Saints given reminder of life at the top
Southampton 0 Wigan Athletic 2: Neat and tidy Wigan highlight the challenge ahead for newly promoted Southampton
This was not exactly what the Southampton faithful had been waiting seven years for. This was the first Premier League match at St Mary's since Manchester United won here 2-1 in May 2005 to confirm Saints' relegation. But the occasion fell flat for the home team and fans as Wigan Athletic, who were on their way up as Southampton went down, eventually won the first league meeting between the clubs with something to spare.
The opening-day defeat away to Manchester City, when they led the champions 2-1 before losing 3-2, had given Nigel Adkins' team the feeling that they would not be out of place back in the top flight. But one of the league's perennial strugglers administered a dose of harsh reality yesterday.
Wigan were neat and tidy and defended efficiently, absorbing Southampton's initial pressure before breaking out to score just after the interval through Franco Di Santo with an economy that the home side could only envy. And a gift from Jose Fonte allowed Arouna Kone, the Ivory Coast forward, to seal victory on his debut after joining the club for £4 million from Sevilla via Levante.
"Pleased would be an understatement," Roberto Martinez, the Wigan manager, said. "We knew how difficult it would be. They put us in a position where we had to defend, but after that we used our experience. To score two goals from open play and keep a clean sheet in Southampton's first home game is an achievement."
Southampton hit the crossbar twice, but were never permitted to work Rickie Lambert into a scoring position near goal. With Manchester United visiting next Sunday, and a trip to Arsenal to follow, it may be a while before they are able to get any points under their belts.
"There were a lot of positives in the chances we did create but this game was one we were targeting for three points," Adkins said. "You've got to put chances in when you have the opportunity. It highlights how ruthless the Premier League is."
Southampton's seemingly inexplicable decision to ditch their traditional kit in favour of an all-red outfit with thin white stripes reminiscent of Liverpool in the 1980s could be an attempt to inspire Reds fan Lambert to scoring feats worthy of Ian Rush. The problem was that the supporting cast did not include a Kenny Dalglish or a John Barnes
As expected, Southampton pressed forward early on, Adam Lallana producing a ferocious shot from distance which Ali Al-Habsi touched on to the bar after 13 minutes. He also had a volley blocked by Gary Caldwell.
At that point, Wigan were content to absorb the pressure, and although Southampton won a succession of corners and free-kicks, the visitors retained their composure where teams in the Championship last season tended to wilt under the pressure.
The second half began with Lambert forcing a diving save from Al-Habsi with a header from Guly do Prado's cross and you wondered whether one of Adkins' second-half tactical changes would make the difference. But instead it was Wigan who made the breakthrough after 48 minutes. Emmerson Boyce played a low diagonal pass from the right into Shaun Maloney. His pass found Di Santo running through to thrash the ball between Kelvin Davis and his near post and into the roof of the net.
Southampton brought two flying saves from Al-Habsi as they tried to reply, but both shots, from Danny Fox and Lambert, were from distance, and Wigan were now making as many chances. Kone nearly poked home a shot from 10 yards, and then it was Davis's turn to save, from Jordi Gomez's 20-yarder.
Saints made changes, and defender Jos Hooiveld hit the bar with a looping header from Lambert's cross. But Kone doubled the lead in the 89th minute when Fonte presented him with the ball. He ran 40 yards to strike the ball low and hard past Davis. Kone looked a more-than adequate replacement for Victor Moses, who joined Chelsea on Friday for £9 million. "£4 million for a 28-year-old is a big investment but we needed it in a young side," Martinez said.
Southampton (4-3-3): Davis; Clyne, Fonte, Hooiveld, Fox; Davis (Ward-Prowse, 76min), Schneiderlin, Lallana; do Prado, Lambert, Rodriguez (Sharp, 76).
Wigan (3-4-3): Al-Habsi; Alcaraz, Caldwell, Ramis; Boyce, McArthur, McCarthy, Figueroa ; Di Santo (Gomez, 68), Kone (Boselli, 90), Maloney (Beausejour, 75).
Referee: Anthony Taylor.
Man of the match: Al-Habsi (Wigan)
Match rating: 6/10
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