Southampton can understandably feel aggrieved at many of the decisions that went against them in Sunday’s game against Liverpool, however, can they simply blame the result on the referee’s performance? Saints arguably had three penalty claims turned down, whilst Liverpool ‘keeper Simon Mignolet appeared to handle to ball outside the area as he denied Eljero Elia. But do these decisions serve as a distraction from the real problem with Southampton’s side, goalscoring?
Within the first minute, Saints’ new boy Filip Djuricic broke through and went down under pressure from Emre Can. After the game, Djuricic admitted “the first one, ok, I fell down because I felt the contact”. Even the most passionate Saints fan would have to admit that the contact didn’t really merit a penalty, but you see penalties being given for that sort of offence. If it had been Robin van Persie instead of Filip Djuricic, Old Trafford instead of St Mary’s or the 30th minute rather than the 30th second, the decision is given potentially becomes more likely. It seems that Kevin Friend made the correct decision, however what enraged Saints fans more was that less than a minute later, Phillipe Coutinho scored a world class finish from range.
Djuricic didn’t take long to cause the visitor’s defence more problems though, as just a couple of minutes later he was felled in the box by Joe Allen. Again, Friend waved protests away, and Elia’s follow up was well saved by Mignolet. As the Serbian broke into the box, Allen’s attempted slide tackle got nowhere near the ball and brought the Saints player down. Both Djuricic and Koeman described the incident as “a clear penalty”, and a goal at that time, straight after the Liverpool’s, could have changed the course of the game.
Liverpool had a penalty claim themselves, as Raheem Sterling was challenged by Jose Fonte. Fonte took out Sterling, but replays confirmed he first made substantial enough contact with the ball in an excellently timed challenge. Red’s ‘keeper Mignolet should have seen red as he came racing out of his area to deny Elia, who attempted to lob him. Although the initial block appeared to be with his thigh, and inside the box, the ball spun onto the Belgian’s hand, outside the box. Saints had a half-hearted third call turned down too, as Dejan Lovren appeared to handle a James Ward-Prowse corner.
But can these decisions, however right or wrong, disguise the real problem with the Saints team? They have looked blunt in attack, and although chances are being created, failure to convert these has cost them recently. The pressure on Graziano Pelle, who is now 9 games without a goal, was intensified by the failure to buy another out-and-out striker in the window. You also have to bear in mind that Pelle isn’t really a finisher. His game revolves around holding the ball up and bringing others into play. Although he has proved, both earlier this season and at Feyenoord, that he knows where the goal is, he isn’t the sort of player that a team in Southampton’s position should be reliant on for goals. Djuricic looked bright in the first half, and hopefully can also help countryman Dusan Tadic rekindle his early season form. Elia was fairly ineffective, apart from his one breakthrough where he perhaps should have tried to round Mignolet rather than lob him. Of course, Shane Long was on the bench, but although a hard worker and creator, he will not guarantee you more than 10 goals a season. As it looks unlikely that Jay Rodriguez will feature until very late in the season, Saints’ European challenge might be over by then. Ronald Koeman acknowledged after the match that Saints have not been clinical enough, and that is likely to be the lesson from this match, rather than coming away thinking that the ‘small clubs’ never receive the rub of the green.