Report: Saints denied victory by late leveller

Live Matchday Images/2023-24/20240329 Southampton vs Middlesbrough/AY5I3656_pf7ibp

A late Middlesbrough equaliser denied Southampton a third straight win, as Saints were made to pay for missed opportunities on a frustrating afternoon at St Mary’s.

Adam Armstrong’s 19th goal of the season looked like being enough to earn three important points in the hunt for automatic promotion, after his sharp shot across goalkeeper Seny Dieng opened the scoring inside 12 minutes.

Middlesbrough’s Finn Azaz struck the post in the first half, before Ché Adams was denied by Dieng and then spurned a golden chance as Boro stayed in the game.

The visitors got their rewards in the 90th minute when Emmanuel Latte Lath headed past Gavin Bazunu to find the bottom corner and deny Saints victory.

Russell Martin made three changes to his first line-up in three weeks, as Saints returned to action after an extended break from the rigours of a relentless campaign.

Kyle Walker-Peters was back from injury to play at right-back, with James Bree making his first league start of 2024 on the opposite flank.

Kamaldeen Sulemana started on the left of Saints’ three-pronged attack, as Jan Bednarek and David Brooks, who both contested Tuesday’s EURO 2024 play-off final between Wales and Poland, were joined by Ryan Manning on the bench.

Saints showed no early signs of rustiness, easing their way into the game with plenty of possession in the Middlesbrough half.

The persistence of Stuart Armstrong to keep the ball in play and set up Will Smallbone to float in a teasing cross almost led to the opener, before Adam Armstrong made the breakthrough inside 12 minutes.

Adam Armstrong's low shot finds the bottom corner to fire Saints in front

Two of Martin’s recalled players combined down the left side to create it, as Bree’s throw-in was nodded into his own path by Kamaldeen, who was quick enough to race beyond Luke Ayling and keep the ball in play with a first-time cross from the byline.

When Jonny Howson only succeeded in slicing his clearance behind him, Armstrong was there to control the ball, set himself and strike with three sharp touches, drilling a low shot across the dive of Dieng to find the bottom corner.

The goalscorer was threatening again immediately after, receiving the ball from a Walker-Peters raid down the right and firing a shot just over the bar via a deflection.

Saints were looking incredibly comfortable – perhaps too comfortable – against a Boro side yet to muster an attempt at goal as the game approached the half-hour mark, but Azaz provided a reminder of how quickly the tide can turn.

The January signing from Aston Villa drove menacingly into the penalty area, turned inside on to his right foot and hit a low shot against the inside of Bazunu’s right-hand post, as the ball rolled to safety behind the keeper’s dive.

There was further cause for concern when Isaiah Jones darted down the right and fired in a low cross that was only just beyond top scorer Latte Lath.

Saints had not hit top gear, despite their superiority, but Kamaldeen should surely have been allowed to continue when he outmuscled the last defender from Stuart Armstrong’s pass, which would have given him a clean run to goal.

The Scot found the Ghanaian once more just before half time, and this time the winger did have the space to go for goal, but blazed his shot over the bar.

Jack Stephens makes a crucial last-ditch tackle to deny Isaiah Jones in full flight

Boro would have been encouraged by the second quarter, and came out ready to attack the third when Azaz slipped in Latte Lath, who went eye to eye with Bazunu but lacked a bit of conviction on his left foot. It took two attempts for the Irishman to make the save, as Latte Lath was booked for trying to steal the ball when Bazunu had it between his gloves.

Suddenly Saints burst into life, as Adams had three chances in three minutes to potentially put the game to bed.

The first of those he put away, only to be denied by the offside flag after he forced home a low cross from Kamaldeen that escaped Dieng’s grasp.

Then he had all the time he needed to finish a long passing sequence, as Saints patiently probed, waiting for their moment before Taylor Harwood-Bellis clipped a ball over the top for the striker, who beat the offside trap but not Dieng, who got down sharply to his left to make an important stop as Adams tried to thread one inside the near post.

The best chance of the lot was still to come, as Stuart Armstrong’s shot deflected kindly into his path, allowing his Scotland teammate to take a touch but then snatch at the opportunity, pulling his shot wide from six yards.

Adams’s day would come to a premature end when he was substituted just after the hour, with Kamaldeen also departing as Brooks and Ryan Fraser entered the fray.

The openings kept coming for Saints, as Stuart Armstrong dug out a low cross that Dieng could not hold, only for namesake Adam to be denied by defender Lukas Engel on the goal line, who then slid in to make another block.

Boro immediately countered through the pace of Jones, who was halted in his tracks by a heroic last-ditch tackle from Jack Stephens, who looked to have preserved Bazunu’s 11th Championship clean sheet of the season.

But Saints were ultimately made to pay for not killing the game off, as Latte Lath stooped to head home in the 90th minute, as Boro claimed a share of the spoils.

Southampton: Bazunu, Walker-Peters, Harwood-Bellis, Stephens (c),Bree, Downes, Smallbone (Edozie 90), S Armstrong (Aribo 90), A Armstrong (Mara 85), Adams (Brooks 62), Kamaldeen (Fraser 62).

Unused substitutes: Lumley, Bednarek, Manning, Rothwell.

Goals: A Armstrong (12’).

Yellow cards: Downes, S Armstrong.

Middlesbrough: Dieng, Jones (Gilbert 81), Ayling, Howson (c), Clarke, Engel, O'Brien, Barlaser, Greenwood (Silvera 75), Azaz (Thomas 90), Latte Lath.

Unused substitutes: Jones, Dijksteel, Woolston, Willis, McCabe, Lennon.

Goals: Latte Lath (90).

Yellow cards: Latte Lath, Jones, Azaz, O'Brien.

Referee: Matthew Donohue.

Attendance: 30,470.