Burnley steps up as Southampton slip continues in Premier League

The reversal in their fortunes is stark. There were eight wins in 10 league games, then a draw. Now there have been four successive losses. Southampton have gone from winners to winless. The context is that they have only slipped from second to fifth, a station that still far out-strips initial expectations after a summer of departures. But context did not console Ronald Koeman at Turf Moor.
Ashley Barnes's strike for Burnley proved enough against Southampton at Turf Moor on December 13, 2014 in Burnley, England.  Shaun Botterill / Getty Images
Ashley Barnes's strike for Burnley proved enough against Southampton at Turf Moor on December 13, 2014 in Burnley, England. Shaun Botterill / Getty Images

BURNLEY 1 SOUTHAMPTON 0

Burnley - Barnes 73’

BURNLEY // The reversal in their fortunes is stark. There were eight wins in 10 English Premier League games, then a draw. Now there have been four successive losses.

Southampton have gone from winners to winless. The context is that they have only slipped from second to fifth, a station that still far out-strips initial expectations after a summer of departures. But context did not console Ronald Koeman at Turf Moor.

If resources dictated that defeats to the Manchester clubs and Arsenal were only to be expected, there was something remarkable about this defeat to a Burnley team with the division’s smallest budget. Southampton missed a penalty.

Such things happen to other clubs, but rarely them. They had converted 29 consecutive top-flight spot kicks and, courtesy of Matt Le Tissier and Rickie Lambert, had been probably the most reliable side in Premier League history from 12 yards. Then George Boyd tripped Ryan Bertrand and Tom Heaton dived to his left to turn Dusan Tadic’s penalty away.

“Okay, it is good goalkeeping but it is a bad penalty,” said Koeman, a perfectionist in his playing days carrying the same traits into management.

Heaton’s acrobatics rendered this an historic occasion. In years to come, however, it may be remembered for other reasons by Southampton. Introducing and improving players is what they do. The homegrown element to their side provides an underlying stability, even after a summer when they were stripped of five first-team regulars by transfer-market predators. There was a long-term aspect to a short-term setback.

The Southampton academy proved profitable in the summer, when three of its graduates, Adam Lallana, Luke Shaw and Calum Chambers, brought in £68 million.

The latest off the production line, Jake Hesketh, an Andres Iniesta wannabe, made his full debut after a cameo against Manchester United on Monday. A slight figure, he was granted the No 10 position and stood out, both for his precociousness in possession and an ill-judged lunge at Heaton, as the Burnley goalkeeper gathered Sadio Mane’s cross, that might have resulted in a red card.

A similarly late tackle, from Burnley’s Michael Keane, resulted in the withdrawal of a clearly upset Hesketh, whose contribution had been limited to half an hour.

Yet his selection was a sign Southampton are rarely afraid to blood youngsters. They are also short of short of viable midfield options, with their resources stretched by the absence of the irreplaceable Morgan Schneiderlin.

They rose to second place on merit but never had the squad of a top-four team. When the attacking trio of Graziano Pelle, Tadic and Mane struggled to maintain their initial impact, Saints have lost a little potency, with their collective bluntness summed up by the Serbian’s squandered penalty. Pelle’s goal against United is the only one they have mustered between them since October.

“In the last two games, we had more chances,” noted Koeman. “Football is all about scoring chances and [not making] mistakes in defence.”

Suddenly, he feels his side are failing on both fronts. Southampton are starting to miss the former Burnley forward Jay Rodriguez, scorer of 15 Premier League goals last season but yet to feature in the current campaign as he recovers from a cruciate ligament injury.

And, instead, the crucial attacker was one who made the opposite journey. Danny Ings was released by Southampton as a teenager. He closed down Nathaniel Clyne’s clearance. The ball rebounded to Ashley Barnes, whose shot was deflected past Fraser Forster by Toby Alderweireld for the only goal. Burnley, with three wins in six, are now in better form than Southampton.

sports@thenational.ae

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Published: December 13, 2014 04:00 AM

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