Recording their first-midweek win in over two years, the Saints hauled themselves out of the relegation zone and finally get an important win against one of their relegation rivals.
With tension rife among supporters and players, the opening stages were cagey as both teams knew what was at stake. Southampton showed glimpses of promise, particularly down the left flank, with Nathan Redmond and Ryan Bertrand combining well to create openings. However, Fulham had the lions share of possession without the cutting edge needed to open up the Saints defence. On the occasion the Saints did press in packs, Fulham struggled and were forced into errors.
Despite Fulham having their moments in the first half, where striking duo Ryan Babel and Aleksandar Mitrovic threatened to deliver, Southampton struck a double blow to the cottagers. Strikes from Oriol Romeu and James Ward-Prowse gave Southampton a 2-0 lead at half time.
In a cagey first half, midfield generals Romeu and Hojbjerg battled away in the middle, switching the play and breaking up the play to prevent Fulham countering. In a fixture where the stakes were so high, the pair were essential in Southampton taking the lead and controlling the nerves in St.Mary’s.
In the second half, no one could be sure what Southampton side would turn up. The team that continues to press and puts the game to bed or the team that sits back and invites pressure? On countless occasions, supporters were used to witnessing the latter. However, this time things were different; there wasn’t that feeling of apprehension and the expectation of inevitably conceding late. Unusually, there was a degree of calmness and composure in the players and supporters.
A third clean sheet of the season will give a defence and newly appointed number one, Angus Gunn, a much-needed confidence boost. Saints comfortably played out the second half without too much worry from a toothless Fulham side who look destined for relegation.
Although Southampton now face the daunting task of going to Old Trafford, Wednesday’s win will help ease the pressure on the players. The ability to beat a team that’s around them in the relegation zone will be another positive for Ralph Hasenhuttl’s men to gain from the match. After dropping points to the likes of Cardiff, Burnley and Crystal Palace recently, the Fulham win could act as a watershed moment for the young side.
Angus Gunn: 7. Was rarely tested but his distribution was solid and was clean in his handling.
Yan Valery: 7. The display highlighted the French starlet’s improvement in maturing the physical aspect of his game, winning 50/50 tackles and offering an option out wide. Final ball still needs work though.
Jan Bednarek: 7. Aggressive in his tackling and was on the front foot against a physical front line. Quietly developing into a top centre half.
Maya Yoshida: 8. Upon his return to the side, Yoshida looked sharp, leading the back-line well and helped sure up the defence.
Jannick Vestergaard: 7. The Dane was a key figure when defending from set pieces, making some important headers and was cute in possession.
Ryan Bertrand: 8. Bertrand looked fitter and stronger than he has for a while, showing plenty of energy getting up and down the left flank. He also marshalled any attacking threat from Fulham down his side and never troubled.
Oriol Romeu: 9. The goal capped off a superb performance from the Spaniard. Won the key midfield battle and kept the play ticking over with some accurate passing. Throughout the game, he was midfield powerhouse who gave Calum Chambers a torrid time upon his return to St Mary’s.
Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg: 8. Epitomised a captain’s performance. Dragged the team with him at times with some lung-busting dribbles and showed high intensity when closing the ball down.
James Ward-Prowse: 9. A determined, hard-working performance from Prowse. Never stopped running, relentless in his pressing and gave every single ounce of energy for the Saints shirt. Looks a lot braver in tackling and is now becoming a senior man under Hasenhuttl.
Nathan Redmond: 6. Despite starting the game brightly and playing a role in the second goal, Redmond’s end product was lacking. He also looked tired towards the end and wasn’t offering an outlet with runs in behind.
Charlie Austin: 6. Returning to the starting eleven after almost being shipped out in January, Austin held the ball well at times, linking the play well. However, he lacked the movement and pace in behind to become a real threat. On the hour mark, he looked dead on his feet and was clearly ready to be substituted.
Shane Long: 7. As ever, Long worked hard and was a constant pest to a creaking Fulham back four. Had a few half chances and linked well with the midfield.