Just what England needed after Friday’s World Cup draw paired them with Italy in the opening game of the tournament in Brazil – a wonder goal scored by an Italy striker. Not that Southampton and their strong England contingent were complaining yesterday after a stunning strike by their £15 million record signing, Dani Osvaldo, gave them a share of the points that they richly deserved from an entertaining game.
Badly hit by injuries, Mauricio Pochettino’s team battled back after Sergio Aguero’s early goal to steady the ship after three successive defeats. Despite being deprived of four key players, Southampton worked as hard and pressed as high up the pitch as ever and were well-served by understudies such as Jack Cork, who made sure that the midfield absences of Victor Wanyama and Morgan Schneiderlin went almost unnoticed.
In contrast to City’s bench which was brimming with internationals, three of Southampton’s substitutes could not muster a minute of Premier League playing time between them, but very little difference showed on the field. “We’ve had a bad run but this team keeps believing,” Pochettino said. “We’ve been unfortunate but we always try to play the same way.”
City’s form away from the Etihad Stadium, in contrast to their 100 per cent home record, has been a mystery. Their victory at West Bromwich Albion on Wednesday, only their second on the road in the League this season, suggested that Manuel Pellegrini’s side had overcome their travel sickness. But with second place theirs for the taking, they never did enough to deserve a victory or even look like snatching one.
Pellegrini had described Aguero as the best player in the League last week but, after his early strike, he struggled to make an impression. With David Silva still absent, giving his injured calf more time to recover before next weekend’s clash with Arsenal, City were short of guile as they chased victory.
“Southampton played very well, but our major problem was that we lost the ball too easily,” Pellegrini said. “I think it’s a good result, a good point. I don’t feel we lost two points. In other games, I’ve felt we deserved more.”
City went ahead in the 10th minute after Samir Nasri sent Aleksandar Kolarov away down the left and, when a trio of defenders failed to intercept the left-back’s low cross, Aguero thrashed the ball home with a first-time shot, goalkeeper Paulo Gazzaniga barely having time to move. But Aguero let Southampton off the hook when he missed a chance to double the lead from Pablo Zabaleta’s pass, shooting high from 10 yards. “Two-nil would have been an important lead but I don’t think just one action could explain this result,” added City’s manager.
Southampton, as usual, were not in any mood to respect reputations and went looking for a goal of their own. James Milner cleared as Adam Lallana tried to line up a shot from six yards, James Ward-Prowse shot wide and then Calum Chambers, the 18-year-old reserve right-back, headed wide at the far post after City stood and watched Luke Shaw’s cross from the left.
Would Saints regret that miss? No, although there seemed little danger in the 42nd minute as Osvaldo carried the ball forward down the left to the corner of the penalty area with plenty of defenders between him and goal. But, in a moment of enterprise and individual brilliance, he turned Vincent Kompany inside out, then side-stepped Zabaleta and curled the ball over Costel Pantilimon – no doubt to a shudder from England goalkeeper Joe Hart, watching from the City bench and assistant head coach Ray Lewington in the stand.. “An amazing goal,” Pochettino said.
Would the two sides draw breath? Not a bit of it. Nasri shot over before the interval and Gazzaniga saved Aguero’s dipping volley just after it. Jay Rodriguez then swerved past Martin Demichelis but Pantilimon was out quickly to block at the England forward’s feet, Osvaldo putting the rebound high into the stands, then pulling his shot wide after Kompany’s attempt to dispossess Rodriguez sent the ball straight to his feet.
City moved Yaya Touré further forward in an attempt to take the game more aggressively to Southampton, but it did not pay off and when the Ivorian was replaced by Edin Dzeko with eleven minutes left, he walked straight down the tunnel. Frustration for City, but a well-earned point for Saints.
Southampton (4-3-3): Gazzaniga; Chambers, Fonte, Lovren, Shaw; S Davis (Reed, 90), Cork, Ward-Prowse; Lallana (Ramirez, 85), Osvaldo (Lambert, 77), Rodriguez.
Manchester City (4-2-3-1): Pantilimon; Zabaleta, Demichelis, Kompany, Kolarov; Milner (Garcia, 62), Touré (Dzeko, 79), Fernandinho, Nasri, Aguero; Negredo (Navas, 62).
Referee: Anthony Taylor.
Man of the match: Cork (Southampton)
Match rating: 8/10