a share of the spoils on the balance of play too. On the other hand, it's never a good sign when you surrender a two goal lead, and we really should have had it wrapped up with the chances we created.

Adkins got his initial selection and tactics spot on. Replacing Guly with Gaston Ramirez was a brave call, but ultimately the right one. Guly's final ball was superb, but he also contributed a lot defensively. Would Ramirez have offered the same cover to Shaw? Highly unlikely. The four attacking players all brought something different to the table. We mentioned in the Fulham report how Saints were lacking something going forward, but that wasn't the case in this game. We had a number of different outlets to utilise. Guly could pick out his man; Puncheon was very direct in his running. Rodriguez could get in behind the defence with his movement, while Lambert was strong on the air and on the ground. Defensively we weren't perfect, but that was to be expected with a reshuffled back-four. Yoshida and Hooiveld did a reasonable job in their respective roles, but it goes without saying we would have probably been slightly better off had Clyne been fit. The young full-back was in attendance, and didn't seem to be suffering too much, so presumably his injury isn't too bad. If you were being ultra-critical, perhaps you could have questioned Adkins for not bringing on a third and final sub, with so many tired legs out there. Still, there's a very thin line between success and failure in this game. Had that last goal not gone in everyone would have been hailed a hero. Fans will complain about the team blowing the lead, but there was little anyone could have done about Jerome's hit, so it would be unfair to be too critical of the lads. Free-scoring Arsenal looks a very tough proposition up next. It's not completely inconceivable that we could get a result, but it will be tough. If the defence is organised and we created as many chances as we did against Stoke, then we'll have a chance.

Attendance: 26,391

Match Ratings:

Davis: 5. Should have done better for the second goal. Never looked completely comfortable against Stoke's direct play

Yoshida: 6. Looked more comfortable at full-back than he has done previously

Fonte: 6. Distribution not the best, but defensively sound

Hooiveld: 6. Lost his man for the first goal, but otherwise fairly solid

Shaw: 6. Struggled on occasions against Stoke's physical approach early on, but improved as the game wore on

Cork: 7. Usual Cork performance. Kept things ticking with intelligent footwork and movement

Schneiderlin: 7. A really energetic box-to-box display

Puncheon: 7. Looked dangerous, particularly when Saints attacked on the break

Rodriguez: 7. One of his best showings in a Saints shirt yet. Superb movement

Guly: 7. Provided a number of pin-point crosses from deep, including the one for the first goal. Also helped out defensively. Only negative was the second half sitter

Lambert: 7. Excellent link-up play and another goal

Substitutes:

Fox: Nothing really of note to say. Only surprise was that he wasn't brought on sooner

Richardson: Over-hit a cross ever so slightly towards the end of the game, which could have earned Saints a winner