As first games of the season go, Saints getting a point v Burnley wasn’t a bad start. You could tell Burnley had already played three competitive games as early they dominated possession and could, or should I say should, have taken an early esd.
On this wet Sunday afternoon we saw the five new players all make the squad with Armstrong and the towering Vestergaard making their debuts. The formation and selection had me a bit baffled an hour kick off, but the safety-first option of three centre backs, with Cedric and Bertrand playing as wing backs was deployed.
Early in the first half, it looked like the curse of the returning player had hit Saints when Jack Cork curled a peach of a shot into the top left corner of McCarthy’s goal, only for the lino to rule it out for offside. I thought Corky was very unlucky, to be honest, as he looked on side but his teammates were off by a country mile.
Ten minutes in and I was glad that Sparky doesn’t read my team selections because if he followed my advice McCarthy wouldn’t have been able to make a lovely save from Aaron Lennon. The Burnley striker latched on to a nod down from an Ashley Westwood hoof up the pitch, but Macca was so quickly off his line to smother the shot.
Saints didn’t seem to want to ball or, more to the point, Burnley weren’t allowing us to play. Then on 12 minutes the ref awarded Burnley a free kick, for a foul on Gudmundsson by Lemina. The Burnley man took the free-kick himself but luckily his 30-yard effort went over the top of the goal.
Our midfield weren’t at the races at all; it was looking worrying. Burnley looked dangerous but all of a sudden Redmond picked up the ball and went on a run towards goal. He looked to have overcooked the ball but managed to get the byline and put in a decent cross, only for the defender to head clear. This lifted the Saints crowd and seemed to lift the players on the park as well.
With Saints growing into the game Armstrong played a delightful ball in to box which just went over the head of Charlie Austin at the back stick. And moving into stoppage time at the end of the first-half Vestergaard gave away a senseless free-kick which Burnley pumped into the box. The ball found its way onto the head of Hendricks who must have thought he scored the game’s opener, only for Macca to deny him with a superb effort down low. It was a late scare, but the first-half ended goalless.
There were no changes at half-time but Saints nearly went behind when a nothing ball fell at the feet of Gudmundsson only for Jack Stephens to intervene with crunching tackle just as the Burnley player let fly. From the resulting corner Ward hit the ball goalward only for Macca to save again.
On 56 minutes, like a lot of Saints fans, Sparky had seen enough and the formation was changed along with the personnel on the pitch. Off came Cedric, who looked knackered, and Armstrong. They were replaced by Danny Ings and Elyounoussi. The shape change to 4-4-2 and Saints looked better for it.
Elyounoussi played a lovely ball into Redmond on the edge of the D, who spun to shoot goalwards, only for the ball to take a deflection off Ben Mee for a Saints corner. From the resulting dead ball Westwood cleared off the line from his own player’s header; that was the closest Saints had come to taking the lead.
Danny Ings had his opportunity on goal but his curling shot went over Hart’s bar. Then on 70 minutes Vestergaard played a nice little ball to Elyounoussi who set towards the Burnley goal with a decent run followed by a shot was blocked without troubling Hart. Almost immediately Ings picked up the ball outside the Burnley box and he looked up and saw two players on the back stick. His delightful cross found Jack Stephens, who’s volley was saved by Hart.
Saints were applying the pressure, pushing the Clarets further towards their own goal. From an Elyounoussi corner Mario Lemina had his diving header saved by an inspired Joe Hart. Redmond had a chance blocked, with the ball going for a corner, which Ings nodded over the top. Elyounoussi had a great chance to win it but the Saints man had his shot blocked. On 87 minutes another corner saw Ings again head high.
There was a few chances spurned by Saints but, all in all, the last half hour was all Saints. It ended honours even which isn’t a bad start at all considering how many years since Saints won an opening game.
My overall opinion is the deadline day loan signing was really good business, if he stay fit he will score. Going to Everton next Saturday I would scrap the 3-5-2 and go with a 4-4-2 from the get go. Against Leicester City in a fortnight, I’d love to see Ings, Gabbi and Austin as an attacking 3 with Charlie playing down the middle, but who I am? I suggested dropping Macca for Gunn before the game.