A confident Southampton comfortably overcame a defensively naive Carlisle United side at Wembley yesterday afternoon as the south coast outfit claimed the Football League Trophy with a 4-1 victory. Although the winning margin appears emphatic, the Saints were perhaps not as dominant as the scoreline would suggest. Catastrophic defending from Carlisle was the root cause of the Cumbrian team’s downfall, an embarrassing inability to deal with set-pieces and the flexibility of Southampton’s front line seeing Greg Abbot’s team concede a quartet of soft goals.
From the moment Rickie Lambert converted the spot after 15 minutes following Peter Murphy’s ridiculous deliberate handball, Carlisle struggled to cope with Saints’ attacking threat. Alan Pardew had set his side out in a flexible 4-2-3-1 formation with the advanced midfield trio of Michail Antonio, Papa Waigo and Adam Lallana constantly switching positions to continually ask different questions of the Carlisle back four. In combination with the incessant movement of Saints’ forwards, Pardew’s team produced a consistently high quality of set-piece delivery from wide areas to exploit their opponent’s lack of physical presence at the back, something which was evident in the final three of Southampton’s four goals.
The Saints’ second goal came from an Antonio long throw which Lambert was allowed too much space to reach and flick across goal for Lallana to nod into an unguarded net. The third resulted from Lambert’s low ball into the box which Evan Horwood mis-controlled, the defender being robbed of the ball by Antonio whose shot was parried into the path of Papa Waigo who couldn’t miss. Saints’ fourth and final strike came direct from a long ball hit by goalkeeper Kelvin Davis – Lambert again winning the ball as Carlisle struggled to deal with the Scouser’s physicality – which eventually fell to Antonio who swept home. The common theme linking all the goals was an inability to deal with the initial ball, The Blues’ defenders being continually out-muscled by a Southampton attack which was alert and aware throughout the game. Even when Abbot’s side did
But that is not to say that Carlisle’s performance was a complete write-off. The veteran attacking midfielder Graham Kavanagh played well in his role behind the striker in the Cumbrians’ 4-4-1-1 system, carving out a number of chances in the first-half and causing problems in the Southampton defence on occasion. However, Carlisle’s task was made even more insurmountable when, at 3-0, Pardew replaced the lively Waigo with Simon Gillett to shift his formation to what was effectively a 4-5-1 with Lambert as the lone striker. This shut down what space the Cumbrians’ midfielders had managed to find during the first hour of the game and afforded them even less time on the ball as the Saints contained well during the final third of the match.
This was not Southampton’s best performance of the season, the passing not as accurate, the play not as fast as it has been in recent months, but clinical finishing (Saints scored 4 of their 12 shots on target) and the ability to be first to the ball and exploit the flaws in the Carlisle defence saw Pardew’s side run out comfortable and deserved winners.
Southampton Starting XI:
Carlisle United Starting XI:
Southampton after Waigo/Gillett Switch: