The old adage says there’s only two things in life you can guarantee: death and taxes. There should be a third point to add to that now: Albion never lose when backed by thousands of fans taking advantage of free travel!
The Baggies sold more than 3,000 tickets for the trip to St. Mary’s with around 40 coaches leaving The Hawthorns on the long journey south. Albion had been guilty of starting recent games slowly and only starting to play to their potential after the break. The travelling army hoped the players would finally put on a performance for 90 minutes instead of the just 45.
Steve Clarke made three changes to the side which drew 1-1 against Newcastle and stuck with the 4-3-3 formation which ended that game. Steven Reid, Liam Ridgewell and Shane Long came in for the injured Billy Jones, Goran Popov and Chris Brunt. Despite being away from home, Fortune, Long and Lukaku were selected up front.
The attacking mentality by Clarke worked well. Morrison and Dorrans played in advanced roles with the ever dependable Yacob sitting in front of the back four. Albion should’ve been ahead within the first few minutes when Lukaku ran on to Reid’s long ball. Saints keeper Boruc made a smart save low with his feet. But the visiting fans didn’t have long to wait to celebrate a goal.
Graham Dorrans drilled the corner to the back post. Gareth McAuley headed the ball towards goal, Lukaku flicked on and Fortune managed to bundle the ball over the line. Initially the travelling fans at the other end of the ground didn’t realise a goal had been given. It was only when the Albion players ran off to congratulate Fortune that the visiting fans began to celebrate.
There should’ve been more reason to celebrate in the 20th minute. Dorrans cleverly flicked the ball forward to Morrison, who then flicked the ball forward to Long. The Irish forward found the on rushing Dorrans who fed Lukaku down the right. But Boruc made an almost identical save to deny the on loan forward.
Southampton have been strong at home this season. But Foster was only called into one save in the first half – when right back Clyne found space but fired straight at the England man who palmed the ball over the bar.
Back came Albion with more flowing football. Long flicked on Foster’s goalkick to Dorrans. He headed back to Long who found Lukaku in the area with a first time ball. But again Boruc denied the striker after his right foot volley.
Albion, to my surprise, were on top in every department. The challenge now was to maintain that level of performance for another 45 minutes. The Saints brought on Ramirez in an attempt to change the game in the second half.
After the break
The second 45 minutes began slowly with the hosts trying to find a way past a well drilled Albion back line. Clyne again came closest for the Saints when he fired goalwards from an acute angle. Foster did well to deflect the ball away for a throw in.
Saints had more of the ball and pushed more men forward. This saw the Baggies able to counter attack with pace through the three-man forward line. Lukuka controlled a clearance and the ball found Reid at right back. He played a smart ball forward to Fortune who spun his man and played an excellent through pass to Lukaku. This time he wasn’t going to miss as he sprinted towards Boruc. He took the ball around the goalkeeper and calmly passed the ball into the net. The visiting fans went wild in celebration.
The goal knocked any sort of momentum out of Southampton they’d built after the break. Frustration grew in the stands and on the pitch. Long gave the ball away to Ramirez and he chased down his error. As he sprinted back the winger threw out an elbow which caught Long in the face. Referee Madley – in his first Premier League game – reached for his back pocket and dismissed the substitute. Seconds later Fortune was shown the same card for his involvement in the mêlée that escalated.
The sending off affected the Saints more than it did Albion. Clarke decided to go with a 4-3-2 formation which allowed Albion to continue playing on the counter. A third almost followed when Lukaku burst down the right and pulled the goal back for Morrison. But the Scot was denied by a last minute tackle.
A third goal for Albion did come in the 77th minute when Long ran on to Lukaku’s through ball and fired under Boruc. The goal meant it really was party time for Albion’s following faithful. If a three goal advantage away from home wasn’t enough, news coming through that Wolves were losing and facing relegation certainly was! The famous ‘Sandwell wave’ made an appearance but didn’t get any further than the barrier separating the home and away fans.
Southampton were reduced to nine men late on as Fox dived into Reid with a two-footed challenge. Again, from the other end of the field, it looked a strange decision. But replays showed the deputising official got all three dismissals correct.
Albion fans have been questioning when the Baggies are going to play to their potential for a full ninety minutes, instead of for a frustrating half of football. The Baggies started with intensity and fluidity yesterday and continued that for the full 90 minutes. We played some excellent interchanging football in the first half then soaked up the pressure after the break and hit Southampton on the counter attack.
McAuley was excellent as always at the back. Dorrans played well linking midfield and attack and Long and Lukaku caused the Saints’ defence problems all afternoon. Clarke may have stumbled across the 4-3-3 formation due to injuries and suspensions but it gives us another attacking option. Fortune, Lukaku and Long linked together nicely and pressed the hosts high up the pitch.
The only downside was the dismissal of Fortune. His red card means that we’ll have probably seen the last of the forward in an Albion shirt. He’s unlikely to be offered a new deal after his contract expires at the end of the season and will now sit out of the rest of the season suspended.
However, despite his dismissal, the Baggies fans headed back to the Midlands celebrating the resounding victory and the news coming from Staffordshire!
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