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Peterborough United 1 Southampton 3
IF SAINTS could have written the script for last night’s match at Peterborough it would have been for a comfortable win with West Ham dropping points at Bristol City.
They got exactly that.
With the stakes so high, they were certainly lucky to meet a team so obliging, frankly so awful, as Peterborough.
They are down in the dumps after a wretched run of form and never looked like they could seriously trouble anyone at this level, let alone Saints.
It was exactly the kind of game you would have handpicked if you were having to play away from home under the pressure that Saints were facing after their defeat to Reading and West Ham’s drubbing of Brighton.
But let that take nothing away from Saints and their players who were asked serious questions after the Reading defeat but stood as one to answer them last night.
What Saints really needed was an early goal to temper the pressure.
If the game rolled on and they were desperately searching for a breakthrough then there was every chance that nerves could have got so frayed that mistakes could have been made.
As it turned out Saints not only got one early goal, they got two.
They were given the dream start after just five minutes.
Peterborough had many deficiencies, and one of them was height meaning Saints looked a threat from every set-play.
Danny Fox delivered a beautiful inswinging left footed corner from the right. Jos Hooiveld showed great desire to come through the pack and head into the ground and into the net from close range.
Saints were delirious and that feeling only grew when they doubled their advantage five minutes later.
He brought the ball under control and didn’t panic into rushing a shot, instead looking up and cleverly squaring to Billy Sharp who finished low first time through a body of players.
It could have got even better had Chaplow connected with a Danny Butterfield driven low cross or Rickie Lambert’s header back across goal, or had Paul Jones not made a decent stop diving away to his right to stop Lallana’s shot from outside the area.
Peterborough did have a hint of a threat going forward but it was little more than that.
Kelvin Davis had just two first-half saves to make, and both of those were pretty comfortable as he fielded a weak Tyrone Barnett header and turned another from Gaby Zakuani over the bar.
Sharp hit the post before half-time, but the flag was raised for offside, while Chaplow had a penalty appeal turned down after robbing Zakuani on the by-line and appearing to get tripped.
In the same way that you felt early first-half goals were important for Saints, it was hard to see Peterborough getting back into the match if they didn’t get one of their own in the opening stages of the second period.
They had offered so little in the match, looked so thoroughly dominated and short of confidence, that Saints just needed to keep things tight.
The Posh had a sniff three minutes after the restart but could only pick out the arms of Davis after a well worked free kick.
Having not taken that rare chance it wasn’t long before Saints exposed Peterborough’s defensive shortcomings once more to all but seal the win before the clock had even reached the hour mark.
It was a well worked, but poorly defended, goal.
Butterfield played the ball down the line to Lambert, he cut back to Lallana who showed great vision to spin and move a first time pass to the edge of the centre of the six yard box where Sharp stood totally alone.
The Posh defence was nowhere to be seen and the Saints striker was in no mood to be as charitable as his supposed markers as he swept the ball first time past Jones to give his side a seemingly unassailable 3-0 lead.
Paul Taylor tried to claw something back for Posh, first with a deflected shot that was easy for Davis and then a near post drive from out wide on the right that required a full length dive turn behind.
But it was Saints who looked more likely to add to their lead rather than Peterborough reduce the arrears.
Another passage of slick football cut the Posh apart, Sharp playing the ball into Lambert who then laid it into the path of the on-running Chaplow whose shot was blocked by the legs of Jones before Dean Hammond’s deflected effort went agonisingly close.
Saints went into containment mode after that, sitting back a little knowing the job was almost one and just trying to see it out.
Posh huffed and puffed but struggled to create much aside from a brief spell of pressure that brought them their consolation goal.
Tommy Rowe forced Davis into a good save with his legs moments before the Saints keeper was diving away to his left to show a strong wrist to turn wide Taylor’s fierce drive from 20 yards.
Saints failed to get the corner clear and with four minutes remaining Rowe popped up to stab home from close range for 3-1.
It mattered not in the scheme of things.
When the final whistle went it was Saints and their travelling army of fans who were jubilant.
With the Hammers only drawing at Bristol City, Saints left the London Road pitch knowing they needed a maximum of two points from their final two games to ensure Premier League football at St Mary’s next season.
The script could barely have been better crafted for them.