Saints put League Two Saddlers’ to the sword


Russell Martin’s Championship high flyers cruised into the 4th Round of the FA Cup with a 4-0 win over Walsall that extends their unbeaten run to 19 games. 

During the week, the discourse around Southampton was that this game was going to be an opportunity to make some changes, and that came to fruition with nine being made by Saints in what remained a strong XI. 

There were starts for youngsters Samuel Amo-Ameyaw and Jayden Meghoma, the latter of whom was making his St.Mary’s Stadium debut. 

Walsall knew against a highly talented Southampton side who like to dominate possession that they’d have to defend well and keep the scores level as long as possible if they were to win this game. 

However, it took the Saints just six minutes as Ryan Fraser, making consecutive starts for the first time since September, latched on to a long ball by Taylor Harwood-Bellis and coolly slotted past Jackson Smith. 

Despite the early setback, Walsall did not capitulate and defended resolutely against the clockwork pressure from the hosts. 

Frenchman Sekou Mara ballooned the ball over the bar from just six yards out in a rare start as he failed to extend the advantage in the first half. 

Walsall manufactured a couple of half chances in the first half, but were gifted two golden opportunities in the early exchanges of the second period as Southampton reverted back to the unwanted habits of earlier in the season by giving the ball away in dangerous areas playing out from the back. 

In the first instance Jack Stephens gave the ball straight to Tom Knowles on the edge of the area. The Walsall wing back took on Jayden Meghoma but will have felt he could have done better as he blasted over the bar. 

Moments later, Saints escaped again after Mason Holgate inexplicably gave away possession on the edge of his own area. This time it was Jack Earing who claimed the loose ball and with a great sight of the target, skewed the ball wide with a woeful effort. 

Against top level Championship opposition, Walsall simply had to take those chances and were made to pay as Saints extended their lead just before the hour. 

Ryan Fraser drove towards the byline on the left-hand side and played the ball into the centre of the penalty area where Sekou Mara was awaiting. The Frenchman then made sure he made amends for his earlier miss as he swivelled on the ball and fired into the roof of the net past Smith. 

– Southampton’s Sekou Mara celebrates his second goal of the season

The second goal knocked the leftover stuffing out of the Saddler’s as Saints grabbed a third, this time Fraser getting his name on the scoresheet for the second time with a cultured right footed first time finish into the far corner on the edge of the area. 

With the game done and dusted, Walsall were simply in survival mode as wave after wave of Southampton attack crashed against them. 

Incidentally though, the fourth goal came from somewhat of a counter attack as the ball was won back by the Saints and played forward towards Sekou Mara. A messy but effective exchange between Mara and Charly Alcaraz allowed the Argentine to slip Che Adams through, with the Scotsman displaying his strength in holding off the defender and squeezing the ball home. 

The circumstances also allowed cameos for Saints youngsters Tyler Dibling and Cameron Bragg, the latter of which making his senior debut. 

All in all, it was a good afternoon’s work for the Championship side, who perhaps made their life more difficult than it needed to be for 50 minutes but eventually displayed their quality. Progression into the 4th Round, four goals and a clean sheet equates to a job well done by Martin’s side. 

As for Mat Sadler’s Saddler’s, they may rue the missed opportunities at the start of the second half, but will have learned plenty from playing against a quality outfit. 

Southampton will now return their focus to their Championship promotion push as they welcome relegation threatened Sheffield Wednesday to the south coast next weekend. 

Walsall sit just three points off the League Two play-offs, but next face a stern test at Edgeley Park against league leaders Stockport County. 

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