Sheffield United Home Won 3 – 0 – We are Back!
After nine months gestation, a happy event: St. Mary’s reopened to paying customers for the visit of Sheffield United. Last time, if you remember, we welcomed Newcastle and generously gifted them a victory, leaving us glancing nervously towards those occupying the foot of the table. With a settled formation, an admirable work ethic and few injuries to disrupt a thinnish squad, the closed-door era (which is far from being over, of course) has seen Saints far out-perform their budget, but how would they cope with the potential banana skin laid down by our latest opponents?
Ings must have proved match fitness over his 45 minutes at Brighton and the rest of the starting XI are shoe-ins these days. However Danny didn’t look match sharp and uncharacteristically missed the best opportunity of the opening exchanges in an attempt to nutmeg Ramsdale – further scorable opportunities were to be scorned before the end. Referring to ‘exchanges’ is being extremely generous to United as getting themselves over the half way line was an effort, never mind threatening McCarthy’s goal. At the back they were finally undone by one of their old boys when Adams seemed to shin the ball past Ramsdale for the opener; this time last year Adams was striking his half chances so truly that they went straight to well positioned keepers; it’s a funny old game sometimes. The Blades replied with a few attacks towards the break and reorganised well at the interval to put Saints under some second half pressure, although they weren’t to manage an on-target effort throughout the game. A single goal lead is always precarious, no matter the quality of opponent, so a second Southampton strike was very welcome, although it will win no more prizes than the first: this time, at the end of a promising move, Armstrong tried a shot that cannoned off Jagielka’s foot into an unguarded part of the goal. It really was inconceivable that Sheffield would score twice but Ralph likes to use his subs to run the clock down and on came Dan N’Lundulu to entertain us with his enthusiasm, Ibrahim Diallo to make his first appearance in front of the paying faithful and Nathan Redmond to replace Walcott and score by far the best goal of the game, but one which would have concerned the visiting coaches more than the other two. Time now to take the vertigo tablets before looking at the League table.
LSSC Man of the Match: Oriel Romeu. It could have been Vestergaard or Adams but Romeu deserves something after a Match of the Day pundit confused him with Højbjerg. A goal assist for Redmond helped too.
By creating first, second and third classes of supporters in the cheap seats (and two classes of hospitality), Saints have invited criticism. I’m not entirely comfortable with enhanced eligibility for home games effectively based on away attendances, but I’m not going to give up my grade 1 status willingly, either. We know LSSC have a number of supporters in the top category, and looking around on the day, there may be more than we realised, although at the time of writing it appears new regulations may jeopardise the hopes of several. But what is the ‘new normal’ actually like? For the 1600 non-hospitality patrons, access is to either the Itchin or Chapel ends of the Kingsland stand, with the two sections not allowed to meet. Your match ticket specifies an arrival time in 15 minute blocks, and inevitably there is a queue at the start time of each block; no-one, not even me, seemed to risk arriving outside their block. Ticket checks some 50 yards from the stadium allowed all the gates to be open within your section. On the concourse, only the toilets are operational, and access is controlled to ensure isolation with an army of stewards there to enforce this rule, along with a pointless one-way system, often with undue enthusiasm. Sunday’s weather made going to bottom row seats early or standing outside the concourse particularly unattractive, but there is a large mobile food outlet there, and the bike sheds provide some shelter. During the game, inevitably there’s little atmosphere thanks to distancing arrangements and with shouts of encouragement (some singing even) muffled by masks. Exit at the end is also controlled and doesn’t begin until Ralph and the boys have done their peculiar team wave thing – apparently a regular event when they win, but it’ll become annoying if you have a train to catch. Sure beats watching on TV, though.