Thanks to the wonders of modern transport I was able to get from work in Weybridge to meet my friend Dan in Basingstoke by just after 6pm. From there we drove to the south coast, parked up in a dusty red light area, and wandered towards St Mary’s Stadium. We stopped for a pint on the way, where I banged my head on a low beam. Fine, it happens, but until this morning I couldn’t actually remember much about the game.
Which wasn’t the game’s fault, because that was quite lively. We had two teams whose approach to the game very much mirrors our own: get it down and pass it. As it worked out Ipswich looked the better of the two teams, but Saints had their moments too.
This Southampton team could have been a contender. Recent alumni include our own Chris Baird, but also the likes of Theo Walcott, Gareth Bale and Kenwyne Jones. Dan pointed out that the last three Championship top scorers have all recently been Saints players. I’m thinking Kevin Phillips, Ricardo Fuller perhaps… who would the other be? Anyway, these players have slipped through their hands and now almost the entire team is made up of teenagers or young twenty somethings. It’s an interesting predicament in that all of the players’ destinies are uncertain, they could amount to anything, and there’s something nice about seeing young players given a chance.
Against that, without some leadership out there the lack of ingrained good habits, of defensive shape, of any kind of presence, really can hold a team back. So that’s Southampton, young, gifted, and extremely vulnerable.
But they did take an early lead. The ball was passed around beautifully, Andrew Surman cut in from the left and fizzed a right footed drive along the floor and into the corner of Richard Wright’s net. So far so good. Ipswich are a good team though, and climbed back into the match quickly. Their passing was good, their defence much more organised than Southampton’s, and soon it seemed that there would eventually only be one winner. Our man Moritz Volz played a part in the equaliser, his surging run ending with a clever layoff to an overlapping midfielder, and the ensuing cross should have resulted in a goal. Saints couldn’t clear though despite several opportunities to do so, and Owen Garvan, one for the future, rammed home an equaliser.
At this point Ipswich took control. Their passing and overall shape was too much for Southampton, whose defence was let off twice by an over zealous safety-first linesman. Good saves, narrow escapes, pressure piling on. It continued into the second half, and eventually Ipswich broke through, Alan Quinn heading home from a good cross by Volzy. Saints looked ripe for a mauling, but to their credit threw on some attacking players and scrambled an equaliser with 20 minutes left. This shocked Ipswich back into life, but a winner wasn’t found and 2-2 just about suited everyone involved.
Championship life must be quite hard for teams like Southampton. A 30,000 stadium doesn’t look so good half-full (15,000 were there last night), and there are already rumours that Adam Lallana, their gifted young midfielder, could be going to Fulham in January. If they sell their best youngsters so fast, what then? Teams can’t continue to play with untried teenagers, not without some guidance and know-how to help them along. There’s the nucleus of a nice side there at the moment, but it looks about three years from maturity, and lacks 3-4 good players.
Lallana, incidentally, looks like he could be a Roy Hodgson type. He’s technically able, one of those players for whom a first touch is never an issue, the ball comes, he’s in control. His passing wasn’t as quick as Fulham’s, but that’s not unexpected because that’s how we play. He’ll run with it, and looks quite adept at so doing, but isn’t especially quick so wouldn’t be a natural wide player. I could see Roy turning him into something pretty handy.
Volzy played soundly. Right backs aren’t always in the best position to influence games but Ipswich will be glad to have him there. He does what he’s meant to do, takes care of business, then, if it’s on, joins the attack. He worked hard and fits in well with the team’s style of play, was instrumental in the build up to the first goal, and directly created the second, so you can’t really argue with that can you?