This low-key passage into the FA Cup fifth round with the bonus of a goal-scoring cameo from yet another promising product of their youth system was what Southampton must have prayed for after a traumatic 10 days at St Mary’s.
The departure of executive chairman Nicola Cortese was followed by the suspension last week of record signing Dani Osvaldo for head-butting a team-mate, and yesterday came unwelcome reports of a bid by Manchester United for the England Under-21 left-back Luke Shaw.
Last week Katharina Liebherr, the owner, repeated an earlier statement that “we have no plans to sell any of the squad during the January transfer window”. If she were to sanction the departure of one of the jewels in the club’s crown, it would hardly help her retain the services of the much-admired manager Mauricio Pochettino, who has said he will consider his options at the end of the season.
Pochettino did not appear afterwards, but his assistant, Jesus Perez, was glad to “talk about players, talk about matches and [not] the other things”. In fact the wording of Liebherr’s statement was some distance short of being a categorical refusal to sell and did not rule out a change of plan should the right bid be received. An offer well in excess of Southampton’s record £15m fee received for Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain could test her resolve, with Chelsea, who Shaw supports, also thought to be willing to match United’s bid.
United’s other problem in attracting Shaw is that they are out of the FA Cup, unlike the Saints, who will be dangerous opponents in today’s fifth-round draw and did not need to be at full strength, or at their best, to hold off a spirited Yeovil Town, who, urged on by 3,403 supporters from Somerset, at times looked better than bottom-but-one of the Championship, 34 League places below Southampton.
However, their chances of pulling off the sort of giant-killing for which they were feared in their days as a non-League club looked unpromising after 22 minutes when left-back and captain Jamie McAllister inexplicably handled James Ward-Prowse’s corner and Guly Do Prado stroked the penalty home – his first goal for over two years plagued by injury. “They have good movement from corners but it was a mistake by McAllister and I never work out why players do that,” Yeovil manager Gary Johnson said.
Saints had already hit the crossbar through Jay Rodriguez and might have expected to stroll the rest of the game, but Yeovil responded with some spirited attacking and when Joe Ralls crossed low from the left, Kelvin Davis was fortunate that James Hayter’s first-time effort was straight at him.
Yeovil went even closer early in the second half as right-back Luke Ayling’s low shot from 18 yards sent Davis sprawling to his left to palm the ball away for a corner. But with 20 minutes to go, Southampton substitute Sam Gallagher, 18, showed that there is even more young talent waiting in the St Mary’s wings as he cut inside from the right and beat Marek Stech from an improbable angle.
“Like other talents we have at the academy, Sam just needs time and work,” Perez said. “It wasn’t an easy game. They had chances to score but in the second half we were better and could have scored more goals.”
Indeed, Stech pulled off the save of the game to keep out a half- volley from Steven Davis three minutes from time. “They probably needed the second goal because until then we were in the game,” Johnson said. “I was pleased because we were up against quality opposition. We have to learn from all these big games and the players have to learn from these experiences.”
Southampton (4-2-3-1): K Davis; Clyne, Yoshida, Hooiveld, Shaw; Cork, Schneiderlin; Ward-Prowse (Reed, 84), Lallana (S Davis, 73), Do Prado (Gallagher, 56); Rodriguez.
Yeovil Town (4-3-3): Stech; Ayling, Webster, Duffy, McAllister; Lundstrom, Edwards, Ralls; Grant (Upson, 73), Miller (Foley, 85), Hayter (Moore, 62).
Referee: Phil Dowd.
Man of the match: Ralls (Yeovil)
Match rating: 5/10
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