The Saints fans sang “It’s just like watching England.” Of course, no-one is yet hailing Adam Lallana, Rickie Lambert and Jay Rodriguez as the 2013-14 equivalents of Bobby Moore, Geoff Hurst and Martin Peters, who went from an unfashionable club side to World Cup glory. But England head coach Roy Hodgson must have been congratulating himself on his good judgement after watching the three Southampton players he has called into his squad to face Chile and Germany in the forthcoming friendlies. Lallana and Lambert, especially, will have enhanced their chances of making the trip to Brazil for the 2014 World Cup.
Lallana was man of the match and scored a memorable goal, while Lambert – to some extent England’s forgotten striker after his early impact on the international scene – scored one and set up another.
Rodriguez found fewer opportunities to impress, but Hodgson is already aware of his body of work. The consolation was that under-21 players Luke Shaw and James Ward-Prowse, along with right-back Nathaniel Clyne, who is also on Hodgson’s radar, made strong cases for consideration in future.
And, not to forget the club implications, Southampton celebrated their manager Mauricio Pochettino’s October manager-of-the-month award by scoring four times in a league game under him for the first time and moving into third place in the Premier League.
“I’m very happy,” Pochettino said. “I want to congratulate all my players. They put in an amazing performance today. I wasn’t surprised by Adam Lallana’s performance. Ever since we arrived in January I’ve seem how well he works and trains every day. He has a great talent.”
However, he sidestepped the chance to offer his thoughts on a possible England outing for his captain in England’s upcoming games. “I hope all the players who have been called up get a chance to play,” he said. “They have an amazing potential and playing for their national sides will improve their performance.”
Steve Bruce, the Hull manager, admitted that he had tried to sign Lallana when manager of Sunderland but that the Saints academy product had, as always, preferred to stay loyal to the club that has developed his talents so effectively. “Lallana has a big future,” he said. “He is an exceptionally gifted player. You can see why Southampton have three England players. They are young, with an 18-year-old at left back and they have good energy. The question is, can their big players stay fit? But [Dejan] Lovren, Rodriguez and Lambert would cause any team problems.”
Those who watch Hull already know that their best work is done at home, and they have now lost five of their six away games, with 13 of the 14 goals they have conceded coming on the road. Aware that Southampton often have more difficulty against teams that pack their defences, they began with a back five, but their game plan was obsolete after 16 minutes when Lambert got the better of two opponents in the 16th minute, heading Clyne’s right-wing cross back for Morgan Schneiderlin to nod the ball out of the reach of Steve Harper and into the top corner of the net.
Then, in the 29th minute Lallana was felled by Harper on the corner of the 18-yard box as he raced onto a clever, quick pass from Lambert, who emphatically extended his perfect record from the penalty spot, converting for the 33rd time. This time the chant was “Rickie Lambert, he’s off to Brazil,” perhaps not least because scoring from the penalty spot has been a skill that might have come in useful in some of England’s past tournaments.
Not to be outdone, Lallana took possession in midfield after 37 minutes, advanced down the left, tricked his way between Ahmed Elmohamady and Curtis Davies, and strolled up to Harper before beating him from a narrow angle – a stunning individual goal that brought St Mary’s to its feet .
A moment of carelessness allowed Hull to reduce the arrears, Victor Wanyama dawdling on a pass from Artur Boruc and having possession pilfered by Jake Livermore. He set up Yannick Sagbo for the first goal conceded at home by Southampton in over ten hours of football and only their fifth anywhere in the league this season.
Southampton might have settled for the three points at that and locked the match down but instead they attacked when possible. Lallana stung Harper’s fingers with an angled drive, Shaw popped up inexpicably as an outside-right and Rodriguez, trying hard – perhaps too hard – to justify his own call-up, launched two enterprising runs. Ironically it was his failure to control a ball that led to the final goal, Clyne taking advantage to cross for substitute Steve Davis to drive in Saints’ fourth.
“Sometimes you have to hold up your hand and say we were well beaten by the better team on the day, by a million miles,” Bruce said. “You have to give credit to the opposition. Southampton are the best side in the division outside the usual suspects challenging for the top four by a country distance.”
Southampton (4-3-3): Boruc; Clyne, Fonte, Lovren, Shaw; Ward-Prowse, Schneiderlin, Wanyama (S Davis, 63); Lallana (Cork, 84), Lambert (Osvaldo, 75), Rodriguez.
Hull (5-4-1): Harper; Elmohamady (Coren, h-t), Davies, McShane, Figueroa, Rosenior; Meyler (Graham, 73), Huddlestone, Livermore, Boyd (Quinn, 80); Sagbo.
Referee: Phil Dow.
Man of the match: Lallana (Southampton)
Match rating: 7/10