Southampton Continue Descent into Championship
Brighton & Hove Albion defeated Southampton 3-1 at the American Express Community Stadium Sunday afternoon. The Saints were under extended pressure for the entire game, and while they did show flashes of competitiveness, they ultimately were played off the park by a vastly superior Seagulls side.
As recently as 2019, Southampton did the double over Brighton. Going back and watching the highlights for those games was a bit of Saints fan catharsis – one of them featured a Moussa Djenepo 25-yard curler reminiscent of his goal against Manchester City this year, as well as some Sofiane Boufal brilliance to create a second for Nathan Redmond. In 2020, Southampton got four points against Brighton.
The trajectories of both teams have been on opposite tracks ever since. Brighton confirmed European football this weekend, Southampton are destined for the Championship. A thesis could be written analysing both clubs’ reversals of fortune, as the wide, gaping, cavernous chasm in quality between the two sides was on full display Sunday.
The Saints made the decision to put Joe Aribo and James Bree into the starting eleven, as both are on tryout for their positions next season. Otherwise, Southampton went with their usual lineup, featuring Mohamed Elyounoussi, Theo Walcott and Carlos Alcaraz in attack. The opening 15 minutes would see Brighton besieging the Southampton goal, creating half-chance after half-chance and dominating possession. The highlight of the opening proceedings would be Brighton forward Kaoru Mitoma missing a glorious chance from 15 yards after breezing past Lyanco and Jan Bednarek.
Southampton would win a glorious chance of their own, however, as Alcaraz would win possession in the Saints third and quickly played through Walcott. After some good running by Walcott to draw the Brighton defence, he played a disguised reverse ball back to the onrushing Alcaraz. But the young Argentine would miss the target from 15 yards himself.
Not long after, Alex McCarthy would gift Mitoma the ball in the box. Mitoma lifted the ball over the onrushing McCarthy with aplomb, however was denied by the woodwork. McCarthy’s distribution was an issue all game, as Brighton were making a concerted effort to force the Southampton outfielders to go back to their keeper, knowing that most likely they would take possession back afterwards. Aside from Alcaraz’s miss, Brighton were in complete command, and a breakthrough was coming.
The goal came through youngster Evan Ferguson. After yet another pass back to McCarthy resulted in a loss of possession, Brighton were allowed to get the ball to Ferguson in the Southampton box unimpeded. Ferguson took one touch and unleashed a powerful strike directly at McCarthy. McCarthy did not even touch it as it passed him – another goal conceded where questions of the keeper should be asked.
Brighton would add a second 10 minutes later, as a poor pass from Alcaraz sprung Mitoma. He bullied his way past Roméo Lavia and played a wonderful outside-of-the-boot cross to Ferguson which took both Lyanco and Bednarek out of the game. Ferguson finished coolly first time past the helpless McCarthy and Brighton fans were in dreamland, a win would guarantee them their European spot next season.
The Saints Briefly Fight Back
The 2nd half would start uneventfully with more Brighton dominance. But in the 57th minute Saints would win a corner. James Ward-Prowse whipped one of his trademark balls into the near post, and it was flicked into the net by Elyounoussi. Somehow Southampton had fought their way back into a game that looked completely lost.
Four minutes later Lavia would win the ball back from Moisés Caicedo and find Ward-Prowse in the centre circle. The Southampton captain quickly turned and played a lovely through ball to Walcott. Walcott turned back the clock 10 years, taking a wonderful touch to get across the Brighton defence and finished a cheeky chipped ball past Brighton keeper Jason Steele. Southampton, fueled by their captain, had scored two goals in five minutes and were showing admirable fight.
But just like Nottingham Forest, VAR disallowed the goal for a marginal offside. Replay showed Walcott’s hand was offside, and the goal did not count. The cameras quickly cut to Ward-Prowse almost laughing, this is not what VAR was meant to do. But the goal was struck down nonetheless, and the Saints still had 30 minutes of football left to play.
Those remaining 30 minutes would be entirely one-way traffic at McCarthy’s net. Pascal Groß would restore Brighton’s two-goal lead with a placed effort at McCarthy’s near post after some nifty dribbling to elude Aribo. The Saints would not threaten to score again and finished with a 3-1 defeat. Southampton did have a goal disallowed, but on the balance of play the 3-1 scoreline was fully deserved. The cameras caught Rubén Sellés attempting to congratulate Brighton manager Roberto De Zerbi who was completely caught up in the celebrations with his staff. Brighton will be playing in at least the UEFA Europa Conference League next season.
In what was mostly a bad afternoon at the office, Southampton fans were given a bit of joy in the season debut of Valentino Livramento, who made his long-awaited return from injury. He will be a key figure for the Saints next season. Similarly the fixture saw the introduction of highly promising youth team players Dom Ballard and Kami Doyle. Both will have important roles to play if the Saints hope to return to the Premier League quickly.
Mercifully, there is only one game left this season for Southampton. Unfortunately, it comes against Liverpool, who need a win to have any hope of a Champions League spot. The Saints trotted out Joe Aribo and James Bree against Brighton, expect more tryouts for players who could feature next season. For the fans, there is just one target for the players to get out of this last game in the Premier League. Run to the edge of the box and fall down. Get James Ward-Prowse as many free kicks as possible to go for David Beckham’s record (he is one away from tying it). It would be devastating to see him break it for another team.
Southampton play Liverpool in their Premier League swan song Sunday at 4:30 pm at St. Mary’s.