Tuesday 16 January 2018

Shane Long's late strike sees Saints march on

Liverpool 0 Southampton1

Shane Long celebrates after his late goal secures the win over Liverpool to book Southampton’s place in the League Cup final. Photo: PA
Shane Long celebrates after his late goal secures the win over Liverpool to book Southampton’s place in the League Cup final. Photo: PA

Jason Burt

A fabulous few days for Southampton. A dreadful few days for Liverpool. Following a resounding victory over champions Leicester City on Sunday, Southampton reached their first major cup final in 14 years, with Shane Long scoring in injury time and fans invading the Anfield pitch.

Following the misery of defeat in the league to bottom-placed Swansea on Saturday, Liverpool's January became that bit darker. Unstoppable in September and October, Liverpool suddenly appear vulnerable. Southampton's progress to Wembley was achieved thanks to an organised defensive performance but not a heroic one.

Shane Long scores the winner. Photo: PA
Shane Long scores the winner. Photo: PA

Southampton's third clean sheet of the season against Liverpool came without much of a shake. That Maya Yoshida was Southampton's third-choice centre back until last week and that he was untroubled here said everything about Liverpool's threat.

Liverpool now have failed to win any of their last four League Cup semi-finals at home. Considering Jürgen Klopp has repeatedly mentioned the impact a crowd can have on a result without the need for a question, could this sequence reflect a greater mood?

Liverpool's players arrived at the stadium, though, amidst a frenzied scene, with masses of people lining Anfield Road, waving their scarves, chanting and setting off flares.

Southampton had lost their captain and star man Virgil Van Dijk to injury.

Fraser Forster stretches to deny Liverpool a goal at Anfield last night. Photo: Reuters
Fraser Forster stretches to deny Liverpool a goal at Anfield last night. Photo: Reuters

Plaudits

Southampton manager Claude Puel, had not lost in his four games against Liverpool while in charge of Lyon and Southampton. He has not won plaudits for his team's style since arriving in England from Nice but he appreciates how to set up a defence.

Surely it must have concerned him that because of Van Dijk's absence, he was forced to call on his fourth-choice centre-back Jack Stephens (22), who has yet to start a Premier League game.

Perhaps it was a measure of how little is known about Stephens that Southampton's supporters sang about him being "one of our own," when the reality is, he grew up in Cornwall and was in fact signed from Plymouth Argyle in 2011 when he was 17, having made five appearances in League One.

It would be tempting to conclude that this was a bigger game for Southampton than it was for Liverpool, bearing in mind their last final was in the FA Cup and that experience ended in defeat in 2003; bearing in mind as well, the final before that was in the League Cup of 1979 when Brian Clough took his Nottingham Forest team out the night before, got many of them drunk and still won.

And yet, it is easy to forget that Liverpool have won only one trophy in 11 years. With their hopes of an involvement in the Premier League title race draining, this was an even more important for them.

In bad form, though, the lack of confidence was evident, as Southampton - with Stephens marshalling Daniel Sturridge without disturbance - passed 200 minutes of football against Liverpool this season without conceding a goal without any threat being posed.

The visitors had the better chances of the first half and they were identical; Nathan Redmond slaloming past Trent Alexander-Arnold on both occasions, and then spinning beyond Joel Matip before having the presence of mind to toe-poke a pass to someone else in a better position.

Loris Karius saved brilliantly from Dusan Tadic's first opportunity then Steven Davis made a mess of the second, ballooning his shot high into the Kop.

Liverpool had to be more aggressive after the break because they could not have been any more passive.

Fraser Forster nearly brought the tie level by fumbling Emre Can's stinging drive before recovering brilliantly to claw it away. Sturridge then found himself unmarked in the box twice but was not quite balanced enough to score. But Liverpool were hardly battering down the door. Southampton deserved their place at Wembley.

It was guaranteed thanks to Long. (© Independent News Service)

Irish Independent

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