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Burnley 1 Southampton 1
AIMING FOR the title in your first season back in the Championship is certainly ambitious – and results such as the one Saints bagged at Burnley will help them towards it.
Burnley went into the game struggling a little, Saints flying high at the top of the table.
But one thing you can be sure of in the Championship is that every team has quality players, every team will be bang up for each game and you can never, ever predict with any certainty any result.
So games like this, where Saints weren’t at their best and Burnley were highly motivated, are always going to be tough.
Yes, Saints would prefer to have won it, and yes, they probably had the chances to.
But they didn’t deserve the three points over the 90 minutes and, as it looked as though they might come away with nothing, to get a point was a good result – as indeed it is anywhere on your travels in this division.
It is the kind of result that title-winning teams do get.
Whether Saints will be that come May remains to be seen.
They have had a great start, but this will be a gruelling campaign.
Looking at their squad, you would say much depends on keeping key players fit.
If they can, then who knows.
Nicola Cortese’s comments in a national newspaper on Saturday morning may have upped the ante a little.
To state so publicly that you don’t just want to win promotion this season, but want to be champions is definitely aiming high.
To be fair to the chairman, there is nothing wrong with saying what you think, as long as everybody is on board with it.
He many well view it as a motivational tool, but now it’s out there, like it or not, Nigel Adkins is going to be judged over the course of the campaign by how close he is to the top of the table. That is pretty tough.
Saints are newly promoted and, though ambitious, football is notoriously unpredictable.
For a first season back in the Championship, most neutrals and pundits agreed a steady mid-table finish would be a good f irst campaign back, a good building block for a promotion push.
Up until now, if Adkins had delivered that, few fans would have grumbled.
Now, though, he faces pressure if Saints slip to even eighth. That is hard.
It does underline, though, how determined Saints are to get up, and how quickly they want to do it.
The thing about football is that no matter how hard people work behind the scenes, or how determined you might be to succeed, you are ultimately resting your faith in those 11 blokes who go out on the pitch.
And many things can affect them because they are humans, not robots.
The first half at Burnley proved it.
Saints were just a little off their top form.
The passing was not as crisp and sharp as we have become accustomed to, they lost possession a little sloppily, everything was just not quite at full tilt.
Burnley were in their faces to be fair and did pretty well.
Despite that, the half ended with barely a chance worthy of the name for either side, probably the most dangerous moment being Charlie Austin’s blocked shot after Saints’ insistence to try and pass short through the middle from a goal kick with the centre halves pulled wide had gone wrong again.
A little later Morgan Schneiderlin entered the fray.
Saints were better for it – but not before they had fallen behind.
Burnley provided two warnings.
Firstly, Brian Easton’s left wing cross was only palmed out by Kelvin Davis and Jose Fonte had to clear off the line as Austin tried to scramble it home.
The ball then came out to the right and was duly fizzed back across the six yard box until it found Easton at the far post, but he couldn’t direct it on target.
There was no reprieve on 54 minutes, though, as Easton’s hanging left wing cross was headed back across goal by Jay Rodriguez and Austin reacted quickly to nip in front of Fonte to volley home.
Saints really got motoring in the last 20 minutes and might even have got a win had they been a little more clinical.
Rickie Lambert was unlucky with a downward header from Frazer Richardson’s cross that fired into the turf, bounced up over the keeper but hit the underside of the bar and ricocheted back out.
Unusually, Adam Lallana was culpable for two missies, both with his head, and both from Danny Fox crosses.
The first was the trickier, having to glance it from 12 yards and it went wide.
The second should have been converted, Lallana found unmarked six yards out and heading back across goal but missing the target.
In amongst it all, Fonte had also failed to connect with a presentable chance.
Saints did get the goal they had been threatening with ten minutes remaining though, Schneiderlin reacting first to slam home after Lambert’s flick from Fox’s cross had landed in a melee of players in the six yard box.
Andre Amougou put a header wide late on while Lallana burst through right at the death, looked to be held back but stayed on his feet only to see his shot saved by Lee Grant and no penalty given.
No matter what your expectations, this was still a decent point.