Gaston Ramirez inspires Southampton to victory over Bristol City
Gaston Ramirez has rarely looked like a £12million player since joining Southampton but gave a glimpse of his undoubted quality in their unconvincing Capital One Cup victory against Bristol City.
Signed to much fanfare last summer, the 22-year-old has impressed only fleetingly since swapping Bologna for St Mary's.
Ramirez has not started a Premier League match since April 13, but his performance in the 2-0 win against City will have given manager Mauricio Pochettino food for thought.
The Saints boss named a completely different line-up for the third-round clash, with Adam Lallana and Jay Rodriguez the only two starters from Saturday's win at Liverpool included in the 18-man squad.
It gave a chance to fringe players to shine - an opportunity Ramirez grabbed at a quarter-full St Mary's, albeit against League One opposition.
Having netted in the 5-1 win at Barnsley in the second round, the Uruguayan hammered home a sumptuous volley to put Saints ahead after 15 minutes.
Playing with style and swagger, Ramirez came close twice more in the first half and continued to prove a handful after the restart.
However, while struggling in the league, City knocked out Crystal Palace in the previous round and returned for the second half rejuvenated.
Joe Bryan, Jay Emmanuel-Thomas, Bobby Reid and Stephen McLaughlin all threatened to level for the Robins, who dominated for large spells of the second period.
However, Jos Hooiveld's powerful header seven minutes from time ended City's hopes of winning their first third-round tie in a decade - a match Saints ended with 10 men after Ramirez hobbling off in stoppage time.
Given Saints were charging £20 to buy tickets on the gate, it was no surprise that only 8,539 bothered to turn up.
Those in attendance may have initially wished they had stayed away as well after a dire opening in which neither side was able to string many passes together.
Sean O'Driscoll's side were first to threaten, with Reid intercepting a misplaced ball by Jack Cork and racing goalwards.
Hooiveld was booked for taking him down mid-flight, with Cork blocking a powerful Emmanuel-Thomas strike from the resulting free-kick.
It was the only moment of note in a poor opening brought to life in style after 15 minutes.
After James Ward-Prowse's initial strike was blocked by Aden Flint, the midfielder headed the ball to Ramirez, who fired home a fantastic volley from the edge of the box.
Tadanari Lee, making his first start in nearly a year, was denied on the turn by Elliot Parish as Saints threatened to double their advantage, before Ramirez struck just wide of the City goal.
Saints were completely on top aside from an Emmanuel-Thomas drive pushed round the post by Davis.
Parish did well to tip over a fierce Lee strike, with Guly do Prado then guilty of a shocking mis-kick in front goal.
Ramirez sent a curling effort just wide of the top corner as Saints continued in the ascendancy, with Parish forced to deny Calum Chambers' deflected effort and a Cork strike as half-time approached.
Maya Yoshida also came close just before referee Graham Scott called time on the first half, with Do Prado heading straight at goalkeeper Parish when play resumed.
Davis did well to push a long-range Bryan strike around the post, kicking off a period of dominance from the visitors.
A fizzing ball across the box from Bryan was almost turned in at the back post by Emmanuel-Thomas, before Davis was called into action to thwart a dipping Reid shot.
City continued to press and an Emmanuel-Thomas cross-shot was almost directed in by McLaughlin, who also nodded over after Davis flapped at a cross.
Substitute Marlon Harewood was next to just fail to direct the ball goalwards, before Rodriguez fired over after combining with fellow substitute Harrison Reed.
The introduction of those two players appeared to kick Saints into life and they got the second they desired in the 83rd minute.
Ward-Prowse lofted in a free-kick and Hooiveld powerfully headed home, with the only frustration of the night for Saints being a knock sustained by Ramirez towards the end.