Well, that was horrible. At least that first-half performance was.
Minus any sugar-coating, we were left with 45 minutes of struggle and toil that was exceptionally hard on the eye. I wasn’t at the New Den to witness the infamous 4-0 mauling in the early months of the Farke era, but I’m reliably informed this showing, before the interval, was on a similar level.
All the traits that go together to make a really rotten performance were prevalent throughout that opening 45, but the one that hurt most of all was lack of concentration from set-pieces.
Okay, so they were lacking in cohesion, energy and looked toothless going forward, but on the premise of limping through to half-time without conceding I could have lived with that – especially away from home in the Premier League. It’d have given Team Farke the chance to tweak and re-assess.
What they couldn’t afford was two moments of defending so abject they would incur the wrath of Sunday morning managers in the 37th tier of the pyramid. Given that we don’t look ever likely to win from a losing position at the moment, at 1-0 it felt almost game over. At 2-0 it was.
Many have pointed the finger at zonal marking, and after last night it’s a tricky one to argue against, but for me the issue was (and is) not zonal marking per se, but how it’s delivered. Done properly it works. But it wasn’t last night and cost us a point.
Of course, when you’re trailing, every other weakness and misfiring element gets exposed, and so it was laid bare to those at St Mary’s and the watching audience on Amazon Prime just how slow and laboured City’s passing was and how, as a result, they carried so little threat in the final third.
The redeeming features and plus points were non-existent. Amazon’s ‘Opta win probability’ graphic had City at 1%. Some suggested even this was generous.
Farke had to make changes. It was just a question of how he would re-shuffle his pack. With no shortage of options, Ibrahim Amadou and Tom Trybull were the sacrificial lambs – as a defensive shield and instigators of attacks, neither had their finest hour – with Alex Tettey slotting into the base of the midfield alongside Kenny McLean, whose 10 role was handed to Marco Stiepermann.
It worked to a degree, and the second-half iteration of City was infinitely better than the first, but they were just left with too much to do. Tettey was outstanding, breaking up attacks but also finding the right angles to be able to receive the ball from Zimmermann and Godfrey, and also managed to his first-ever slide-rule pass to set Pukki free for the goal.
If those knees hold up, he’s played himself into the starting XI on Sunday.
That City dominated the closing stages said much for an improved second-half performance but also that Saints were happy to hold onto what they had. Chances came and went – both Emi Buendia and Sam Byram both had more than presentable opportunities to level it – but it was not to be. Ralf Hasenhüttl’s clenched fist upon the final whistle summed up how huge the win was for his team.
So it’s Southampton, not City, who now put clear water between themselves and the bottom three, and the momentum we spoke of after beating Everton and then nearly beating Arsenal has taken a hit.
But we’re not down. It’s still too early for white flags. But we do have to prove ourselves more resilient, and defeats by Watford and Southampton when “six-pointer” was being bandied around by some are not what’s needed when in the midst of a survival battle.
Good performances against teams who are happy to let you play is one thing – and we’ve proven ourselves fairly adept in those circumstances – but those who press us and set out to stop us playing are having far too much success far too regularly. In those types of games, we still look a soft touch.
And I don’t expect Wilder’s Blades to sit back and watch us weave our pretty passing patterns.
I suspect by 4pm on Sunday afternoon we’ll know a little bit more about our chances of survival.