Report: Saints fall to Stoke defeat

Live Matchday Images/2023-24/20240427 Southampton vs Stoke/106A2223_e5747ee0-f001-46ca-91a2-ba290fe917a9_20240427033421_nyqqbt

Southampton’s final home game of the regular Sky Bet Championship season ended in a 1-0 defeat to Stoke City at St Mary’s.

Tyrese Campbell struck the only goal for the visitors in the 36th minute, shortly after Saints had enjoyed their best spell of the first half, with Sékou Mara and David Brooks threatening an opener.

There were chances for the same two players early in the second half too, while Alex McCarthy made excellent reaction saves to keep out Million Manhoef and Niall Ennis at the other end.

Both sides felt they should have been awarded second-half penalties, but this was a day in which Saints never quite found their usual fluency to prise the Potters open.

Russell Martin’s response to the midweek defeat at Leicester was to make five changes to his starting line-up, including the return of captain Jack Stephens, replacing Jan Bednarek at the heart of the defence.

There was a new-look frontline, with Samuel Edozie and Ryan Fraser flanking Mara, back from a three-match ban, while former Stoke loanee Will Smallbone was restored to the midfield, as Joe Aribo, Joe Rothwell, Adam Armstrong and Ché Adams dropped to the bench.

Visitors Stoke arrived on the brink of safety, four points clear of the drop zone with two games to go, and started with a spring in their step.

David Brooks was utilised in a more central role in the absence of midfield creator Stuart Armstrong

Luke Cundle flashed a low shot wide from 20 yards, before Campbell forced a first save from McCarthy, down to his right, as Josh Laurent could only direct the follow-up off target from six yards as the ball came sharply back to him.

McCarthy was busy again when Manhoef cut back on to his left foot and fizzed in Stoke’s fourth shot of the opening six minutes, which this time the keeper parried comfortably clear of danger.

This was not the start Martin had in mind, but his team grew into the contest, as a couple of slick passing sequences deep inside Saints territory sharpened their focus.

The hosts’ first chance arrived on 21 minutes when Taylor Harwood-Bellis floated a ball in behind the defence for Mara, who was brave enough to head the bouncing ball as goalkeeper Daniel Iversen advanced and inevitably clattered into the Frenchman.

Martin wanted a penalty, arguing the keeper did not play the ball, while Mara’s header bobbled goalwards only to be cleared by retreating defender Luke McNally.

The chance sparked Saints’ best spell of the half, as Harwood-Bellis headed Smallbone’s cross over the bar, before Fraser dashed to the byline and cut the ball back for Brooks to shoot first time, forcing Iversen into a routine save.

With Stoke now on the back foot, Saints were stung by the Potters nine minutes before the break.

A long ball forward found Campbell one-on-one with Harwood-Bellis, who initially held him up successfully, but allowed the striker to accelerate away and tuck the ball away between the legs of McCarthy to open the scoring.

Saints threatened a quick-fire equaliser when Edozie drifted inside from the right to set up opposite winger Fraser, whose shot was beaten away by Iversen.

Ryan Fraser digs out a cross from the byline

Half time brought a double Saints switch, as Bednarek and Aribo replaced Harwood-Bellis and Shea Charles, before both players made an instant impression.

First Bednarek was the last man and halted Bae Jun-ho in his tracks with a perfectly-timed challenge, before Aribo initiated the move from which Saints launched their best counter-attack of the game.

Fraser was taken out in the act of helping the ball on to Brooks, as referee David Webb played the advantage and Brooks fed the run of Mara, who fired high and wide.

There was clearly more intensity about Martin’s men, who attacked again, this time down the opposite side through Edozie, who breezed past Enda Stevens and cut the ball back for Mara. He wisely left it for Brooks, but the Welshman rushed his shot and it lacked conviction.

That invited Stoke to break, doing so through the pacey Campbell down the right, who looked for all the world to have assisted Stoke’s second for Manhoef, only for McCarthy to spread himself and save brilliantly at the winger’s feet.

Further Saints changes followed as Flynn Downes made a welcome return from injury along with Adams, as Brooks and Mara made way, before the visiting bench was left incensed by the non-award of a penalty when they felt Campbell was tripped by Stephens in the box.

Saints had their own appeal 15 minutes from time, when Edozie’s sharp turn invited a dangling leg, but again Webb was unmoved.

By that time the dancing feet of Kyle Walker-Peters had engineered a yard of space for the defender to fire over the bar.

But Stoke still wanted a second, and McCarthy had to be alert to keep out Manhoef again, who then dragged one inches wide of his left-hand post.

Martin’s final throw of the dice was to introduce 20-goal top scorer Adam Armstrong with the last ten minutes approaching.

Armstrong did get a sight of goal, albeit no more than a half chance, as he instinctively steered a Fraser cross goalwards but ultimately over the bar, while Stoke survived another penalty claim when Adams's shot struck an outstretched arm.

McCarthy kept the closing stages interesting with another fine reflex save, this time to keep out substitute Ennis with his feet, before Saints entered six added minutes, but there was to be no way through a Stoke side who celebrated their survival at full time.

Southampton: McCarthy, Walker-Peters, Harwood-Bellis (Bednarek 46), Stephens (c), Bree, Charles (Aribo 46), Smallbone, Brooks (Downes 63), Fraser, Mara (Adams 63), Edozie (A Armstrong 79).

Unused substitutes: Lumley, Manning, Rothwell, Kamaldeen.

Yellow cards: Stephens, Brooks.

Stoke: Iversen, Hoever, Wilmot, McNally, Stevens (Burger 73), Thompson, Laurent (c), Manhoef (Tchamadeu 84), Cundle (Baker 84), Bae (Vidigal 84), Campbell (Ennis 69).

Unused substitutes: Bonham, Rose, Sidibe, Lowe.

Goal: Campbell (36’).

Yellow card: Cundle.

Referee: David Webb.

Attendance: 30,584.