12:10pm Monday 27th September 2010
By Adam Leitch
What a difference a goal makes.
One solitary strike from the right boot of Lee Barnard has lifted the mood of an entire team. An entire club even.
From doom and gloom, murmurings of discontent, predictions of a season of failure comes new light, new hope, new optimism.
And all from one kick of a football.
The pessimism around St Mary’s was quite understandable, the frustration too.
This was the season that promised so much.
After years of angst and depressing results, the second half of last season brought much to look forward to.
The start of this campaign had been a massive let down all round.
The appointment of Nigel Adkins has seen people rally behind the team but two more goalless performances meant a win was needed sharpish.
It was duly delivered at Sheffield Wednesday.
It was, as was predicted in these very pages on Friday, just the right game at the right time for Saints.
It went pretty much as guessed.
Though this was a meeting of League One’s big guns, it was also a clash of two teams struggling for confidence.
The difference between the sides was that Saints at least came into the game on the back of a little bit momentum thanks to a good last half hour against Colchester.
The Owls, in contrast, had suffered three straight losses.
Also, a crucial factor was that Wednesday were at home.
They suffered exactly what Saints have had to contend with – when they didn’t get themselves ahead the crowd started to get frustrated, the pressure grew on the players – and so did the mistakes.
|ONE SOLITARY STRIKE HAS LIFTED THE MOOD OF AN ENTIRE TEAM...|
The already fragile confidence took a further battering and, once Saints took the lead, Wednesday were frankly a bit of a mess, save from the very final seconds of stoppage time.
This was a win that Saints fully deserved and it should have been by a greater margin.
But after 510 minutes without a goal and five games without a win, if one was enough three points then nobody was going to complain.
We got a first sneak peak into the kind of football Adkins wants to play, and it was encouraging.
Saints got the ball down and passed, they did use a bit of width, they were sharp and lively. But they were also not afraid to mix their play a little bit which was good to see.
Saints set the tempo for the match early on, Barnard getting his first chance after five minutes when Rickie Lambert played him in one-on-one with Nicky Weaver only for the keeper to save.
Two minutes later Darren Purse was almost knocked out in bravely blocking Jason Puncheon’s effort that was destined for the top corner.
As the half rolled on Saints’ chances kept coming – Barnard couldn’t quite reach a ball across the face of goal from Lambert, while the striker also played in Alex Chamberlain who fired over.
Lambert so nearly gave Saints the lead in first half stoppage time when a well worked move ended with Chamberlain crossing from the right and his diving header forcing a good save from Weaver.
Up the other end, the nearest Wednesday had come was a long range effort from Neil Mellor that Kelvin Davis turned wide.
Saints continued in the second half where they had left off in the first – it was just a matter of whether their possession and pressure would convert into a goal they had deserved.
Barnard was getting ever closer, as first his near post effort was saved by Weaver and then he guided wide a good chance from a header from six yards out.
But on 60 minutes came that magic moment for Saints.
Morgan Schneiderlin slid the ball into Barnard’s path, he took one touch to control and a second to lift it past the advancing Weaver.
Finally, Saints had a goal.
Anybody fearing a fierce Wednesday backlash was to be mighty relieved as, rather than get stronger, they started to crumble.
Substitute Adam Lallana twice came close to giving Saints some breathing space, once with a shot that curled just over and then with a close range header that with a little more match sharpness you would have expected to have gone in.
Wednesday managed to create only three moments of genuine panic for Saints in the final half an hour.
After having failed to beat the near post man with pretty much every corner, a change in taker following a substitution immediately found the head of Marcus Tudgay whose effort was blocked on the line by Dan Harding.
Davis then reacted quickly to dive at the feet of Mellor to block the follow up.
The other two moments came deep into stoppage time.
First, Daniel Jones’ 30 yard free kick forced Davis to dive to his left. It was a save you would have expected him to make, but the same cannot be said for what happened moments later.
Clinton Morrison’s half volley from the edge of the area looked for all the world as if it were destined for the bottom corner and Saints heartbreak.
But Davis got down to his left and at full stretch diverted it wide via his fingertips.
The final whistle went immediately and Saints were joyous.
It’s only one result, only one goal.
But it has made things feel very different indeed.
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