Club-record signing Marko Arnautovic saw red in a first-half moment of madness, as a late Charlie Austin penalty was enough to give Southampton a thrilling 3-2 victory over us at The St Mary’s Stadium yesterday afternoon.
The encounter, which was a tale of two halves, also Javier Hernandez’s first goals in Claret & Blue, but not even they were enough to stop Mauricio Pellegrino’s men notching a contentious late winner.
Slaven Bilic made four changes from the side that were thrashed at Old Trafford last Sunday, as Michail Antonio returned from injury replacing Edimilson Fernandes. Among the other changes were Jose Fonte replacing Angelo Ogbonna, full debutant Declan Rice replacing Pedro Obiang and Arthur Masuaku being replaced by Aaron Cresswell. However, there was a late blow for Bilic as centre-back Winston Reid was stretchered off during the warm-up to be replaced by Ogbonna.
The home side was able to name a totally injury free squad after left-back Ryan Bertrand recovered and they reveled against a Hammers’ side that despite the inclusion of new signings Marko Arnautovic and Javier Hernandez, were still without Andy Carroll, Manuel Lanzini, and Cheikhou Kouyate.
In last season’s clash between the two sides, Italian striker Manolo Gabbiadini notched his first Saints goal after peeling away from the defence and firing past Darren Randolph.
This time around, lightning would strike twice as Gabbiadini made a surging run to break through and fire past a different keeper in Joe Hart to give The Saints the lead on 11 minutes. The goal occurred just a minute earlier than last campaign’s strike and was scored in the opposite corner.
Just moments later, the game would erupt into life with three possible red cards in the space of just a few first-half minutes, the first saw Dusan Tadic mount a dangerous tackle on Chicharito only to be booked. The other two incidents took place within seconds of each other as Mario Lemina flung an Elbow out at Marko Arnautovic and our skipper Mark Noble flew in for an uncontrolled tackle on the former Juve man. Fortunately, referee Lee Mason had already pulled play back for the original foul, saving Noble’s blushes.
However, Mason would show no hesitation in showing Marko Arnautovic a deserved straight red card for a disgusting and unprovoked Elbow to the throat of Southampton defender Jack Stephens on 33 minutes. The violent outburst was wildly ridiculed by fans and pundits alike with the player apologizing on Social Media after the game, but his actions may earn him a Violent Conduct charge as well as a three-match ban.
Meanwhile, on the pitch, Bilic’s Boys were falling to pieces and it looked like game over when the hosts doubled their lead via a Dusan Tadic penalty on 38 minutes. The spot kick was awarded after some more clumsy defending from Fonte against his former club, as he pulled Saints captain Steve Davis to the floor in the box.
However, there would soon be a glimmer of in the form of a “Little Pea” for the otherwise deflated traveling fans, as Javier Hernandez was on hand to tap-in the rebound of a Michail Antonio shot to hand us a lifeline.
An intriguing second-half had been set up by Chicharito and it duly lived up to its promise. Bilic soon realized that reinforcements were needed to mount an attacking charge on The Saints’ goal, with Edimilson Fernandes and Diafra Sakho being introduced early in the second period. The changes soon paid off, as just after Gabbiadini had struck the bar at the other end, we had suddenly fought back from two goals down with ten men through Chicharito yet again.
A trademark Aaron Creswell cross was delivered from the left to meet the head of Diafra Sakho, whose effort deflected off Fraser Forster and then struck the bar, only for the ball to fall to Hernandez to volley home from close range with 15 minutes remaining.
The theme of our travels last-season was conceding late goals and throwing away points and that old foe would come back to haunt us in the dying embers.
After the hosts hit the bar for the second time in the clash through Nathan Redmond, our defence finally gave into the plugging Saints pressure in added time. Maya Yoshida popped up at the back post from a James Ward-Prowse delivery, only to be nudged over by new signing Pablo Zabaleta with Lee Mason pointing to the spot for the second time.
Charlie Austin duly converted to condemn us to heartbreak on The South Coast and to become the team that has conceded the most goals from penalties in The Premier League since 2015. The awarding of the penalty was shrouded in controversy and Austin the scorer of it himself, even doubted whether it was a fair decision.
Nevertheless, the goal stood and rooted us to a second consecutive week at the foot of The Premier League Table. Whereas, The Saints are up to fifth place and they will be looking to continue their unbeaten run when they face new comers Huddersfield Town on Saturday after hosting Wolves in The Carabao Cup. Similarity, it’s a trip to Cheltenham Town on Wednesday for Bilic and the boys in a must-win clash in that same competition, prior to another tough away trip to St James’ Park in The League.