Southampton pipped West Ham United to automatic promotion last season, but while the Hammers are justifying their elevation via the play-offs, sorry Saints are floundering in the Premier League.
The problems are plain, with the defence shipping another four goals yesterday to bring the total that have gone past three different goalkeepers to 24 – an average of three a game, with 16 finding their net in four away matches.
That, as their manager Nigel Adkins, admitted, is simply not good enough. No Premier League manager has lost his job so far this season, but he is well aware that his position will be in jeopardy if this form continues, despite the two successive promotions under his management that have brought the Saints back to the top flight. “We’ve obviously conceded some poor goals, for sure,” an unusually subdued Adkins said. “We have a vision to play a passing brand of football, but I’m not too naïve to know that that’s how football is. On too many occasions this season we’ve not kept the ball out of the net. But we will remain positive and work on the training ground.”
If a defence is allowing goals in, the attack must compensate, yet Adkins dropped Rickie Lambert, the team’s top scorer in each of the past two seasons, to the bench, bringing him on only in the second half with the team having reduced the deficit to 2-1. “As manager it is my responsibility who to select,” he said. “Jay Rodriguez did very well in the first half. But everyone will have opinions.”
Adkins pointed out that his team had kept West Ham out in the first half of yesterday’s game, but that was as much a result of a lethargic showing by the home side, who made few chances. Siginificantly, the few that came their way were gifts from the visitors. Artur Boruc, the former Celtic and Poland goalkeeper making his debut for Southampton, mis-kicked a clearance to the feet of Andy Carroll. But the England forward’s hasty shot justified the dismissal of him last week by Zbigniew Boniek, the former Poland international, as less skilful than his eight-year-old grandson.
Southampton did not manage a shot on goal before half-time, but if they were contemplating a first clean sheet of the season as they went into the dressing room at the interval, they were to be badly disappointed as West Ham scored twice in the opening three minutes of the second period.
Mark Noble scored the first, although unintentionally as his long free-kick eluded friend and foe alike, bouncing on the six-yard line and past Boruc, who was anticipating a touch from James Collins that never came. Then Yossi Benayoun seized on an error by Saints’ stand-in left back Maya Yoshida, ran down the right and hit the ball across goal for Kevin Nolan to apply the finishing touch.
Southampton found a way back into the game when Rodriguez, who appeared to be offside, held off Collins and got in a shot that was going so far wide that it became a pass to Adam Lallana, the Southampton captain turning to hit the ball high past Jussi Jaaskelainen. Enter Lambert, with a chance to level from a free-kick, but he chipped the ball into the roof of the net. Before he could make any further impact, it was 3-1, Noble scoring from a penalty after Jose Fonte handled as he challenged Carroll for Noble’s set-piece.
Modibo Maiga, a late substitute for Carroll, who had made up for any lack of technique with his usual physically committed display, then scored a goal that the match barely deserved, capping West Ham’s second half with a splendid strike, a curling shot past Boruc with the outside of his right foot after he had dribbled down the right and swerved inside the hapless Yoshida.
“I’m surprised we won 4-1 after what we did in the first half,” Sam Allardyce, the West Ham manager, said. “We upped the tempo and showed the desire we have in other games, so we can forget the first half and enjoy the victory. We were struggling but put it right.” Finding a way to do the same is Adkins’ task – if he is given time.
West Ham (4-3-3): Jaaskelainen: Tomkins (Spence, 88), Reid, Collins, McCartney; Noble, Nolan, Diame (O’Neil, 68); Benayoun, Carroll (Maiga, 82), Jarvis.
Southampton (4-2-3-1): Boruc; Clyne, Fonte, Hooiveld, Yoshida; Schneiderlin, Davis (Ward-Prowse, 89) Puncheon (Mayuka, 63), Lallana, Do Prado (Lambert, 63).
Referee: Neil Swarbrick.
Man of the match: Noble (West Ham)
Match rating: 6/10