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Southampton 1 Millwall 1
SAINTS’ first day summary?
Much better than expected, but still a lot to do.
Though naturally excited about the beginning of a new season, there was a sense of trepidation as well as anticipation for most Saints fans as they entered St Mary’s on Saturday.
That may well have been the case for the club’s hierarchy and maybe even Alan Pardew.
Pre-season had shown us that strides were being made in the right direction but there was no doubt Saints were not fully prepared for the curtain-raiser.
That is not the fault of anybody at the club, not players, backroom staff or management.
A draw was a fair result and an encouraging one for Saints. The squad really needs some urgent additions in a number of areas. But Pardew and the players deserve credit for how far they have come in such a short timeAdam Leitch
Rather it was a natural consequence of the takeover dragging on for so long.
Key players had left, potential signings had been missed and Pardew had weeks rather than months to assemble a squad ready for League One battle.
The Millwall game was always arriving too fast on the horizon.
So, with an incomplete squad, Pardew had to do the best he could and rely on the players he has got to perform at a good level.
Happily, both occurred.
Saints looked organised and disciplined, a sure sign of Pardew’s stamp on things.
They were defensively pretty solid if not the finished product; in midfield they had a decent blend, even if they were a little unbalanced and short of a bit of pace and width; and up front they gave a decent fist of it considering they only had two senior strikers.
So all in all a draw was a decent result, particularly when you take into account that they were facing a Millwall side who are one of the best teams in the division and got to last season’s play-off final.
Though there is still a lot to work to be done, particularly in terms of player recruitment, the performance was very encouraging.
Those running the club have promised more signings, and we have no reason to disbelieve them.
But they could do with delivering them quickly because the squad is so threadbare it is worrying.
If you have seven subs and can’t name a single striker you have problems.
Likewise at centre half where there are only three possibles.
It’s not clearly not enough.
These first few weeks will continue to be testing but Saints should take confidence from their opening day draw.
Alright, we know Saints play better against better footballing sides which Millwall are.
We know the real test will come when they face a physical side who turn up to defend deep and play for a draw.
They have been appaling breaking those sides down the last few years and that is the true measure of progress.
The same could be said of Morgan Schneiderlin.
He was excellent against Millwall but on a sunny afternoon in August, on a pristine surface, against a team prepared to give him a measure of time to play is his conditions.
He needs to show he can still play on a wet night, on a cut up pitch, against opponents who kick him to bits to show he’s improved what he needed to improve.
But you can’t criticise Saints for games they haven’t played and in the one they have they did pretty damn well.
In a first half of few chances, two moments of inspiration from Schneiderlin almost broke the deadlock.
Twice he saw the keeper off his line and twice attempted lobs from distance. The first, about 30 yards out on the right touchline, saw David Forde scramble back to turn over the bar. The second, from not that far into the Millwall half, dipped just over.
Elsewhere Chris Perry drilled a low Adam Lallana corner just wide while the Saints defender also battled bravely to prevent Gary Alexander scoring from close range just before the break.
Saints gained more confidence in the second half and took the lead six minutes after the restart.
It came from a throw down the right, the wing on which Saints were stronger having had to ask Lallana to play on the left because of an injury to Joseph Mills.
After it was half cleared Perry headed back into the box where it found its way through to Matt Paterson who took a touch and expertly chipped it over Forde.
Millwall appealed for offside and, though Paterson was on for Perry’s header, it may have flicked Marek Saganowski on the way through – in which case they had a point, but it was a difficult one for the linesman to be sure on.
The Lions could scarcely complain when they had a refereeing decision of much greater generosity a short while later.
There were penalty appeals for handball against Wayne Thomas waved away as he fell on the ball in a challenge but a spot kick was awarded as he chased Jason Price away from goal only for the Millwall man to go down under minimal contact.
What ensued was a crazy few minutes.
Kelvin Davis saved Alan Dunne’s weak penalty low to his left and then produced a brilliant reaction save from from Price’s follow-up.
Davis was trying to calm down the Saints celebrations and was busy telling players to stay switched on, which they didn’t.
The resulting corner was met by Steve Morison but a combination of Dan Harding and the outside of the post got it behind.
If one free header was bad enough another two followed and it cost Saints a goal.
A deep corner this time was headed back by Alexander to Nadjim Abdou who produced a quality finish from a standing start to loop a header into the top corner from 12 yards out.
In the closing stages it was Millwall on top.
Over the last few seasons you sensed Saints would have caved in and lost, but not this time.
They stayed strong and showed resilience and earned a point they deserved.
It was good to see, a pleasant surprise in some ways. And it gave you a sense that if Pardew is handed the tools he requires then there might just be something to get excited about this season, even with a ten point deduction.