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Hartlepool United 1 Southampton 3
WHEN YOU need to get yourself back on track, sometimes feeling like you are facing adversity is exactly what you need.
Saints have barely been on a bad run, nothing of the sort, but after a few league games had slipped by without a victory they really needed to take advantage of some winnable games.
Without any disrespect to their League One opponents, matches against Hartlepool, Wycombe and Walsall are exactly that.
But away to Hartlepool on a Tuesday night so soon after a gruelling match against Norwich was always going to be a backs to the wall job.
When you also take into account the strong wind that affected the game so much and the injury that forced Kelvin Davis off in the second half, it was a match where Saints had to dig in.
That feeling that things were against them may just have galvanised them, added a little extra steely determination.
Saints’ extra quality won them a scrappy game that was often dominated by the gusty wind that was blowing down the middle of the pitch. They rolled their sleeves up, did what they had to do and got the win.Adam Leitch
Whatever it was they responded to their recent hiccup in the best possible way – by going on the road and scrapping out a win.
They were prepared to roll their sleeves up, get stuck in and do the dirty things to allow a few glimpses of quality to win them the game.
The wind was a massive factor in the game.
It was blowing straight down the middle of the pitch so the ball was running away quickly for the half Saints attacked in the first half and holding up when they defended in the second.
A sign of what was to come arrived in the first few minutes when Hartlepool keeper Scott Flinders pumped a regulation goal kick down the field. Not only did the wind hold the ball up, it started to blow it in the other direction.
Saints got the first attempt in, David Connolly trying to recreate his wonder goal against Norwich only this time picking out the keeper.
But at times in the first half Hartlepool were picking Saints apart.
After Andy Monkhouse had skied an effort he should have done much better with, he gave Hartlepool the lead on 16 minutes.
Hartlepool quickly switched the ball from left to right from where James Brown lifted in a cross.
Monkhouse had tracked in from the left and was unmarked and looped a header over Kelvin Davis into the far top corner.
It could have got worse as Adam Boyd won a header as well but flicked it over before Monkhouse had another half chance but with the ball just behind him he could only pick out Davis.
When Saints got the ball down and didn’t fall into the trap of hitting long balls that inevitably got carried away by the wind they were dangerous.
His far-post cross was met by a diving header from Adam Lallana that Flinders saved at the near post.
However, he only pushed it out to Lambert but from five yards he side-footed over the bar.
Lambert redeemed himself two minutes later as his cutting pass picked out Lallana in behind the Hartlepool defence and he confidently finished low through Flinders’ legs to make it 1-1.
The rest of the half descended into a bit of a scrap with only Connolly’s late effort saved by Flinders breaking the wind induced frustration.
With roles reversed when it came to the wind in the second half Saints showed a bit of clear thinking.
Rather than trying to pump the ball long from Davis and see it blow back towards their own goal they attempted to roll it out. It was simple common sense and the sort of approach they needed to give their quality the best possible chance of shining through.
It did just that eight minutes after the restart when Saints took the lead.
It was almost a carbon copy of Connolly’s goal against Norwich, only this time it was Lallana who picked the ball up on the left with little on.
He purposefully moved inside and from 20 yards bent it into the far top corner for 2-1.
Hartlepool were not about to roll over though and with the wind behind him Denis Behan’s 40-yard free kick needed a decent save from Davis to turn it wide.
The Saints keeper then had to make an even better stop, this time to turn Sam Collins’ header from the corner over the bar but in doing so he landed awkwardly and had to be replaced by Bartosz Bialkowski.
Saints had to dig in to hold onto their lead.
The game was bitty enough anyway and they had to keep it that way.
Alan Pardew introduced Paul Wotton into the centre of midfield in place of Morgan Schneiderlin to add some extra bite in there and make sure they were going to do whatever needed to be done to get the win.
They didn’t need to score another goal – but they still got one eight minutes from time.
It was courtesy of an error that was almost beyond belief.
The ball was rolled back to Flinders and he looked like he would boot it clear.
He was being closed down by Lambert and it seemed to make him panic.
Flinders ultimately succeed only in side-footing the ball straight into Lambert’s shins and it squirmed away into the six-yard area.
Flinders dived desperately to try and gather it again but only caught Lambert’s ankles.
If the Saints man would have gone down it would have been a penalty and a red card but he stumbled on and under no pressure slid the ball into the empty net for 3-1.
There was some late drama as a mass brawl erupted which ended with Ritchie Jones being sent off for Hartlepool for violent conduct.
But it didn’t distract Saints from finishing the job and making this a very good away day.