Southampton’s disappointing start to the Premier League season continued when they were held to a 2-2 draw against newly-promoted Newcastle United at St Mary’s on Sunday, which means that they have taken just nine points from eight favourable-looking fixtures on paper.
Following successive defeats against Manchester United and Stoke City and five goals from their opening eight fixtures in all competitions, the pressure was beginning to build on manager Mauricio Pellegrino prior to the clash against the Magpies – especially considering one of the reasons Claude Puel was sacked in the summer was because his style of football failed to entertain the fans.
While things certainly aren’t going well for the south coast outfit in the final third – for more than a season now – they are starting to make mistakes at the back as well.
Cedric Soares was partly at fault for Peter Crouch’s winning goal for the Potters last month, and both of the goals they conceded against Rafa Benitez’s men on Sunday also looked to be preventable.
Virgil van Dijk’s questionable clearance led to Isaac Hayden scoring from outside the penalty area, while goalkeeper Fraser Forster failed to hold on to Ayoze Perez’s initial effort less than two minutes after Manolo Gabbiadini had equalised for the hosts, with the Spaniard firing home from a tight angle.
Forster was quick to get the blame for Perez’s goal from the Saints supporters watching at St Mary’s and on the television at home, and it is no surprise really given some of his performances over the course of the last 14 months in particular.
While he has had some outstanding performances between the sticks for Southampton – a goalless draw against Arsenal at the Emirates and a penalty save at Anfield last season certainly come to mind – the 29-year-old has consistently let himself and the team down with the weaknesses that exist in his game.
For someone that is 6ft 7in tall the stopper doesn’t command his area enough, while he seems to struggle to save efforts on goal from outside the penalty area – think the two goals against Watford last month and Hayden’s strike on Sunday – and his distribution often leaves a lot to be desired.
According to Squawka, Forster has made more defensive errors (4) this season than any other Premier League player, with two leading directly to goals.
While that statistic may come as a surprise to some neutrals and pundits alike considering the 29-year-old has been a regular fixture in the England squad in recent years – even though he was excluded from it in August – Southampton fans won’t be surprised at all.
Last season, the goalkeeper gifted Christian Benteke a goal when he mis-kicked a back pass to allow the Belgian to score into an empty net, while he also spilled Emre Can’s shot towards the goal before recovering to somehow claw the ball way just as it was about to cross the line.
However, those mistakes have become too much of a regular occurrence this term and with Saints struggling to find the net at the other end of the pitch, they can’t afford to have Forster in goal when he is so prone to an error.
The problem is that the stopper doesn’t exactly have great competition for the number one spot, with Stuart Taylor literally a last resort and Alex McCarthy struggling with injury throughout his time at St Mary’s.
The former Crystal Palace and QPR keeper had the perfect opportunity to stake his claim for a spot in the starting XI against West Bromwich Albion on Saturday when he featured for the U23s against Newcastle on Monday night, but he was caught in possession by the Magpies’ Jamie Sterry which allowed the 21-year-old to finish into an empty net.
It has left Pellegrino with something of a conundrum because Forster certainly isn’t giving his defenders any confidence, and it looks as though he needs to be taken out of the firing line as soon as possible otherwise he will continue to cost them valuable points.
While McCarthy was at fault on Monday, he deserves his opportunity against the Baggies this weekend and while it may be seen as a risk by some people, it simply can’t get any worse for Southampton right now.