Russell Martin was left ruing Southampton’s inability to capitalise on “a brilliant position” after taking the lead against a Middlesbrough side who have endured a tough start to the Sky Bet Championship season.
Boro were bottom of the table and still without a win heading into Saints’ visit to the Riverside Stadium, and Martin’s side started brightly, going close through Ché Adams before the striker set up Adam Armstrong to break the deadlock in the 17th minute.
But instead of pressing home the advantage, Saints were pegged back on the stroke of half time by Riley McGree’s leveller, before a contentious penalty decision went against them to give Boro a 2-1 victory, as captain Jonny Howson struck the winner from the spot midway through the second period.
“We started the game well, but we’re paying for a really poor period after we scored,” Martin said. “We didn’t react well enough to scoring today. We should’ve taken a foothold against a team that hasn’t won.
“We put ourselves in a brilliant position, and then the mentality of the team totally changed when we went 1-0 up.
“There was loads of anxiety in the crowd because we stole the ball a few times, we scored off stealing the ball, and then just went passive – didn’t look after the ball, didn’t hunt the ball after that.It’s not a conscious decision, so we have to really look at that, really work on that.
“Then in the second half we were so on top, so in control, and then we lose the ball in the middle of the pitch and five or six seconds later it’s a penalty. It’s a pull both ways – their player pulls Taylor’s shirt and I don’t think it’s a penalty.
“They give it, they score, and then we’re trying to break them down when they’ve got something to hang on to, their crowd really willing them on because they haven’t won yet."
“We created some good openings but didn’t have that last bit of quality, and we’ve been punished for it. We haven’t done well enough in both boxes again.
“We were better today than we have been in the last two or three games, for sure, but there’s a lot of work to do on a lot of things – it’s not pinpointing one thing.
“We have to keep working, working really hard, it’s the only way through a period like this, stay brave and stay together.”