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Match Report: Middlesbrough 2-1 Southampton (Saints Fan's Perspective)

Sunday 22nd April 2012
Southampton's hopes of sealing automatic promotion this weekend were ended by a Middlesbrough side who have struggled as of late.

Led by Tony Mowbray, Boro had struggled at home this season having scored just 20 goals. On this occasion however, they managed to come from a goal behind to topple Southampton and hand the Championship title to Reading in the process.

The home side made two changes, with Julio Arca and Marvin Emnes replaced by Moroccan Merouane Zemmama and Faris Haroun respectively. The travelling Saints made no changes to their starting line-up for the fourth game in a row, although Bartosz Bialkowski and Morgan Schneiderlin took their place on the bench as Steve De Ridder and Frazer Richardson missed out.

If you asked the Southampton fans what they would've liked pre-match they would have told you they'd like an early goal, and a victory. Billy Sharp delivered the first request after just 45 seconds with a clever tap-in from six yards, and sent the Saints' support into raptures as they could almost taste the Premier League.

Ultimately the second wish was not to happen at the Riverside. Having started off on the front foot, Southampton failed to gain control of the midfield. Middlesbrough were limited to shots from range, with Nicky Bailey going closest in the opening ten minutes. The dangerous Haroun broke free down the right hand side before his low ball was cleared away, only as far as Barry Robson, who could only smash his shot wide of the goal.

After a period of dominance from the home side, the Saints saw Richard Chaplow break into the penalty area only for him to fire over with a powerful left foot strike. Middlesbrough broke forward again but missed the target with yet another strike from distance, this time courtesy of Justin Hoyte. Chaplow was then presented with another opportunity but a well-timed challenge denied him the opportunity to double the away side's lead.

Danny Fox went close again as the visitors were awarded a free-kick, but his effort curled wide of the far post. Hoyte picked up a knock and had to be replaced shortly before half-time by Joe Bennett. A spell of corners came as the hosts continued to turn the screw in search of that elusive equaliser.

Eventually it came courtesy of a deflected strike from Nicky Bailey. Following a clearance to the edge of the area, Bailey struck for goal and as Chaplow criminally turned away from the ball, it deflected off him and into the back of the net. Suddenly the air of positivity surrounding the following support dropped, and half-time could not come soon enough for the visitors.

Southampton began the second half with renewed energy, getting forward and being rewarded with corners for their efforts. Adam Lallana was fouled 30 yards from goal, and Rickie Lambert lined up the free-kick. Unfortunately for Lambert, his powerful free-kick flew wide of the left post. Lambert brought the ball down shortly after for the scorer, Billy Sharp, who could only fire over from 8 yards.

Saints continued to push for a second goal and with the set-piece count increasing, Jose Fonte and Jos Hooiveld looked just as likely to score as Lambert or Sharp. After 55 minutes Lallana was brought to ground by Seb Hines, who had already been booked, with just the keeper to beat from the edge of the box. The referee incensed Southampton players as he failed to deliver a second yellow or even straight red card for the challenge which denied Lallana a clear goal-scoring opportunity with a tackle from behind. Lambert stepped up after a spell of protests from both sides towards the officials, but fired wide as the pressure was increased upon the Saints.

Tony Mowbray opted for a double-change, with Robson and McDonald being replaced by Williams and Main as Boro seeked to grab all 3 points, and keep their slim play-off hopes alive. Not long afterwards Chaplow limped off clutching his hamstring to be replaced by Brazilian Guly Do Prado. Sharp went close again, but his deflected shot only found the side-netting. The game was opening up due to a combination of slack passing and end-to-end attacks.

Fonte then went into the book for a needless and ill-disciplined shirt pull and, wouldn't you know it, Zemmama converted the free-kick with a fantastic strike curling into the top left corner.

Do Prado went close as a disheartened Saints side hoped for a late equaliser at least, but his 30-yard drive flew just over the bar. Adkins made another switch as Schneiderlin returned from injury to come on for Butterfield, as Jack Cork switched to right-back with five minutes of normal time to go. A further five were added but Southampton could find no clear chances, and slumped to defeat.

Southampton now know that should West Ham win both of their remaining games, they will have to beat Coventry to confirm promotion, a draw would only be enough should Southampton's goal difference better that of the Irons. Middlesbrough meanwhile realistically require Cardiff City to lose away to Crystal Palace, whilst they must beat Watford away on the final day of the season.
Connor Armstrong

Total articles: 8

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