This was a taste of our own bittersweet medicine. Southampton did to us what we did to Porto last week. They defended well, offered very little going forward and then capitalised on some sloppy defending to win the game. Both of the Saints goals were remarkably easy - the second in particular. Tosin Adarabioyo spent far too long getting back to his feet after a challenge near the touch line and found himself caught out of a position. A simple throw in over the top put their forward through on goal and he squared it across the area for a tap-in. The first was similar and came with only a couple of minutes on this clock - this time it was Ash Smith-Brown at fault as a long ball sailed past him, leaving their right winger with the simple task of picking out his team mate in the middle for the opener. It proved decisive.
It was a frustrating evening for Vieira's men, truth be told. It's been a pretty mixed end to the season for the EDS - the highs of the PLIC win have been followed by two quick defeats and I can't help but feel that many involved today need this season to come to its conclusion. The summer off to reassess and start again with fresh ideas and fresh impetus would be no bad thing. They were by no means poor, far from it. They probed well, worked as hard as ever and had a few decent chances to score too. Kelechi should have found the net, Garcia and Intima as well, but there was something missing. That spark or moment of ingenuity - anything. It was all quite safe. Months ago our left wing axis of Angelino and Barker would have provided drive and flair. A goal threat too… Neither started. Angelino was elsewhere and Barker only made the bench after a recent dip in form. Byrne or Celina might have fired one in from 25 yards and maybe one of the injured Ambrose or Boadu could have skipped past a challenge and drove at the heart of the opposition's defence. Celina wasn't around, the latter two are still sadly struggling with injuries and Byrne isn't quite at the top of his game either. They're not, for whatever reason, at the same level as their more confident selves of a few weeks ago.
We weren't helped by a series of frustrating little niggles. Maffeo picked up a knock and both Bryan and Smith-Brown had to leave the pitch in the first half, replaced by Garcia and Evans. It lead to an unfamiliar change in shape that consisted of Maffeo, Tosin and Plummer as a back three with a five man midfield of Intima and Iheanacho running the wings. Evans was holding and Ntcham and Byrne both pushed forward - Garcia effectively played as a no.10 behind Pozo, though he found himself quite deep at times essentially creating a six man midfield. With half an hour left Barker came on for Ntcham and took his usual left-wing position, Kelechi went into the middle and Garcia dropped a little deeper making the formation something approaching a more conventional 3-5-2. It definitely helped. It's fair to say Kelechi is no wide player - he struggled to have any impact on the game at all and he only came alive when this change was made and he found himself central. He nearly scored too, rounding the keeper after some lovely link up play with Garcia, but to his frustration his second touch just took the ball out of play.
Pozo was bright again continuing his recent upturn in form, even if it would have been a good idea to switch him and Iheanacho around well before Barker was brought on. His highlight came in the first half, pirouetting away from a defender before putting Garcia through on goal. Sadly Garcia's finish didn't match his overall contribution to the game which was quietly impressive - he dictated proceedings in the second half in a manner befitting his ever-growing stature at this level. Next season will be a very interesting year for him. Ntcham was as ever a real mixed bag. Energetic, powerful and hard working, yet frustratingly inconsistent with the ball - one long range shot somehow managed to clear the stadium. Impressive…in a way. Evans was a lot more comfortable in his preferred midfield role, though Southampton didn't exactly make life difficult for him, and Byrne was decent even if he couldn't quite stamp his authority on the game. Intima worked hard and ran the line well, though lacked quality whenever he was asked to something decisive, missing two good opportunities and failing to pick out any of his teammates from good crossing positions. Defensively we weren't severely tested and Maffeo and Plummer had relatively comfortable games though It wasn't Tosin Adarabioyo's best 90 minutes, culpable for one goal and nearly causing another, but he's 17 and he'll learn. Billy O'Brien took Angus Gunn's place between the sticks and what little he had to do, he did well.
All in all, it was a disappointing afternoon for the EDS though they won't have to wait long for a chance of revenge. They go to St. Mary's this week to play Southampton again before the big one next weekend where we face United at the CFA. Hopefully we'll be able to readdress the balance after last Tuesday's quickly forgettable defeat.