An overcast afternoon on the South Coast was the setting for Southampton to host an in-form West Ham side.
David Moyes has quietly overseen an impressive overhaul of his Hammers side since his second coming at the London Stadium in 2019 and it was evident from the opening exchanges that the visitors were well organised.
Ralph Hasenhuttl opted to start with summer signing Adam Armstrong as a sole striker, with the rejuvenated Moi Elyounossi in behind, along side an unusually advanced James Ward-Prowse. Whilst the newly unveiled 4-1-4-1 formation was not lacking in ambition, it meant that the Southampton skipper was too far forward to make any meaningful impact. It also limited his impact defensively, often leaving him on the periphery of the game. This in itself was disappointing given the impressive development of his defensive game over the last few years.
The first period was relatively unspectacular, with neither side registering any clear cut chances. Both sides recorded plenty of possession in the respective defensive thirds but frustratingly for the home supporters, this rarely translated into anything tangible offensively.
Armstrong looked pacey and alert but the absence of service saw in the first half saw him drop deeper and deeper to receive the ball. The absence of Che Adams impacted on Southampton’s usually relentless pressing, with the Saints midfield seemingly happy to allow West Ham possession in non dangerous areas. Southampton looked likeliest when wonderkid Tino Livramento and Romain Perraud marauded forward on either flank but even they felt somewhat subdued.
Over time, sloppy passing and a lack of intent from the home side allowed West Ham to get a foothold in the game. The visitors looked strongest when the diminutive Benhrama was on the ball but crucially Saints dealt well with the Antonio threat in the first half.
After the break, things started promisingly for the visitors, with West Ham heading a decent chance over Alex McCarthy’s goal in the 56th minute. The Saints stopper then made a decent save to deny a powerful Jarred Bowen volley from inside the box with around 25 minutes remaining. Whilst Southampton boss Hasenhuttl will be pleased with the clean sheet, West Ham lacked the potency which proved so devastating in the first three games of the season.
After introducing 20 year old Broja from the bench, Saints started to play with a directness and urgency which had been sorely lacking previously. The Slough born, Albanian striker hit the post from distance after running at an exposed Ogbonna. His height also caused problems in the box, with Declan Rice doing well to clear off the line late on.
A late sending off for Michail Antonio deep into stoppage time will have frustrated Moyes, especially given the relative lack of options upfront. As for Southampton, most fans will be be satisfied with a hard earned point and a clean sheet but given they were in the ascendancy for the final 20 minutes of the match, familiar questions will be raised about lacking a clinical edge
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