Five point preview: Southampton
AFC Bournemouth travel along the south coast to St. Mary's tomorrow for their penultimate away game of the season.
Ahead of the clash, we looked at five key points to preview the fixture.
Despite Southampton not recording a league win since 3rd February, beating strugglers West Brom at The Hawthorns, they can be buoyed by recent top flight performances against Arsenal and Chelsea.
A trip to the Emirates narrowly ended in a 3-2 defeat for Mark Hughes’ side, despite taking the lead early on and equalising for 2-2 with less than 20 minutes to go. However, a late Danny Welbeck header ensured Arsenal secured the three points.
A similar tale played out against Chelsea, with Southampton taking a 2-0 lead at St. Mary’s, once again showing the threat they possess. But, it wasn’t to be that day and an Olivier Giroud brace and Eden Hazard strike saw Chelsea come back from 2-0 down to win for the first time since 2002.
Southampton and Chelsea met again just last weekend, this time in the FA Cup semi-final. However, unfortunately for the Saints, it was a similar result to the previous week.
A 2-0 win for Antonio Conte’s Blues was confirmed as Giroud again pounced, before Alvaro Morata sealed their place in the final with an 82nd minute goal.
Hughes was appointed as manager of Southampton on 14th March 2018, signing a contract until the end of the season. However, his first league game, two weeks later, didn’t end well with West Ham defeating the south coast outfit 3-0 at the London Stadium.
But, there’s no doubt that Hughes is starting to get the best out of his players, after two competitive games with Chelsea and Arsenal, not forgetting a well earned 0-0 draw at former champions and ninth placed Leicester.
With big games to come against the Cherries, Everton and Swansea, Hughes will be looking to continue this form ahead of a tricky test against Manchester City on the last game of the season.
Southampton can also take confidence from the return of Jack Stephens. The young defender was sent off in the final minutes of the 3-2 defeat against Arsenal, meaning he missed the two fixtures against Chelsea as well as the trip to Leicester.
The 24-year-old has been a key man for Southampton this season, not only making 25 appearances but also scoring three goals, including a winner against Watford and an equaliser against Brighton.
Last time out
The Cherries entertained Southampton at Vitality Stadium back in December, with a 1-1 draw played out between the two sides. Ryan Fraser opened the scoring, before Charlie Austin equalised on the hour mark.
The last fixture at St. Mary’s came almost this time last year. Once again, the sides couldn’t be separated and it finished 0-0, though the Cherries did miss a penalty that could’ve seen them take all three points.
Arter and Smith out
AFC Bournemouth manager Eddie Howe reveals that Harry Arter will miss the game against Southampton due to injury.
The Cherries boss said that Arter has picked up an achilles problem, but everyone is OK heading into the game - and that Adam Smith is also making good progress recovering from his injury.
"We are pretty much as we were," the manager said.
"Apart from Harry Arter I think we’re OK, he’s got an achilles problem and won’t play.
"We thought Adam Smith’s injury may have been a season-ending one, but he’s had no operation and is making good progress.
"I would say next week is more of a possibility for Adam."
Local reporter insight on Southampton
AFC Bournemouth travel across the New Forest to face Southampton in the Premier League at St Mary’s this weekend.
And ahead of the fixture, afcb.co.uk spoke to BBC Radio Solent’s Sports Editor Adam Blackmore to preview the game.
afcb.co.uk: How would you summarise Southampton’s season so far?
AB: Dreadful, if we’re being honest. Southampton have totally underperformed and have lost their way. They have rarely dominated a game and have only won five league matches all season. Some of the players will point to the fact that they have played well in games and lost, but that doesn’t mean anything when they keep losing. Whilst they have lacked goals, their biggest problem has been keeping them out at the other end. Only West Brom have won fewer games.
afcb.co.uk: How much of an emphasis is being placed on the weekend’s fixture?
AB: Mark Hughes has said that they must throw the kitchen sink at their remaining games, and I agree with him. They have to beat Bournemouth and Everton, two teams who don’t really have anything to play for, so that they have a chance at getting above Swansea when they travel there in the penultimate fixture. Hughes understands that Bournemouth would love to get one over Southampton at St Mary’s, but the rivalry isn’t the main concern, it’s about how Southampton can get a result.
afcb.co.uk: Who are Southampton’s key men?
AB: I think Charlie Austin and Shane Long. Between them they can certainly trouble the Bournemouth defence, but that’s only if they’re both on the pitch and receive service. Howe will know all about Austin as a finisher, and Long doesn’t give up on anything and will always make opposing defenders work hard. Bournemouth should relish putting pressure on Saints’ defence, which has leaked so many goals. In the past Southampton always used to be a difficult side to play against. This season that hasn’t been the case.
afcb.co.uk: Has there been a significant change in approach since Mark Hughes’ appointment as manager?
AB: Hughes’ first priority has been to try and stop the side leaking goals. They’ve gone to three at the back for the last few matches but that hasn’t really worked, aside from the game at Leicester. Against Chelsea in the FA Cup, for the first time Saints played with two strikers in Austin and Long and that could be something that we see more of between now and the end of the season.
afcb.co.uk: And finally, a score prediction?
AB: Given the way that Southampton’s season has been going, I’m going for 1-1. Southampton to score first, with Bournemouth to equalise late on.
Adam is available to follow on Twitter, @AdamBlackmore.
Ref watch: Taylor to officiate at St. Mary's
Anthony Taylor will be the man in the middle at St. Mary’s on Saturday afternoon.
Eddie Howe’s Bournemouth side will travel to Southampton for a 3pm kick-off.
The official has taken charge of 24 top flight games this season, handing out 74 yellow cards, one red card and awarding five penalties.
This weekend will be just the second time that he has refereed the Cherries in the top flight this term, with his only other outing being September’s 3-0 loss at the Emirates Stadium against Arsenal.
Similarly, Taylor has officiated just one of Southampton’s Premier League games this season, the 0-0 draw against Stoke in March being just that.
The referee certainly possesses plenty of experience, however, taking charge of the 2016 Community Shield between Arsenal and Chelsea, as well as last season’s FA Cup final, also between the two sides.
On Saturday, Taylor will be assisted by Gary Beswick and Andy Halliday, with Stuart Attwell the fourth official.