Lapses of concentration will continue to halt Saints progress unless big signings are made


I sat in the gantry on Thursday night at St Mary’s for my first time experiencing behind closed doors football. The lack of crowd was eerie, unnerving and absolutely took away from the spectacle that is Premier League football.

What was equally unnerving was the first half performance by Southampton. Ralph Hasenhuttl rang the changes as he gave some of his fringe players a chance to impress.

Jake Vokins made his Premier League debut at left back, whilst Jannik Vestergaard took a place in the troubled area of central defence. Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg was the third change in that backline, with the man dubbed the ‘Polish Maldini; Jan Bednarek, continuing as a mainstay in the defence.

But they lacked cohesion throughout the side, Micheal Obafemi again failed to show his worth of a starting place, being hauled off and replaced by an impactful Che Adams, who despite still seemingly lacking confidence in front of goal, is beginning to work out an understanding with Ings in the final third.

Hojbjerg never looked comfortable at full back, his tenacity and ability to ‘put out potential fires’ would lean towards it being a role he should be accomplished in. But his indecisiveness when advancing the ball stunted the Saints need to get the ball in dangerous areas to hurt a Brighton side who lined up with a solid five at the back.

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But they fell behind in the first half not because of their failure to progress the ball forward, but for their failure to concentrate at the back. Yes it was a makeshift back four, but some Southampton fans would argue that they’ve had a makeshift back four for a few seasons now. Only the current bottom three and West Ham have a defensive record worse than Southampton this season (59 goals conceded).

The club have invested millions into improving their backline, and it is a slight concern for them this season that their most influential player at the back is on loan from Tottenham. Kyle Walker-Peters was introduced at half-time to flip the game on it’s head. His positional play and ability to bomb down the wing proved a key factor in the remarkable improvement in the second period.

Recent years have seen Wesley Hoedt join the club for a fee in the region of £15m from Lazio, but he failed to cement a place in the side. The Dutch international struggled to adapt to the pace of the Premier League and was often caught out of position, with the fans losing patience after a number of high profile mistakes.

Hoedt was loaned out to clubs around Europe whilst the board opted to bring in Danish giant Jannik Vestergaard from Borussia Monchengladbach.

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But unfortunately, life on the south coast has not been plain sailing for the defender. Vestergaard has found himself in and out of the side, often as a backup to Jack Stephens, who joined the club from Plymouth Argyle in 2011.

But as shown on Thursday night, the Dane is himself susceptible to lapses in concentration. His failure to recognise danger meant Glenn Murray had a free header to flick on, which Brighton dangerman Neil Maupay took under his control before lashing it past McCarthy and into the net.

While Danny Ings equalised in the second half for his 20th goal in the Premier League this season, it is these lapses at the back which will continue to hamper the progress Ralph Hasenhuttl has made with his side.

The Austrian has confirmed he is looking into strengthening the squad with at least two or three players, and it is highly thought that Real Vallodolid defender Mohammed Salisu.

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The Ghana born defender has impressed in La Liga this season, third in the entire division for clearances this season (154 in 31 appearances). The 21-year-old has contributed massively to the impressive defence of Valladolid, who despite sitting 16th in the table, boast the seventh best defensive record in the league.

It is highly touted that Southampton and Rennes have activated the release clause and the player himself is having to choose what he thinks is the best move for his career.

Hasenhuttl will hope Salisu opts for the south coast and becomes a further option at the back to partner Bednarek. Improving the defence is the immediate next step to progressing up the Premier League table in 2020/21.

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