Prior to Sunday's Premier League opener at the Etihad Stadium, if you asked Southampton fans if they would take a 3-2 defeat as a result, most would have gladly taken it and ran off before you changed your mind.
However, after Southampton held a 2-1 lead with 20 minutes to play, the Saints had to have been a bit disappointed to not take at least a point from their travels. Goals from Edin Dzeko in the 72nd minute and Samir Nasri in the 80th minute ensured that Manchester City took all three points.
The goals came off of some sloppy clearances by the Southampton defense. Dzeko's goal came when Morgan Schneiderlin headed a corner straight up the middle to Vincent Kompany. Kompany's shot hit Yaya Toure, who then luckily or deftly (depending on your point of view), raked the ball back to Dzeko, who had been left wide open when Guly Do Prado left him to pressure Toure. Dzeko had the goal at his mercy and slammed the ball home to tie the match at 2-2.
The match winner was also the result of a poor header. Danny Fox dealt poorly with a Gael Clichy cross. Fox's header, which went directly to the penalty spot instead of behind the goal line for a corner, turned out to be a perfect assist for Nasri. Nasri volleyed the header home to provide some relief to the 46,409 in attendance.
Saints goalkeeper Kelvin Davis, who wasn't immune to the shaky clearance, agreed that the defense has some room to improve.
In an article published on the Southampton website, Davis said:
I think the disappointing thing is, the better chances (Manchester City) had they didn’t take yet they’ve scored from two scrappy goals from our perspective, and goals that we can defend better against. But looking at the bigger picture we’ve come away from home and there are a hell of a lot of positives to take.
And positives there definitely were. The fighting spirit of the Southampton squad was apparent throughout. Many clubs would have been gutted by conceding a goal five minutes before halftime like Southampton did when Carlos Tevez, who may have been offside (video shows a tight decision and that Nathaniel Clyne may have played Tevez on), tucked home a Nasri through-ball inside the near post.
Instead of sulking, Southampton rebounded and came out firing. Rickie Lambert, who surprisingly started on the bench, scored just four minutes after coming in on the 55th minute. Lambert tried to feed a delicate pass to Do Prado, but Joleon Lescott broke up the pass. However, Lambert was able to curl the deflection into the lower left corner of Joe Hart's net to tie the match at 1-1.
Nigel Adkins' second substitution worked just as magically. Steven Davis, who is still working up to full strength and came on for youngster James Ward-Prowse in the 65th minute, made an even quicker impact.
After the ball was cleared on a Manchester City corner, Jack Rodwell made a weak pass out to the wing. Adam Lallana made a hustling interception and went on a lung-burning 70-yard run. Lallana was joined by several teammates, and they created a 5-on-3 counterattack. One of the Saints who joined the rush was Steven Davis. Davis took Lallana's pass on the left wing and crossed it back to Lallana. Lallana had a bit of trouble controlling the pass but managed to lay the ball back to Davis, who rolled a shot inside the far post to give the Saints an improbable 2-1 lead.
Even after Manchester City retook the lead at 3-2, Southampton continued to battle. Schneiderlin had a blast from far away that looked destined for a goal but that was deflected wide. Lambert had a knockdown header that fell to the feet of Jose Fonte, who unfortunately showed the offensive skill of a centre-back and blasted the chance well over the goal.
After the match, in another article posted to the Southampton website, Adkins said:
Confidence will abound from the players having played against the champions. The yardstick is there, and the players now know they can compete against them. We've got another 37 league games to go, so we've got to find a resolve.
Adkins finished, "The lads deserve a lot of credit for what they've gone and done today."
Manchester City: Joe Hart, Pablo Zabaleta, Vincent Kompany, Joleon Lescott, Gael Clichy, Yaya Toure, Jack Rodwell, David Silva (Mario Balotelli 70), Samir Nasri, Carlos Tevez (Aleksandar Kolarov 86), Sergio Aguero (Edin Dzeko 14).
Subs (not used): Costel Pantilimon, Stefan Savic, Nigel De Jong, James Milner.
Southampton: Kelvin Davis, Nathaniel Clyne, Jose Fonte, Jos Hooiveld, Danny Fox, Morgan Schneiderlin, James Ward-Prowse (Steven Davis 65), Adam Lallana, Jason Puncheon (Billy Sharp 85), Jay Rodriguez (Rickie Lambert 55), Guly Do Prado.
Subs (not used): Paulo Gazzaniga, Frazer Richardson, Luke Shaw, Daniel Seaborne
Goals: Tevez (MC) 40, Lambert (SOU) 59, S. Davis (SOU) 68, Dzeko (MC) 72, Nasri (MC) 80.
Yellow Cards: Fox (SOU) 60, Nasri (MC) 80, Schneiderlin (SOU) 87.