06/02/2016: Saints 1-0 West Ham
Saints extended their unbeaten run to five matches with a hard-fought win over West Ham. Ronald Koeman's side came flying out the traps during the first 20 minutes, and defended resolutely after Victor Wanyama was sent off early in the second-half. Saints remain in 7th position, closing the gap on the Hammers in 6th by two points.
Koeman elected to start with a 3-4-3 on this occasion, favouring Jordy Clasie over Oriol Romeu in midfield. Saints showed a lot of intensity during the first 20 minutes. The front three pressed really well and the whole team moved the ball forward quickly in the final third. At the other end the defence was typically compact.
On 8 Shane Long crossed from the left for Cedric, who forced a good save from Adrian. A minute later Saints were ahead. The build-up epitomised the home side's early work. Jose Fonte and Sadio Mane combined well on the right before feeding Wanyama, who poked the ball across the box. Maya Yoshida showed alertness to get to the ball first, before smashing it in to the back of the net.
Saints continued to dominate for the next 10 minutes or so, without creating too many major openings. Graziano Pelle had a couple of half-chances. West Ham reorganised and started to see a lot more possession midway through the first-half. Saints came close with a scramble in the box on 25. Fraser Forster then made an impressive stop from a Winston Reid header. Reid nodded over on 36 as the game entered a bit of a lull. Saints got a bit sloppy just prior to half-time, but West Ham didn't have enough about them to take advantage.
On 52 Saints were seemingly dealt a blow when Wanyama was sent off for a challenge on Dimitri Payet. It was a decision that could have gone either way. Many referees would have only produced a yellow, but you can see why it was given. Koeman reacted immediately, sending on Romeu for Mane.
Saints spent most of the rest of the game sitting deep and soaking up pressure. West Ham soon made a few changes of their own, but their direct play was easy for Saints to deal with. The home side still looked the more likely going forward. Long had a great chance to give Saints some breathing room on 64, latching on to Fraser Forster's goal-kick before curling the ball just over the bar.
Emmanuel Emenike headed just wide not long after coming on. On 78 substitute Charlie Austin had a shot blocked. West Ham saw a lot of the ball, but had no real cutting edge about them. An equaliser never looked likely. Austin had another good chance on 88, smashing just wide of the near post after being played in by Romeu. In the end Saints saw out stoppage time quite comfortably.
Once again Koeman rotated his squad effectively and reacted to the changing circumstances of the game. Saints weren't particularly flowing on the ball after the first 20 minutes, but the team always looked in control, with players defending superbly both individually and collectively. After playing poorly for about three months straight, Saints are now back in European contention. Koeman seems to have rediscovered his spark in recent weeks. He's proven to be well prepared and tactically flexible. The team is playing with real cohesion and we suddenly seem blessed with different options on the bench.
Forster: 7. Made one great save and excellent dealing with West Ham's aerial threat
van Dijk: 7. Strong in the air and comfortable bringing the ball out from the back
Fonte: 7. Showed his leadership qualities once again. Committed in the tackle and always in the right position
Yoshida: 7. Early goal boosted his confidence. Looked very assured on the balls and timed his challenges well
Cedric: 6. Lost his head a bit towards the end, with one particularly risky clearance towards his own goal, but generally solid
Clasie: 7. Tenacious as ever. Did well to disrupt the flow of West Ham's attack
Wanyama: 7. Had played really well prior to his red card. Set up the goal and let nothing get past him
Bertrand: 7. Solid defensively and good delivery
Mane: 6. Didn't always make the best use of the ball, but trickery and movement caused the Hammers some difficulty
Pelle: 6. Used his body strength effectively and some good skill, but showed signs of ring rust later in the game
Long: 7. Superb in the early going. Rescued so many lost causes with his positive running. Unable to put his skill to best use once Saints were down to 10, but still did his bit defensively
Romeu: 7. Continued where Wanyama left off. Won the ball back many times
Austin: 6. Not quite as sharp as he was at Old Trafford, but still involved in a couple of chances
Ward-Prowse: Sent on in stoppage time to see the result out
Saints: Yoshida (9)
Attendance: 29,161 (2,601 West Ham fans)
Referee: Mark Clattenburg
Saints line-up: Forster, van Dijk, Fonte, Yoshida, Cedric, Clasie (Ward-Prowse 90), Wanyama, Bertrand, Mane (Romeu 56), Pelle (Austin 72), Long
Subs not used: Stekelenburg, Martina, Juanmi, Tadic
West Ham line-up: Adrian, Tomkins (Byram 61), Collins, Reid, Cresswell, Noble, Song, Antonio (Emenike 73), Payet, Moses (Carroll 61), Valencia
Subs not used: Randolph, Oxford, O'Brien, Obiang