You’d be forgiven for thinking that this would have been a meaningless end of season fixture where both teams have nothing to play for, and you’d have also been forgiven for thinking that after watching the game. In reality, both teams had a relatively big goal to push towards. Southampton were edging ever closer to European Football next year, which is extremely commendable bearing in mind they lost almost all of their star players over the summer of 2014. Ronald Koeman has done a sensational job with the Saints, and is easily my manager of the year. Stoke meanwhile, are left looking at their highest placed finish, with their highest points tally in the Premier League. After a season which most fans will have seen as poor after dropping home points to Burnley, Leicester, Aston Villa and West Ham, manager Mark Hughes has done an exceptional job at capturing some spectacular away form for the Potters.
On to the game itself, both teams started very cautiously, with Stoke probably just edging a very drab first 10 minutes, unable to break the excellent Southampton defence down. The only thing that livened the start of the game up was all 4 corners of the ground shouting ‘shoot’ every time Asmir Begovic got the ball, a reference to his freak 13 second goal past Southampton in the 2013/14 season’s game in the Potteries.
In the 22nd minute, the game burst into life with a goal for Southampton though, Morgan Schneiderlin scored a simple tap in from a corner. I feel like I’ve wrote that a million times this season with the Potters’ inability to clear from set pieces. A simple ball was whipped in to the box from the flag, nodded on towards goal by Jose Fonte and easily dispatched into what was effectively an empty net by the unmarked, onrushing Schneiderlin. A simple goal for the Saints, Stoke had offered nothing in the first half and something needed to change.
The second half of the game started and straight away, Stoke had got that luck that they had needed. A cross from Steven Nzonzi (who personally, I thought was awful on the day), somehow managed to hit the bar. The reactions of striker Mame Biram Diouf, who has come in for some unnecessary criticism as of late, were superb though as he torched a first time volley past the despairing Kelvin Davis. Stoke were lucky to pull the goal back, but Diouf definitely made sure it went in.
Again, the game sort of…died out again, until in the 84th minute, Charlie Adam wrote the headlines again as he netted another for the Potters this season. This one was somewhat closer than his last effort for Stoke, as for a start, this shot was in his own half. A ball was swung into the box by the superb Arnautovic, to be pulled back to Jon Walters. His effort was block and it just sat up nicely for the Scot to volley the ball into the ground and into the back of the net. I can’t help but feel that if Southampton had Fraser Forster in goal though, the game would have finished 1-0 to the Saints.
Somehow though, Stoke managed to secure the 3 points. Stoke have done that thing that all great teams do in this game. Play badly, and win.