Middlesbrough Away Won 1 – 2
The days of selection par rotation au Puel didn’t die with Europa League exit as the manager reverted to the tactic with a vengeance in his selection for the visit to Middlesbrough. There was an overdue debut for Cáceras and Pied’s only previous first team action had been for five minutes or so way back last summer – but someone has to give way, and Soares, Tadić and Gabbiadini had to watch the game from the stand rather than the bench. The debutant and near-debutant gave confident displays, but against very ordinary opposition in the meeting of the league’s most goal-shy teams. I don’t think either set of supporters expected much excitement and it’s easy to give way to prejudice in those circumstances, but I was thinking the 22 players looked as though they were just going through the motions ahead of their holidays – until in the 43rd minute Clasie freed Long for a typical hard working chase down the right before crossing for Rodriguez to score with a controlled first time half-volley. Manager Puel made an astute move at the break, bringing on Redmond for Boufal. Saints suddenly started to look dangerous, especially on the Bertrand/Redmond flank where they were rewarded with an individual goal from Redmond. It could and should have got better when Long went down over Guzan’s challenge: with Austin and Ward-Prowse still on the bench and despite on-field players Bertrand and Rodriguez having a 100% success rate from the spot, Long stepped up for his first Southampton penalty attempt, and duly sent it over the goal via the crossbar. That miss cost Saints a return to 8th place on goal difference and there were prospects of it being even more expensive when Bamford headed home a corner after 73 minutes. But Boro haven’t been relegated through misfortune and only a set of cautions for their defenders kept Saints at bay before Forster was called into action to stop a fine shot from the unexpected source of Callum Chambers in added time. So in the nick of time, Saints duly completed their only ‘double’ of the season at the last opportunity!
LSSC Man of the Match: Maya Yoshida, playing with his (at least!) fourth centre back partner of the season.