Saints Crash at the Ricoh
The Ricoh Arena
Less-than-Subtle Coventry Dash Automatic Promotion Hopes
Southampton`s playoff status was thrown into real doubt for the first time since their mid-October after 'new manager syndrome` seemed to affect most performances at the Ricoh arena. Instead of relentlessly and clinically building on Saturday`s victory over Barnsley, Southampton last night capitulated to a 2-1 loss and perhaps more worryingly, put out what was probably their worst performance of the season. Coventry themselves were no better, but were arguably more effective. The punts sent forward time and time again caused Lundekvam and especially Pele more problems than they should have done and resulted in two goals.
The formbook suggested that Southampton would be able to pick up another three points, with Coventry suffering a humiliating 3-0 defeat at rivals Leicester at the weekend. The arrival of Iain Dowie was always going to give Coventry an extra incentive to perform, but in all honesty Southampton`s defeat had more to do with their own mindset than Coventry`s.
It took less than five minutes for Coventry to break through; Lundekvam was beaten to a dropkick from Marshall and Pele`s sluggish reaction to the flick-on allowed Adebola to give Dowie an ideal start to his reign at the Ricoh. It was a catalogue of errors from the Southampton defensive triangle of Davis, Lundekvam and Pele, each of whom should have prevented the goal. For this, the trio can certainly be held responsible, although there was far more to this abject performance than just the defending. Even so there was almost an immediate reply from the Saints as Jones beat Marshall to a looping Surman cross but his goalbound header lacked the power to beat Hawkins on the goal-line. Coventry were clearly lacking any confidence in defending set-plays and it was from one of these that Southampton equalised on twelve minutes. Viafara met Skacel`s corner but his header was cleared high in the air. Marshall looked favourite to claim as the ball game down but spilled under pressure from Saganowski who turned the ball in from close range.
Southampton failed to pressure Coventry into any more mistakes and a series of misplaced passes from Wright and Pele frustrated Burley who could see that his side were missing the opportunity to take the initiative and put themselves in command of the match. Kevin Kyle and Adebola continued to panic Lundekvam and Pele and it was once again a defensive lapse that gifted the home side a half-time lead. Doyle aimed a cross to the back-post but Davis` indecision left him in no-man`s-land when Kyle left Pele for dead to guide his header just beneath the crossbar. Neither side threatened as the half drew to a close until Jones` inspired run and shot caught a slight deflection and flew just wide.
Burley re-organised his beleaguered side at the interval, sending on Ostlund in place of Pele and the anonymous Skacel was replaced by Belmadi, as the Saints boss tried to inspire some creativity in the second period. Baird was moved to centre half and his combative style stemmed the tide from the Coventry forwards, who found it increasingly difficult to link up as Southampton improved and began to impose themselves on the game. Despite this it was the home side who almost extended their lead with Doyle`s free-kick deceiving Davis but only clipping the post on its way past. Bale was at last beginning to cause Coventry problems and after being unceremoniously scythed down on the run several times he finally made his way to the byline and flashed the ball across goal. Jones had drifted to the far post but couldn`t direct the ball home from two yards. Saganowski`s trickery eventually came off as he bore down on goal after good work from Surman but his shot from the narrow angle was held on the second attempt by Marshall with Jones lurking.
Coventry were now hanging onto their lead and Bale robbed Osbourne on the edge of his own box but his shot was again saved well by Marshall. It looked as though Southampton`s final chance had gone as the final twenty minutes passed by in frustrating fashion for the Saints support, with Belmadi, Wright and Saganowski all guilty of needlessly conceding possession for Coventry to relieve pressure. Four minutes of stoppage time were added but in the last of these Bale broke through again, stepping past four players to create the best opening of the match for the Saints but his right-footed shot wasn`t enough to beat a relieved Marshall.
It seems that Southampton have succeeded in playing themselves out of contention for a top two spot, bar an unprecedented run of form in the final twelve games. There is, though, reason to hold onto hope: neither Cardiff or Wolves look capable of maintaining promotion form for long enough to deny Southampton of a playoff place. But by the time Southampton get there, they need to have learned to take their chances when they come and to go into every game as if it means something. If they do that, then they might just stand a chance of reaching the promised land. We need to learn and learn quickly.