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Southend United 1 Southampton 3
ALAN PARDEW has spoken of management by ticking boxes. At Southend last night another was crossed off the checklist.
In horrible conditions Saints secured their first away league win of the season.
Roots Hall was virtually under water before the match started.
On a Friday night, under the floodlights, in the tight, old ground it was an intimidating atmosphere.
Conditions underfoot were tricky as the rain intermittently poured down – and yet Saints came away with three points.
They played the conditions in the first half perfectly, knowing the right time to get the ball in behind and when to keep it down and pass it.
"It was a terrific away win for Saints. Their quality brought them three first half goals and then they killed the game in a brilliant ruthless fashion – in fact that was better to see for the long term than the goals."Adam Leitch
When they did that they were as slick as the surface on which they were playing.
Once they had the damage done by half time they came out in the second period and killed the game.
It was a masterclass in how to secure a result in difficult circumstances.
It was very encouraging because if Saints are going to achieve anything in this division over the next season or two, they will need to win a lot of matches this way.
There will be a lot of nasty away days to small grounds that will test character and spirit to the limit.
Those that really don’t want to be there will stand out.
Sometimes an entire team can go hiding in such situations and, if that is the case, you can have long winters.
But for Pardew it was a box ticked because Saints proved both individually and as a team they were willing to stand up to the test laid before them and passed it with flying colours.
Confidence should also be growing in the team after three wins in a row capped a very busy period, allowing Saints a short break before getting back to business and hopefully pushing up the league.
As we all know, winning can become a habit and it is one Saints have just managed to pick up.
It hasn’t always been easy but they have got there.
And to see that ruthless side in their play, to see them go out and do the dirty things well, is terrific.
We all know they have the quality and talent to outgun most teams in League One.
But the question has been whether they can do the ugly things well too.
On last night’s evidence they can.
Saints got off to the perfect start, taking the lead after only six minutes.
Lloyd James took a short corner on the right, leaving it to Papa Waigo to swing in a cross to the far post.
Rickie Lambert met it with a downward header that Steve Mildenhall got his body behind to save.
Neal Trotman steamed in and stabbed the ball into the net and, with Southend claiming the ball had been kicked out of Mildenhall’s hands as he laid on the floor, the goal was given.
They could have made it even better on 13 minutes when Waigo knocked the ball down the right and hit the afterburners.
He was away but had the presence of mind to square it to Adam Lallana who was totally free in the centre of the area.
Lallana had all the time in the world but took it first time and curled his shot straight at Mildenhall, who then also blocked the follow up.
Southend were not looking much of a threat, Kelvin Davis just having the odd routine save to make.
But they got themselves level on 27 minutes when George Friend lobbed a curling free kick from 20 yards to the right of centre over the wall and into the top corner via the fingertips of Davis and the underside of the bar.
Saints suddenly had a test of character but they responded in just five minutes.
The goal had a massive element of fortune about it as Simon Francis fluffed a clearance from a corner to the edge of the area.
Morgan Schneiderlin pulled the trigger and the ball just struck Lallana and changed direction to leave Mildenhall helpless as it deflected into the net.
Saints got themselves the cushion they needed just before half time in a brilliantly simple fashion – in fact it took just three touches to go from one end to the other and in the goal.
Davis pumped the ball upfield, Lambert flicked it on and Lallana finished.
Lallana had made a good run, gambling on the flick, and in behind the defence curled the ball round Mildenhall into the far corner with a marvellous first time finish.
Saints knew they had the goals they needed in the bank and came out after the break to ensure they took home the three points – and they did it clinically.
In fact, the second half was deathly dull as they shut it down entirely.
Waigo did briefly threaten on 65 minutes with an effort that was blocked by a terrific sliding challenge.
At the other end the nearest Southend could come was a scramble that ended with Dan Harding clearing off the line.
Right at the very death Davis had a rare stop to make, turning sub Roy O’Donovan’s effort round the post before Lambert tested Mildenhall at the near post at the other end.
But Saints had done more than enough to secure the victory by that stage.
Another box had been ticked.