Express & Star

Matt Maher analysis: Advantage Southampton... but West Brom head south with very real hope

A first leg which never quite took off left this Championship play-off semi-final tie firmly in the balance.

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Kyle Bartley ventures forward for Albion but sees his shot on goal blocked (Getty/Adam Fradgley)

And if you’re Albion, you’re pretty satisfied with that.

It’s advantage Southampton, just, courtesy of Friday’s second leg being at their home.

But any idea progress would be straightforward or “easy” for the Saints is certainly gone.

The Baggies will go to St Mary’s Stadium, already scene of one of their most impressive performances of the season, with firm belief they can be the team walking out at Wembley on Sunday week.

Stalemate here simply made the follow-up simple: a straight shoot-out on the south coast to see who can keep their dream alive.

With a bit more fortune or composure in the box, Carlos Corberan’s team might be heading to St Mary’s with a lead. It was notable the visitors selected Alex McCarthy, who twice denied Grady Diangana, as one of their four nominees for man-of-the-match.

Yet his opposite number, Alex Palmer, also made two big saves, the second of them spectacular in nature when Ross Stewart’s shot took a wicked deflection off Kyle Bartley and the Albion keeper readjusted in a flash to kick the ball away with his legs.

By the finish the scoreline felt a fair reflection of a match from which there was little to choose between the teams.

It was a far cry from the last time the Saints last visited The Hawthorns in February and departed comfortable 2-0 winners. That night, the first following Shilen Patel’s vital takeover at Albion, there looked a gulf in class. Yesterday, it had gone. Southampton bossed possession, just as they had done nearly three months previously. But Albion gave as good as they got and the fact they had more touches in the opposition box than the visitors justified post-match claims it was they who just about out edged it.

Of course, there was one key difference between the two occasions.

This time the hosts had Corberan on the touchline for the full affair, not only the first six minutes.