Lewis Cox analysis: Plenty of positives for the Baggies
That was about as good as a defeat can feel.
Don’t get me wrong, it was still gut-wrenching as Adam Armstrong was allowed free to convert at the far post 11 minutes from time.
But... Albion were good at St Mary’s. Really good. That second half was one of the Baggies’ best halves of football under Carlos Corberan.
Albion traded blows with the Championship’s form side. An expensively-collated outfit with the sole aim of an immediate return to the top table.
One man, though, was particularly disappointed by the 2-1 defeat to Southampton at 5pm on Saturday.
Corberan admitted himself that in a few days, after a few replays of the contest, he might feel better about the impressive efforts of his side’s efforts on the south coast.
But in the immediate aftermath of Saturday he failed to hide his dejection. How could he not? He knew more than any of the 30,000-plus inside St Mary’s that the least Albion deserved was a point.
The roar from the home stands told a story. It was a roar of pure relief. The Saints faithful knew well they’d had their noses bloodied.
Russell Martin didn’t attempt to hide the fact he knew Southampton had been run close. His smiling demeanour was the front of a manager who’d surely chewed his fingernails to the bone.
The biggest take from Hampshire is that Albion can take so much from the defeat.
This was up there with the biggest tests of the Championship this season and, while it’s hard to state the visitors passed with flying colours, they stood up to the challenge and on another day could’ve easily taken all three points.
Most of the 3,000 travelling Baggies behind the goal Corberan’s side hunted in the second half stayed around to applaud their troops off at the death. It was a deserved reception.
There remains a lesson and learning curve to be heeded, too.
Southampton’s second and decisive goal was an unacceptable one to concede for a side otherwise dominating. Yes, Saints possess the quality to score at any time. But a simple ball in from the left found eight-goal top scorer Adam Armstrong all alone at the back post. Southampton didn’t have to work for their winner and that is hard to take.
The other lesson comes at the other end.
Brandon Thomas-Asante is a fascinating player. He was excellent on Saturday when it came to everything other than finding the net.
His hold-up play, link play, intelligence, almost the lot was very good. And that in itself is encouraging because that’s what the former Salford man built his Albion reputation on – a top link striker. And we haven’t seen that for a while, certainly on a consistent level.
But he didn’t find the net despite some openings. A major chance on the stroke of half-time was deflected just wide, we’ll never know if it was heading in. But it was the moment on the hour mark where the forward failed to shoot first-time from a Darnell Furlong cross that was telling. The delivery looked perfect to help goalward. Thomas-Asante was then crowded out. He did, at least, send a header off the crossbar for Kyle Bartley’s equaliser.
A few Albion individuals were very good indeed. Cedric Kipre caught the eye once again. Jed Wallace and Matt Phillips were very good. Alex Mowatt, from the bench, was a huge influence. Should he have started over Nathaniel Chalobah? Possibly.
Conceding in the first five minutes did nothing to help Albion’s cause. It was Southampton’s sole real moment of quality and it sliced the Baggies apart. Carlos Alzaraz, Stuart Armstrong and Adam Armstrong involved, former Premier League players. Alex Palmer’s stunning initial save and Conor Townsend’s attempts to clear off the line went unrewarded.
It took Albion a little while to find their grove. They were loose and sloppy in possession in the early stage and from that promising moves and positions broke down. But what was clear was Southampton, missing the influential Jan Bednarek, were there to be got at.
When the Baggies did click into gear, just before the break, Southampton struggled to live with them.
Bartley’s goal was well deserved and at 1-1 there only looked like one winner. Furlong’s header against the bar from full-back counterpart Townsend was as close as Albion came. Armstrong’s winner should never have been conceded, but to their credit Corberan’s men pushed and came mightily close to an equaliser.
Still, a return of 10 points from a possible 15 in this block of fixtures between international breaks has to be admired. Having drawn at home to Plymouth a few weeks ago, to respond in such style and only lose once – in playing very well at St Mary’s – with injury victims is a top effort.
By this morning, Corberan will have rewatched the match a handful of times and be ready to enthuse his troops to go again. He will feel, as most do, Albion have what it takes to compete in the top six.