Sunday, 27 December 2009

Saints box clever to inspire festive cheer

Following last week's defeat against Leeds, Pardew had tasked his side to stay focused on getting the result ahead of today's clash at home to Exeter. Two first half goals ensured that they did, although it was not as comfortable as it should have been in front of a rare full house at St. Marys.

Saints 3 - Exeter 1

James, Perry, Trotman, Harding
Lallana, Hammond, Schneiderlinn, Antonio
Connolly, Lambert

The absence from midfield of Morgan Schneiderlinn had cost Saints against Leeds, with Pardew bemoaning his side's failure to pump the ball out to Lallanna on the wing. He is the sort of player who will always look to play the ball on the ground, although there was little fluency to Saints' midfield on his return to the side, as Exeter dominated the early stages.

Managed by Saints old boy Paul Tisdale, who has led Exeter to back-to-back promotions in the last two seasons, Exeter set themselves up as a solid defensive unit and Saints struggled to impose themselves, perhaps put off by the season record crowd (their loss at home to Brighton earlier in the season occurred in similar circumstances). But Antonio, who combines pace and a good touch to useful effect, always provided a threat down the right and it was from that flank Saints won themselves an undeserved lead thanks to a deflected strike by Lloyd James. The lead was doubled soon after as Neal Trotman rose highest in the box and the game looked to be over before half time when the ever-lively Adam Lallana attracted a high challenge that had the perpetrator sent off.

But few members of the capacity crowd, one buoyed by Saints' form this season, can have forgotten the golden rule with Saints: it's never that easy. As the second half wore on, the ten men of Exeter started to play some fluent passing football and began to look as if they may get back into the game. The jitters now afflicting the fans intensified on the hour when Adam Lallana was taken off with a dead leg. His importance to the side was proven minutes later as the Grecians got one back from a - you guessed it - poorly-marked set-piece, setting the scene a nervous final twenty minutes that the oddly quiet home fans, perhaps still digesting yesterday's turkey, could have done without.

Lallana's replacement, Joseph Mills, toiled away for a miserable 23 minutes before himself being replaced by the more imposing presence of Paul Wotton, who was tasked to sit and protect an increasingly jittery back four. But all major worries were put to bed minutes from time when the impressive Papa Waigo slipped in round the back to slot home. Also deserving of mention is Ricky Lambert's injury time 30 yard wonder strike which hit the angle - the woodwork was obviously not in a festive mood.

The win lifts Saints into the top half for the first time this season and lays an important foundation ahead of important games against Colchester, Huddersfield and Millwall. The difficulty with which the side eventually dispatched the lowly Grecians also serves as a wake up call - Saints are still finding life difficult at home to the lesser sides, who see St. Marys as a big day out and a stage on which they have nothing to lose. But Pardew was right to place the onus on it being a case of "job done, move on" in his post-match interviews. Points are the main thing for Saints presently - and how many they pick up from the next three will be a good indicator of how they should fare this season.

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