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Southampton 2 Tranmere Rovers 0
IT just goes to show how quickly things can change in football that you can be picky over the manner of a Saints win.
Only a few short weeks ago you were wondering where the next win was coming from – the style in which it arrived was a total irrelevance.
But, as the form improves, there inevitably comes a glance towards performances as well as results.
While getting three points on the board is always the most crucial objective from each game, the indicators that you get when you play some of League One’s lesser lights are important for pointers as to how things will go and what needs to be done differently when you come up against another top dog.
That was certainly the case when Saints took on Tranmere just a week before they travel to face Huddersfield at the Galpharm Stadium.
Saints have been fragile enough this season that they couldn’t take victory over Tranmere as a formality.
But, to be fair, most people travelling to the ground, including some on the Rovers coach, probably thought it was largely a foregone conclusion.
What also mattered was not only to keep the momentum up in terms of those results, but also in performance.
As it turned out, Saints destroyed Tranmere.
It was one of the most one sided games you will ever see, at times almost embarrassingly so.
For Saints it turned into something of a training match.
Tranmere were just nowhere near good enough for Saints and, missing a couple of key players, Les Parry’s post match reflections that it would have been a bigger shock for Rovers to get anything from St Mary’s than Blackpool beating Liverpool at Anfield looked justified.
The showing on the pitch certainly backed up those thoughts, though the reason we can be slightly picky is that the scoreline didn’t.
It doesn’t really matter, of course, and nobody is taking anything away from the Saints win.
To say they should have won by more is as much as anything a way of emphasising how far they have come so quickly.
But against Huddersfield in their own back yard, chances are going to be fewer and further between – unless we get an unlikely repeat of the 5-0 at St Mary’s last season – and as such times of dominance of areas and possession need to be capitalised upon.
For all their total control of the game, it took Saints until two minutes before half time to score.
It was always going to be a great time to get ahead but, by that stage, you were already wondering whether if Rovers somehow survived unscathed until the break if the same old story would unfold at St Mary’s as frustration set in.
Thankfully, that didn’t happen.
Saints’ chances are almost toonumerous to list in any great detail as they quite literally came from the first minute to the last at astonishing regularity.
Guly do Prado, starting up front, was the architect of so much, dropping deep into space where he wasn’t picked up and playing some superb balls.
In the opening stages of the game he played in Rickie Lambert and Richard Chaplow before a terrific cross from the right that Lambert headed against the bar.
Peter Gulasci was working overtime in the Tranmere goal, saving from Guly, Dan Harding, Dean Hammond and Jason Puncheon Up the other end Kelvin Davis had his one save to make for the entire match, a comfortable stop from a long range Lucas Akins effort.
Two minutes before the break Saints did finally get their goal, Danny Butterfield’s right wing cross picking out the head of Lambert who headed downwards and into the net from six yards out.
You felt the game would change, as would Tranmere in a bid to open up in search of an equaliser, but instead they continued to defend, leaving their lone striker with an impossible task.
It suited Saints who doubled their lead on 57 minutes when Guly slid in at the right by-line to reach Butterfield’s pass and cut it back and across goal to Adam Lallana at the far post who gladly sidefooted home.
The question now was not whether Saints would win, but by how big a score.
The answer was 2-0 – but not without plenty of chances to greatly increase that.
Lambert fired narrowly over, sub Lee Barnard had a goal ruled out for offside, Puncheon forced Gulasci into a good save, Lambert drilled a 20-yard free kick wide, Chaplow slid a shot wide from inside the area, Barnard hit a shot straight at the keeper before just failing to turn a diving header goalwards.
If it sounds one sided, then it was – even if the scoreline doesn’t quite reflect it.
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