N.B - The whole game is available in the YouTube video at the bottom of this report.
This was the perfect tonic to the frustration of last weekend's game. Southampton somewhat fortunately came away with a 2-0 victory on Saturday, capitalising on some questionable defending despite City dictating proceedings. Vieira's response was to freshen the team up and make a whopping eight changes to his starting eleven. Kelechi was restored to something approaching his usual position, starting through the middle in the place of Pozo with a recalled Barker and Nemane stationed either side of him. The oft-used triumvirate of Byrne, Glendon and Ntcham held the midfield while Horsfield and Angelino sat either side of Evans and Humphreys. Gunn returned in goal and Plummer, O'Brien, Intima and Drury were amongst those relegated to the bench. The vast changes were expected - especially considering the proximity of the previous fixture. It was a strong Saints line-up too. They made three changes, all players with premiership and first team experience.
The first 30 minutes of the game were theirs, though we created most of their danger ourselves. They pressed well and our possession based football didn't click initially - we conceded possession cheaply, giving the ball away a few times straight to one of their onrushing attackers. We were lucky to keep the scores level and had to thank the upright for keeping Southampton at bay. Thirty five minutes in and our game suddenly ticked into life. A sweeping move down the left freed Iheanacho - he took his time before expertly picking out Nemane at the back post, who was (as ever) in the right place at the right time to roll the ball into the empty net. Soon after Ntcham scored a beauty, powering post two men before striking the ball with whip and pace from twenty five yards past the out-stretched hands of the Southampton keeper. The third ten minutes into the second half matched it. The much improved Barker picked up the ball, skipped past two challenges before playing a delightful little one-two with Iheanacho, placing his shot into the far corner. A truly sumptuous goal. Hazard-like. The fourth was Iheanacho's turn to get on the score sheet, Barker this time returning the favour squaring it for a smart finish from a few yards out.
It was a good performance. There was a swagger and arrogance to the EDS's game that hadn't been seen for a few games now. After the initial thirty minutes indecision, passes were slick, confident and the movement intricate and precise. Glendon was tidy, swivelling this way and that and alongside Byrne he controlled the pace of the game. Ntcham had his best performance in a City shirt for a few weeks. He's an odd one, Ntcham, capable of bringing drive and energy to any midfield, and also moments of brilliance with his goal today being proof, but he's also prone to disappearing and running into people. There is something there though and it'll be interesting to see how his experience turns out at City. It could go absolutely any way, good or bad, and I wouldn't be surprised by any possible outcome.
Nemane was relatively quiet, but busy - and he still scored. Most wingers don't score as many tap-ins as he does, though most simply don't attack the back post with the same endeavour either. It's a nice habit and it makes him a nuisance even on an off day. Barker was back to something approaching his best. His goal was delightful. He didn't have it easy either - their right back was huge, fast and powerful, yet Barker came out on top, picking up an assist for Iheanacho to go along with his goal. Iheanacho too had a productive day. Two assists and a goal. He's confident, strong and he has an eye for a pass that marks him out as potentially something a lot more interesting than the recent comparison to Daniel Sturridge. There's obvious stylistic similarities to the way they both move around the pitch, and there's the City link too, but Sturridge isn't known for his vision. The Nigerian has a penchant for a lovely little one-two around the area that reminds me a lot more of Silva, and its a devastatingly effective technique when executed well.
The defence in general had little to do, coping well with anything thrown at them by an experienced Southampton front line. Most of the trouble they had came from problems of their own creating. Humphreys, Evans and the usually reliable Angelino were all guilty of giving the ball away cheaply in the first half. This will happen - these players are young and learning the game, Humphreys in particular is only seventeen which is testament to his development this year. The way City want to play isn't easy, and that's by design. If you take the easy way out, kick it long and hope, then no one learns anything. Credit must go to all three though for their persistence. None of them dropped their heads at any point despite their mistakes, and none of them neglected the passing game, growing in confidence as City took a hold of play. Horsfield was solid, much more comfortable at right-back then in centre-midfield where he'd been deployed in recent weeks. Him and Angelino ventured forward well, and intelligently took up positions in midfield to support the attacks. Vieira likes his fullbacks to almost become an extra central-midfielder when not in possession, with the centre-backs spreading wide and its an interesting tactic. It can lead to us controlling the midfield, though a little exposed in the wide areas, but I have to presume the overall idea is to encourage the fullbacks to receive the ball in tight spaces, pushing them to improve their understanding of the game. Total football-esque.
James Hardy came on in the second half. This was the first time i'd seen him. He looked confident and calm in possession, dropping his shoulder subtly to spin away from challenges. I don't know much about him but it was an impressive little cameo. Intima and Drury both came on late with no real time to make an impression. Overall it was a satisfying performance. The last few weeks have been mixed for the EDS and it was nice to see them grab a confidence boosting victory ahead of their final game of the season - Manchester United at the CFA on Saturday. It should be very, very interesting.
You can watch this whole EDS match here thanks to Southampton's excellent YouTube channel. A mention must also go to their in-house commentators. Obviously Southampton fans, but fair and knowledgeable and they were very interesting to listen to.