London Saints

Stoke Away

I can’t say for certain when Saints last had to cope with two players suspended for sending off offences, but I suspect you’d have to go back to the days of Osgood and Williams and the aftermath of a notorious match at Ewood Park. This year, though, Ronnie had to go to Stoke without the services of Wanyama and Fonte, the latter dismissed the previous week. Without the skipper, a selection that included Martina and Targett but not Yoshida was unexpected, but Saints kept their hosts well at bay for the first 45 minutes as well as breaching their back line on two occasions. Pellè gave notice that he wasn’t going to be dominated by the normally ruthless Shawcross but Butland saved his early header. Stoke’s reprieve was short-lived, though, as Pellè had more success with a very good header from the resulting corner to set Saints on their way. The goal seemed to renew the striker’s confidence after a long barren period, and he went on to double the lead on the half hour with an early low shot that he probably wouldn’t have attempted a week earlier. If that was a healthy state of affairs, Saints should have been out of sight on the stroke of half time when Long did everything right on the break to set up Tadić for what looked like a sitter, but indecisiveness meant the chance went begging – like Pellè, Tadić needs a goal. The miss began to look crucial when Arnautović scored with a nice flick at the near post to set the game alight, and Diouf seemed certain to tie things up only to be denied by Van Dijk’s intervention. Saints needed something at the other end, and probably ought to have been given a chance from the spot when Tadić took advantage of hesitant defending and appeared to have been brought down by Butland: no penalty was the decision, and maybe had Tadić tried harder to stay on his feet, the result might have been different. The Serb was clearly unhappy, though, and maybe it was a wise move to replace him immediately with Ward-Prowse, just as it was to introduce Yoshida once Crouch came on to set up the sort of finish The Britannia Stadium was famous for under a previous regime – it might have been academic had Ward-Prowse not seen his free kick come back off the bar. Five minutes added time became much longer when Mané received his second red card of the season, and if the decision seems harsh, it wasn’t the cleverest piece of play in the circumstances – fortunately Van Dijk was in no mood to let the three points slip and they duly came back to Hampshire.

LSSC Man of the Match: Virgil Van Dijk, an immense performance from a top defender.

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