14/02/2012: West Ham 1-1 Saints

Saints held league leaders West Ham to a 1-1 draw at Upton Park last night. The game experienced a very frantic start, with both sides reacting to the electric atmosphere inside the ground. West Ham nearly had a 1st minute lead when Ricardo Vaz Te broke through on goal, but his low drive was brilliantly pushed round the post by Davis. The home side dominated the early stages, and overpowered Southampton. Nigel Adkins's men struggled to get a grip on the ball, and spent the first 20 minutes on the back foot. The pressure eventually paid off as West Ham were given a penalty after Billy Sharp brought down Mark Noble. In the resulting melee, Matthew Taylor was deservedly sent off for the Hammers for pushing Sharp in the face. Noble converted the spot kick to give Sam Allardyce's side the lead. Saints found plenty of gaps after the goal, due to their one man advantage. Robert Green made a string of superb saves to keep his side ahead before the break. Sharp really should have equalised when he followed up Adam Lallana's long range strike, but the former Doncaster man could only fire his effort straight at Green.

Saints completely dominated the second half, with the hosts sitting back very deep in defence. West Ham played very narrow, and allowed full backs Danny Fox and Frazer Richardson plenty of room down the flanks. For all the possession, Saints were unable to create many clear cut chances, with The Hammers compressing space in the middle of the pitch. The visitors continually got the ball into the box, but West Ham usually had enough bodies in there to clear away from danger. On 75 minutes Saints finally got the goal they had been waiting for. Danny Fox's free kick was headed down by Rickie Lambert, before Jos Hooiveld turned the ball in from close range. Saints pushed hard for a winner, but struggled to create anything worthwhile. There were a number of corners, which were all dealt with comfortably by Green. At the other end West Ham had a few opportunities to grab something on the break too. Debutant Nicky Maynard had a shot tipped over by Davis. In the end a draw was probably a fair result.

Despite controlling over half the match, Saints shouldn't be too disappointed with a draw against a very strong West Ham outfit. There's no doubt the red card played a huge role in the course of the game. West Ham were well on top early on, but Saints excellently exploited their one man advantage in the second half. Nigel Adkins's men would almost certainly not have enjoyed so much possession had it remained 11 vs. 11. There's no question Matt Taylor deserved his red card however. It was a good game of football, and both teams showed why they are worthy of their respective league positions. Barring any major injury crisis, both should be in the top two come the end of the season. Saints are looking strong in every department at the moment. The next two and a half months promise to be very exciting indeed.

Attendance: 32,875

Match Ratings:

Davis: 7. Kicking was slightly wayward at times, but still made some superb saves throughout the match.

Richardson: 8. Excellent going forward, often joined in attacks.

Fonte: 7. One error of judgement nearly lead to another West Ham goal in the second half, but otherwise very composed at the back.

Hooiveld: 8. An absolute giant in defence. Timing and decision making spot on for most of the night.

Fox: 6. Given acres of space on the left hand side, but didn't always exploit it. Crossing was hit and miss, but he did have a hand in the goal.

Guly: 6. Not really good or bad. Kept it simple and safe in possession, but didn't really create anything.

Cork: 7. The sending off allowed him a lot more room to spray good passes about.

Schneiderlin: 8. Set the tempo of the game in the second half, breaking up West Ham's play in front of the back four before starting off attacks.

Lallana: 8. Made a number of brilliant bursting runs forward through midfield

Lambert: 7. West Ham did well to keep him quiet for much of the night, but he was still there were it mattered in the build up to the goal

Sharp: 6. Involved in some good build up play, but should have done better in front of goal

Substitutes:

Puncheon: 7. Improved things with his direct running.

Connolly: Looked lively in the final few minutes.

Hammond: Didn't really have enough time to impose himself on the contest.