Report: Never-say-die Saints triumph in eight-goal thriller

Live Matchday Images/2023-24/20240210 Southampton vs Huddersfield Town/106A0227_7bd8c225-cdc7-4964-b8a5-892ff7946c3a_20240210050022_iv3e6b

Southampton survived a huge scare from Huddersfield Town to extend their unbeaten run to 25 matches in the most dramatic fashion on an unforgettable afternoon at St Mary’s.

Trailing 2-0 at half time to goals from Sorba Thomas and David Kasumu, Saints looked out of sorts, but Bournemouth loanees Joe Rothwell and David Brooks, introduced in the first half and at the interval respectively, helped turn the tide.

Rothwell was particularly influential, scoring a goal of the season contender with an unstoppable 20-yard volley, before drawing Saints level 60 seconds later in a remarkable turnaround inside the first five minutes of the second period.

But just as Saints might have expected to assume control, Huddersfield were back on the front foot, threatening to retake the lead on a couple of occasions before doing so in freakish fashion, as Alex Matos’s long-range strike beat Gavin Bazunu via a looping deflection.

Saints had it all to do once more, but substitutes Kamaldeen Sulemana, Samuel Edozie and Sékou Mara were in inspired form as the hosts scored three times in the final ten minutes of normal time.

Rothwell’s low cross forced an own goal from Tom Lees to make it 3-3, before Mara rifled home Brooks’s cutback and set up Edozie to put the icing on the cake of a remarkable victory.

It may have been four weeks since Saints’ last home league game, but the starting line-up remained unchanged – as it has for the last four Sky Bet Championship outings.

That meant seven changes from the midweek Emirates FA Cup success over Watford that set up a fifth-round trip to Anfield, as all of Russell Martin’s regulars were restored.

Joe Rothwell's outrageous volley started the comeback four minutes into the second half

Prospective home debutant Brooks started on an attacking bench, which also included the returning Kamaldeen, back in a matchday squad for the first time since November.

Saints started with their usual zip, as birthday boy Adam Armstrong, 27 today, shot wide 60 seconds in, before Ryan Fraser sent a low ball flashing across goal.

But Huddersfield, whose response to sacking manager Darren Moore was to trounce Yorkshire rivals Sheffield Wednesday 4-0 last weekend, were not overawed by a team chasing an 11th successive home victory.

Town were without eight-goal top scorer Michal Helik, a centre-back, but still carried a set-piece threat in his absence as Thomas whipped in a free-kick from the left that Matty Pearson should have done better with.

After the sharp start from kick-off, Saints had struggled to pick their way through a five-man Huddersfield defence.

The hosts’ eagerness to win back possession was clear when Jan Bednarek and Ché Adams were penalised for late tackles, offering the visitors the chance to slow the game down.

Martin’s side wanted opportunities to spring forward, and Adam Armstrong led one breakaway all by himself, nutmegging his man and finding namesake Stuart, whose floated ball perfectly picked out Fraser in the box, who wanted a penalty for handball when he tried to jink inside the last defender. The Northam Stand, almost dominated by Saints fans, appealed en masse to no avail.

Huddersfield wanted a penalty of their own when Ryan Manning gave Josh Koroma a nudge, but it was just on the right side of the law as far as Saints were concerned.

The same was true for Walker-Peters on Koroma five minutes later, but the Terriers were causing problems and Saints lacking their usual fluency.

A well-worked corner routine presented a sight of goal for Adam Armstrong, but even Saints’ 15-goal top scorer was off target, as his shot soared high over the bar.

Saints meant business as Rothwell turned to the home fans after netting his first goal for the club

Martin was dealt a setback on 33 minutes by the departure of Flynn Downes, his trusted holding midfielder, who was forced to hobble off, prompting Rothwell to take his place as Will Smallbone dropped into the deeper role.

But things were about to get worse when Thomas fired Huddersfield in front three minutes later.

Jack Rudoni escaped down the left and delivered a low cross not intended for the goalscorer, but the ball flashed across the box untouched and Thomas arrived at just the right time, burying a first-time strike low inside Bazunu’s near post from 20 yards to stun St Mary’s.

Stuart Armstrong threatened to reply from a free-kick that beat the wall but just didn’t dip in time to beat rooted goalkeeper Lee Nicholls.

Instead Huddersfield struck again in the final minute of normal time at the end of the first half, leaving Saints’ proud unbeaten run hanging by a thread.

Again it came from the visitors’ left and again Thomas was involved, this time providing the assist with an intelligent cutback for Kasumu to rifle home at the far post, leaving Bazunu helpless as his shot crashed in off the underside of the bar.

Huddersfield were full of confidence, and ex-Portsmouth man Koroma had two more sights of goal before the interval, curling one off target and forcing Bazunu into a low save from another.

This was all most unlike Saints, but the story was far from over.

Sékou Mara celebrates the all-important fourth goal that gave Saints the lead for the first time

At half time Martin introduced Brooks for Adams, but it was Rothwell, his fellow Bournemouth loanee, who was about to steal the show.

After Manning was booked for diving, Saints were on the attack again, forcing a corner.

When Nicholls punched to the edge of the box, Rothwell was waiting, drew back his right foot and connected absolutely perfectly on the volley, arrowing the sweetest of strikes into the top-left corner to give Saints a lifeline.

That was just the start. With the adrenaline still pumping, Rothwell scored again 60 seconds later, receiving the ball from Brooks and powering another unstoppable shot into the same top corner, proving he could be just as effective inside the box.

Huddersfield, to their credit, kept coming. Rudoni dragged one wide, Thomas tested Bazunu and Brodie Spencer went close with a low fizzer.

At the other end, Saints wanted more than just a point. Adam Armstrong, operating at centre-forward since half time, was twice played through the middle by low passes that cut straight through Huddersfield.

The first was the best chance of the two, but the striker perhaps overcomplicated matters by trying to chip Nicholls, who was not particularly advanced, and simply caught the ball.

The second did have the keeper scrambling, but deflected narrowly wide of his left-hand post.

Samuel Edozie celebrates Saints' fifth goal, as Russell Martin's substitutions made the difference

Bazunu would not be so lucky when Matos tried his luck on 65 minutes. The midfielder chanced his arm with a speculative effort from near the left corner of the penalty area that took a freak deflection to send the ball looping into the air and dropping almost apologetically into the far corner, as Bazunu tried to catch its flight in vain.

Scottish duo Stuart Armstrong and Fraser were sacrificed with 20 minutes left, prompting the introduction of tricky wide pair Kamaldeen and Edozie, as Brooks moved inside.

The substitutes made an impact, as Saints engineered numerical advantages down the flanks, helped by Brooks and Rothwell drifting out to the wings.

Rothwell did so to create the equaliser when he overlapped Manning and crossed low to the near post, where Tom Lees could only divert the ball past his own keeper at the near post.

That was with ten minutes left, and four minutes later Saints were in front for the first time when Mara, on for Adam Armstrong, sent St Mary’s into raptures from a Brooks cutback.

Mara turned provider for Edozie in the 90th minute, showing admirable persistence to keep the ball alive and teeing up the winger to drive the ball past Nicholls from ten yards and round off an incredible afternoon’s entertainment.

Southampton: Bazunu, Walker-Peters, Harwood-Bellis, Bednarek, Manning, Downes (Rothwell 33), Smallbone, S Armstrong (Edozie 71), A Armstrong (c) (Mara 79), Adams (Brooks 46), Fraser (Kamaldeen 71).

Unused substitutes: Lumley, Stephens, Charles, Dibling.

Goals: Rothwell (49’, 50’), Lees o.g. (80’), Mara (84’), Edozie (90’).

Yellow cards: Bednarek, Manning.

Huddersfield Town: Nicholls, Kasumu (Radulović 87), Pearson, Lees, Nakayama, Spencer (Jackson 67), Matos (Wiles 87), Hogg (c) (Diarra 87), Thomas, Koroma (Jones 76), Rudoni.

Unused substitutes: Maxwell, Bellagambi, Edwards, Iorpenda.

Goals: Thomas (36’), Kasumu (45’), Matos (65’).

Yellow cards: Spencer, Rudoni, Jackson.

Referee: David Webb.

Attendance: 29,863.