Southampton Show Terrific Fighting Spirit Against Manchester City on Sunday
Coming to the Eastlands for a season opener is a taxing endeavor, as Swansea City found out all too clearly last August.
The Welsh outfit, newly promoted to the Premier League, showed some of their trademark attacking flair but would be undone by a star-powered deluge from the hosts, who rode the fine forms of Edin Dzeko, David Silva and Sergio Aguero (whose respective transfer fees rose to around £90 million) to a 4-0 thrashing.
After succumbing to the first City goals, Swansea couldn't regain a foothold in the match, and would be taught a severe lesson from the eventual league champions.
It's unlikely that particular fixture was swimming about Southampton manager Nigel Adkins' mind as he prepared his own newly promoted side for their opener at the Etihad, but what was soon apparent was that this Saints side—a trendy pick to go down at the end of this season—have every intention of playing Premiership football next term.
After withstanding a Manchester City onslaught during the first half—Southampton could count themselves very lucky for not going three down, and that's a conservative estimate—and going into the dressing rooms after 45 minutes just 1-0 down, Adkins' outfit embarked upon a thrilling second-half display that very nearly saw them grab an audacious three points.
Substitutes Rickie Lambert (59') and Steven Davis (68') scored goals that were carbon-copies of each other—curling drives past Joe Hart after each had seen the ball come to them in somewhat fortuitous fashion—and with little over 20 minutes left to play, Southampton were up 2-1.
Davis's goal was of particular interest. The midfielder had last played at the Etihad (before it was named so) while with Glasgow Rangers in the 2008 UEFA Cup final.
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Even after City fired back to a 3-2 lead by the 82nd minute, Southampton continued to pour forward, looking for another goal.
Lambert, scorer of 31 goals last term and a past top scorer at the three levels of English football directly beneath the Premiership, was particularly lively.
And were it not for a crucial block of Morgan Schneiderlin's volley from distance, or a slip from Jose Fonte at a crucial moment, they might well have gotten that third goal.
Captain Adam Lallana's performance stood out from the rest—the midfielder went the full 90 plus added time, running himself ragged while pushing his side in their quest for a positive result.
It was Lallana's interception of a poor pass from Jack Rodwell that had sparked the counterattack that led to Davis' goal, with Lallana dragging himself on a 50-yard run before playing a pass for the eventual goal scorer.
By the time the final whistle had gone, the captain's armband had slipped down his arm, and his jersey was soaked with perspiration.
It will be a tall order for the Saints this season, but if they continue to produce the sorts of displays seen Sunday, and continue to take chances when they arise (as was seen Sunday), they might just make it interesting.
There are things that need tinkering—poor clearances led to City's final two goals—but those will surely be addressed on the training ground.
What can't be taught is the spirit seen from those boys today. It was something quite remarkable, and altogether rare even at this level.
They should be applauded for that, and be comforted by the fact that that blend of character will serve them well.
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