Despite their disappointing start to the campaign and the fact that opponents Burnley were seventh in the Premier League, there was still something of an expectation among Southampton fans that they should be picking up all three points against the Clarets at St Mary’s last weekend.
While of course there is never any God-given right to get a victory in what is proving to be such a tough and competitive division, the fact that the Lancashire outfit had only beaten Saints on the road once since 1966 and had taken just one point on their last four league visits to St Mary’s meant that the odds should have been stacked heavily in the hosts’ favour.
Even though the south coast outfit had already failed to beat Swansea City, Watford and Newcastle United – all teams they would usually expect to beat on their own patch – surely it couldn’t happen again?
Southampton certainly started brightly –as they usually do – but while the likes of Ryan Bertrand and Nathan Redmond had some good openings and opportunities in the first-half, the goal-shy Saints couldn’t find a breakthrough.
Defender Maya Yoshida had their best effort in the second period when his turn and shot was saved well by Nick Pope in the opposition goal, before a crucial moment in the match occurred in the 65th minute.
While Mauricio Pellegrino completed a like-for-like substitution by replacing top goalscorer Manolo Gabbiadini with Charlie Austin, Sean Dyche decided to go with two strikers by bringing on both Sam Vokes and Ashley Barnes.
It turned out to be a masterstroke when Vokes headed home nine minutes from time from the Clarets’ only shot on target of the match – and a low on confidence Saints had no reply.
Not for the first time this season Southampton ended the game having had far more possession than their opponents (63% to 37%), but many of those were passes that didn’t really go anywhere or amount to anything positive.
On the other hand, Burnley made the most of the little possession they had with Vokes’ goal, and Pellegrino certainly couldn’t moan seeing as he had tried to do the exact same thing against Brighton and Hove Albion just six days earlier before Glenn Murray denied them picking up a 1-0 win on the road.
It seems that the ‘Southampton Way’ that has been mentioned on numerous occasions by executive director Les Reed now involves keeping the ball with a lot of sideways possession and slow build-up, and it would be hard for anyone to argue that they have an identity right now.
One of the crazy things is that Saints seem to prefer to get the ball to Bertrand and Cedric Soares to fire crosses into the box, yet they rarely get the bodies in there to connect with them and the players that are there aren’t the strongest in the air.
Nine goals in 11 Premier League games this season tells its own story, and the fact that the south coast outfit have failed to score in nine of their last 12 top flight matches at home explains why the boos rang out around St Mary’s at full-time last weekend.
These are supporters that have seen the likes of Jay Rodriguez, Adam Lallana and Sadio Mane produce some scintillating attacking displays over the last few years, and they are frustrated they don’t have that now.
While results are important, football is an entertainment business now and Southampton fans just aren’t getting value for money at all – or those all-important results.
The St Mary’s faithful would prefer to see their team giving 100 per cent, battling for the ball and really putting the opposition under pressure by pressing them – especially at home – than what they are being served up right now, but it just isn’t happening.
If Pellegrino wants to improve his relationship with the fans and relieve some of the pressure that is building on his shoulders then he should take a closer look at Premier League rivals Leicester City.
While the Foxes haven’t had a brilliant start to the season themselves and actually only lie above Saints in the table on goal difference, there has already been a marked improvement in their play since former Southampton boss Claude Puel took over.
His first home match against Everton last month showed what the east Midlands outfit are all about as they began to replicate the football and style of play that saw them win the Premier League, and there is no doubt that it works.
The likes of Jamie Vardy, Riyad Mahrez and Demarai Gray pressed the Toffees players when they didn’t have the ball, made good runs off of it and were lethal when they did have it.
The pace, direct running and movement was a joy to see and Southampton fans would love it if their team were that aggressive and took more risks by playing more balls over the top or into the channels.
While Shane Long doesn’t have the goalscoring abilities that Vardy does he can play a similar role if perhaps played alongside Gabbiadini, while Redmond and Boufal could be told to play more direct rather than cutting in the majority of the time.
If truth be told Saints probably don’t have the players to play that way effectively at the moment, but with the January transfer window just around the corner they have a chance to rectify that by adding some pace out wide and another striker to their ranks.
With an arguably stronger defence than Leicester, the south coast outfit attackers should already have more freedom than they perhaps do, and if they played with a 4-4-2 or 4-4-1-1 system in the future it may just be a better watch for a bored St Mary’s crowd.