Shelvey's superb late strike makes Saints pay for lack of firepower
Southampton 0 Swansea City1
A first Premier League defeat in seven matches hardly represents cause for alarm but it was still hard not to escape the suspicion that this weekend may come to represent a pivotal moment in Southampton's inspired push for Champions League football.
While Manchester United, Arsenal, Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur all continued their marked revival since Christmas, the limitations and comparable lack of firepower in the Southampton squad were evident in defeat here.
Yes, they were largely dominant in possession against Swansea City but, with Graziano Pelle and Dusan Tadic now struggling to recapture the level they reached earlier in the season, they only rarely looked like scoring.
United have now leapfrogged Southampton into third while Arsenal hover in fifth on the same points and only one goal adrift.
With his team having already once bounced back from a five-game losing sequence, it was natural that the Southampton manager Ronald Koeman should urge perspective, but he also warned that United, Arsenal, Liverpool and Spurs were unlikely to end the season with as much as inconsistency as they started it.
"They are good teams and have good players - it is no surprise they come back," he said. "It will be hard to keep the position in the table. We know that. The position still after this defeat is not normal for Southampton but we keep going."
The squad is particularly stretched just now - Koeman only had six of his allotted seven substitutes on the bench - and Southampton must also do without Ryan Bertrand for three matches after he was sent off for a challenge that grazed the ball but left the Swansea winger Modou Barrow needing a stretcher.
Victor Wanyama does at least return to training today, while Koeman also still hopes to add two players before the transfer window closes tonight. A loan deal for the Serbian attacking midfielder Filip Djuricic has been agreed in principle with Mainz 05 and Southampton have bid £5m for Feyenoord's Tonny Vilhena to replace Jack Cork, who has joined Swansea.
They could have done with Cork yesterday, with the game ultimately settled after their central midfield pairing of Steven Davis and James Ward-Prowse were punished for giving Jonjo Shelvey far too much space. Koeman suggested that Swansea had been "lucky" but accepted that fault also lay with Southampton's failure to make their first-half dominance count.
It was Swansea's first win against Southampton in the Premier League and indeed their first against any team in the league since December 26. After the two Manchester clubs, they are also the first club to win at St Mary's in the league this season.
"We got back to basics, came to frustrate them a bit," Swansea manager Garry Monk said. "We wanted to concede a bit of possession. I think tactically we got it spot on and deserved the points."
With Swansea disciplined through the spine of the team, Southampton's main threat actually derived from the flanks whenever Nathaniel Clyne and Bertrand burst forward from their full-back positions. This was evident inside 10 minutes when Tadic released Clyne, whose cross found Ward-Prowse only for Lukasz Fabianski to save brilliantly with an outstretched leg.
Swansea attacked sporadically but almost took the lead when Shelvey was permitted licence to roam deep into Southampton's half and smash a low shot off the outside of the post. The lesson was not learnt. Southampton had been missing their usual midfield screen of Wanyama and Morgan Schneiderlin, allowing Shelvey further space in front of the back four as Ward-Prowse pushed forward. Davis did try to scramble back but was unable to prevent Shelvey from directing his finish off Fraser Forster's outstretched hand and into the top corner.
Koeman had few options off the bench but did introduce Sadio Mane, who had only returned on Thursday to England after the Africa Cup of Nations. He almost equalised in the 87th minute but, having twice beaten Fabianksi, had two shots cleared off the line by Ashley Williams. Pelle was also presented with a wonderful chance in injury-time but smashed his volley high into the stands. (© Daily Telegraph, London)
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