In the end, this was a far more interesting contest than it had threatened to be. Burnley, second in the Championship, seemed to have been handed a dire warning about what might happen if they achieve their ambition of promotion back to the Premier League as they trailed 2-0 at the break to a Southampton team that had rested several key players.
But Burnley levelled soon after the interval with a goal each from Southampton-born Sam Vokes and Danny Ings, from Winchester, a pairing that has been making headlines all season, before further Saints goals from ex-Claret Jay Rodriguez and rising England star Adam Lallana seemed to have re-imposed order on chaos.
Yet even then Burnley would not give up, and a late, scrambled effort by defender Kevin Long kept home nerves at breaking point.
It was only Burnley’s second defeat in eight games and they emerged with credit while Southampton, ninth in the Premier League, breathed a sigh of relief after an overdue second victory in ten matches.
“If there is such a thing as losing a game the right way then that was it,” said Sean Dyche, the Burnley manager. “Three of their scorers are England players and the right-back is a £2 million player, so that is a measure. I said at half-time, ‘There is not a lot in this’, and we played some fantastic stuff.” Burnley opened confidently, content to take the Premier League side on at a passing game, but Southampton scored with virtually their first attack.
Nathaniel Clyne seemed to have taken too heavy a touch as he controlled Steve Davis’s lateral pass, so decided his best option was to hit the ball, and it sailed into the top near corner from 18 yards, his second goal for the club.
Seven minutes later Davis’s pass gave Rickie Lambert a chance on the left of the penalty area and he almost casually struck the ball past Tom Heaton.
Game over? Far from it. Five minutes into the second half, the absence of either of Saints’ two first-choice central defenders was felt as Vokes was left unmarked to glance a header past Kelvin Davis from Dean Marney’s right-wing cross. After 56 minutes Ings ran onto Long’s pass down the right, brushed past Jos Hooiveld and beat Davis from a narrow angle.
Only an astonishing reflex save from Davis then prevented Vokes from putting Burnley ahead.
Southampton’s head coach Mauricio Pochettino, who was probably no longer enjoying his first taste of the FA Cup, threw on Lallana in an attempt to regain the initiative but it was Rodriguez, on as substitute for dead-leg victim Lambert, who restored their lead after 66 minutes.
James Ward-Prowse stumbled as he tried to round Heaton, and as players on both sides looked round to see if referee Robert Madley, who had awarded two penalties against Burnley in a Capital One Cup tie against West Ham earlier this season, would go for the hat-trick, Rodriguez hit the ball low shot into the empty net. Ings then cracked a low shot against the post seconds before Lallana struck home a low left-foot shot from 22 yards for a goal which appeared to settle the outcome.
But Burnley were not finished and defender Kevin Long forced home a third three minutes from time. “There was a save from Davis and one against the post so it could have been different,” Dyche added. “Vokes and Ings were terrific, but we are financially secure as a club. There is no need to sell anyone, but look – Ronaldo went to Real Madrid for £80 million – everyone has a price.” Pochettino did not appear to speak to the media after the game but his assistant Jesus Perez said: “It was a strange game but in the cups everything is possible.”
Perez would not be drawn on the ongoing dispute between Southampton and the Premier League’s refereeing body over alleged remarks made to Lallana by Mark Clattenburg at Everton last month, and which has led to the player being mocked on social media for his over-sensitivity.
But, asked about Lallana, Perez added: “He is an example to everyone, in games and on the training ground. It doesn’t affect him. We are professionals and you have to stay away from the pressures of things around football.”
Southampton (4-3-3): K Davis; Clyne, Yoshida, Hooiveld (Fonte, 79), Shaw; S Davis, Cork, Schneiderlin; Ward-Prowse, Lambert (Rodriguez, 35), Ramirez (Lallana, 59).
Burnley (4-4-2): Heaton; Trippier, Long, Shackell, Lafferty; Marney, Treacy (Stanislas, 64), Jones, Arfield; Vokes, Ings.
Referee: Robert Madley.
Man of the match: Ings (Burnley)
Match rating: 9/10