Saints stop rot but fail to appease fans
Fulham 0 Southampton 1
It is a measure of Southampton's growing strife that this slender victory over a Championship side with problems of their own was not enough to stop their fans turning on Mauricio Pellegrino near the end, greeting the manager's decision to withdraw Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg by directing loud boos and mutinous chants at the away dugout at Craven Cottage.
Less than 24 hours after Virgil van Dijk marked his Liverpool debut with the winner in the Merseyside derby, the £75m centre-back's former club were closing in on a place in the fourth round of the FA Cup thanks to James Ward-Prowse's first goal of the season when Pellegrino decided to make a late change in midfield, replacing Hojbjerg with the more defensive Mario Lemina with 10 minutes to go. In one angry moment a comfortable workout for the Premier League strugglers, who kept Fulham at arm's length for most of the afternoon, became a reminder of their darkening mood.
"You don't know what you're doing," was the cry from the away end at Craven Cottage. Pellegrino was entitled to argue otherwise, given that his team held on for their first win since November 26, but the fault lines were clear. On this evidence, it is difficult to see the situation improving until Pellegrino leaves, even if Southampton reinvest the Van Dijk money in new signings this month.
At least they avoided falling victim to a Cup upset. Survival has become the top priority for a club who were once held up as a model of stability, but Pellegrino was not in a position to take the FA Cup lightly.
Fulham's curious in-fighting helped. The club are 10th in the Championship, four points off a play-off spot, and thrashed Ipswich Town 4-1 in their previous game. Yet there was an air of uncertainty on their bench. Slavisa Jokanovic has made no attempt to hide his displeasure with Fulham's transfer plans this month and there is no guarantee that he will be their manager for much longer. Jokanovic issued the opposite of a rallying cry on Friday, suggesting that the club might as well sack him if his thoughts on signings continue to be ignored, and perhaps that explained a bitty, timid performance from the underdogs.
Southampton thought they had taken the lead when Shane Long blasted a shot past David Button after being released by Steven Davis's flick in the 10th minute. It was a confident finish from Long, who ended 1,320 minutes without finding the back of the net when he scored against Crystal Palace in midweek, but Southampton's budding goal machine was denied by a tight offside call.
Southampton were moving the ball well, as is their way, but as usual they were crying out for some incision in the final third. Promising attacks were breaking down too easily. They finally scored on the half-hour when Long's touch bounced off Kevin McDonald and through to Ward-Prowse, who swiped in a low shot.
Fulham toiled and Southampton ought to have killed the contest in the second half, but Hojbjerg failed to smuggle Long's cross past Button in the 53rd minute. Jack Stephens later headed against the bar with the goal gaping. Yet Fulham were afflicted by the same weakness and never really threatened an equaliser.
Sunday Indo Sport