Match Report: Jason Puncheon blow against Reading lifts Southampton out of danger zone
Southampton 1 Reading 0
Southampton were beaten to last season's Championship title by Reading, but there is no way they would swap places with the Royals today.
Saints are adjusting better to the higher level after a poor start in which they won only one of their first 11 League games, and yesterday's victory, thanks to Jason Puncheon's fourth goal of the season on the hour, puts them six points ahead of Brian McDermott's team, who have still won only one Premier League match all season. More significantly it moves them out the bottom three.
For Reading it was a case of the famine after the feast as they failed to score against the team with the division's worst defensive record only seven days after putting three past Manchester United, although that statistic is misleading, with the Saints back four tightening up significantly in recent weeks. This was only their second clean sheet of the season, but it was their second in four matches.
"It has been a big step up but we are improving all the time and we're defensively more resolute," the manager Nigel Adkins said.
Reading have a game in hand, and it comes at Sunderland on Tuesday, which becomes even more significant with the Black Cats now one place but four points better off, although McDermott tried to downplay it. "It's a game of football that we want to try and win," he said. "I was disappointed today. When we went behind we didn't respond as we normally would do. It was a one-off, a game that you normally don't get from us but that does happen in football, unfortunately."
It took time to warm up, and it was 20 minutes before Adam Federici had a save to make, pushing away Rickie Lambert's curled shot.
Reading struggled to make an impression until Jay Tabb launched a solo run from midfield that took him to the edge of the penalty area, and Kelvin Davis, replacing the injured Paulo Gazzaniga in the Southampton goal, could only push the ball away. As Tabb went for the rebound, Jack Cork appeared to clip his heel but referee Jonathan Moss declined to award a penalty, and he made an even more eccentric decision at the other end, disallowing a header by Puncheon for an offence by Maya Yoshida, who actually appeared to have been pushed by Federici.
Injury was added to insult after 40 minutes when Adam Lallana was forced off with a knee injury, and it almost got worse for Saints on the stroke of half-time as Hal Robson-Kanu's header struck Davis's post.
But after 60 minutes Southampton got the goal their more enterprising play deserved as Lambert's pass sent Nathaniel Clyne away down the right. He played his pass into the path of Puncheon (below left), who hit a low shot beyond Federici.
Reading fans waited in vain for a spirited response, but although Adam Le Fondre headed wide from Shaun Cummings' cross, Clyne and substitute Guly Do Prado, twice, went closer.
Adkins hailed Puncheon, who made only four starts last season after falling out with Nicola Cortese, the chairman, and was loaned to Queens Park Rangers, but has now become a key component of the team.
"He had a perfectly good goal disallowed but the one he did score was exceptional," Adkins said. "He has worked ever so hard, improved all the time and all the plaudits he gets, he deserves.
"It shows how well people can do given the opportunity. He is reaping the rewards, as are the team."
Southampton (4-4-2): Davis; Clyne, Fonte, Yoshida, Shaw; Puncheon, Cork, Schneiderlin, Lallana (Ramirez, 40); Lambert, Rodriguez (Do Prado, 78).
Reading (4-4-2): Federici; Cummings, Mariappa, Morrison (Pearce, 65), Shorey; Robson-Kanu (McCleary, 76), Leigertwood, Tabb (Hunt 69), McAnuff; Le Fondre, Roberts.
Referee: Jonathan Moss
Man of the match: Puncheon (Southampton) Match rating: 6/10
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