17/08/2013: West Brom 0-1 Saints
Saints kicked off the 2013/14 season in impressive fashion with a 1-0 win at West Brom. Mauricio Pochettino's men dominated the game, but only made the breakthrough with a late penalty.
Saints lined up with a three man midfield, with James Ward-Prowse tucking in deep on the right to support Premier League debutant Calum Chambers. Morgan Schneiderlin started furthest left, with Victor Wanyama occupying the centre. All three were given licence to break forward when required, as were the full-backs Chambers and Luke Shaw. Adam Lallana and Jay Rodriguez played in behind Rickie Lambert. The away side were involved in some good patient build up play early on, forcing a series of corners. West Brom were nearly gifted a couple of openings through sloppy play at the back, but clear cut chances were rare. Saints were well organised, and rarely susceptible to counter attacks as we were against the Baggies last season. Our transitional play was excellent, with Saints oscillating between defence and attacking with ease. Wanyama was heavily involved in the first half, making a number of powerful runs through the middle. On 13 minutes Ward-Prowse tested Ben Foster with a swerving effort from range. Just after the half hour mark Saints had a goal chalked off for offside. Scorer Adam Lallana was definitely onside, but Jay Rodriguez wasn't. Rodriguez jumped for Rickie Lambert's flick on and was arguably interfering with play when the ball went it. The tempo slowed slightly towards the end of the half, with West Brom attempting to gain control. Luke Shaw had a half decent chance just before the break.
Saints really stepped up the pressing in the second half, aggressively pursuing the West Brom back line. Rodriguez was inches away on 52 minutes, smashing a perfectly struck half-volley against the crossbar. Seconds later West Brom could have had a goal of their own, with Shane Long flicking just past the post. The Baggies improved midway through the second-half, but the chances soon dried up for both sides. Pochettino attempted to mix things up slightly, with Lambert dropping deeper during the final 20 minutes. Substitute Gaston Ramirez was deployed through the middle, but was largely ineffective. The game looked to be heading for a 0-0 draw until Luke Shaw's late burst into the penalty area. The full-back made a number of successful runs throughout the game. In the 89th minute he was clipped by Youssouf Mulumbu for a clear penalty. Lambert stepped up and did what he does best, blasting into the bottom corner. There was still time for a late scare, with Billy Jones forcing a superb save from Artur Boruc deep into stoppage time.
A very satisfying afternoon of football. Saints fully deserved the three points, having outplayed their opponents for most of the match. The visitors looked strong in every department. Dejan Lovren added calmness to the defence, while Wanyama bossed the centre of the park. Chambers looked comfortable alongside fellow 18 year-olds Ward-Prowse and Shaw. All three have been with the club since the age of 8 or 9. Their development should be a huge source of pride for everyone. There probably isn't another side in the Premier League who would even consider starting with three 18 year olds. Obviously it's still incredibly early in the season, but things are looking very promising at the moment. We pulled off a rare away win, against a team we really struggled to get to grips with last season. If Saints can keep up that level of performance throughout the campaign then we could be in for a very exciting 2013/14. The level of character within the squad suggests that the high targets outlined in the summer may not be too farfetched. The addition of Italian international striker Pablo Osvaldo only pushes expectations higher.
Boruc: 7. Looked shaky early on, but more than made up for it with a superb last minute save
Chambers: 7. Stepped it up when it mattered. Looked at ease throughout at both ends of the pitch
Lovren: 8. Made two perfectly timed sliding tackles on Anelka and generally looked solid throughout
Fonte: 7. Made everything look easy. A very accomplished display
Shaw: 8. A constant threat with his overlapping runs. Persistence rewarded with a penalty
Ward-Prowse: 7. Awareness and movement excellent throughout. Strong defensively and going forward. Set pieces hit and miss
Schneiderlin: 7. Typically persistent and determined in winning back possession
Wanyama: 8. An absolute giant in the middle. When he had the ball it was near impossible for anyone else to get near it
Lallana: 7. Looked very lively. Unfortunate to see his goal ruled out
Rodriguez: 7. Worked so hard out wide, making life very difficult for the West Brom defence
Lambert: 7. Man of the moment delivered yet again. Some superb footwork in addition to the all-important winner
Ramirez: 5. A few decent flicks, but doesn't yet look quite up to speed
Davis: Not involved too much
Cork: Sent on in stoppage to waste a few more seconds
Saints - Lambert (pen 90)
Referee: Kevin Friend
West Brom: Foster, Jones, Ridgewell, McAuley, Olsson, Morrison, Dorrans, Mulumbu, Yacob, Long (Vydra, 83), Anelka (Rosenberg, 83)
Subs not used: Dawson, Brunt, Myhill, Popov, Berahino
Saints: Boruc, Chambers, Shaw, Lovren, Fonte, Ward-Prowse (Cork, 89), Schneiderlin, Wanyama, Lambert, Lallana (Ramirez, 70), Rodriguez (S Davis, 78)
Subs not used: : K Davis, Hooiveld, Mayuka, Clyne