Report: Saints rue missed chances in Cardiff defeat

Live Matchday Images/2023-24/20240420 Cardiff vs Southampton/106A8638_854052a0-2cf0-4207-b5b8-5b2e4f58fe97_20240420043635_gw4yrf

Southampton were made to pay for an avalanche of missed chances at the Cardiff City Stadium, as the depleted hosts completed an unlikely second-half comeback to snatch a last-gasp victory.

Saints took a 12th-minute lead through Joe Aribo’s low shot, by which time Stuart Armstrong had already struck a post, while Ché Adams, Adam Armstrong and David Brooks all had golden chances to double the lead before the break.

There were further opportunities after half time for Adams and Adam Armstrong, who was denied by a flying save before setting up Will Smallbone for another near miss.

But Saints would come unstuck when Cardiff substitute Famara Diédhiou poached an unlikely equaliser midway through the second period, and were were never able to rediscover their momentum.

Six minutes into nine added on, Cian Ashford tried his luck from range and saw his low shot take a huge deflection off Jan Bednarek to win the game for a home team who had been outplayed for so long.

Russell Martin, a former Swansea boss and pantomime villain in these parts, was forced into one change from his side that steamrolled Preston in the first half in midweek.

Flynn Downes was taken off at half time that night and was not fit enough to travel to south Wales, replaced in the starting line-up by Smallbone.

Stuart Armstrong was back in the goals against the Lilywhites, and the Scot was inches away from opening the scoring inside eight minutes.

Receiving the ball from Kyle Walker-Peters 25 yards out, he took a couple of touches to his right and curled a shot away from Ethan Horvath’s dive that crashed against the keeper’s right-hand post.

Stuart Armstrong strikes the post early on

It would have been the perfect start for Saints, but Martin’s men would only have to wait another four minutes to make the breakthrough.

Again Stuart Armstrong was involved, feeding the ball through for namesake Adam, who jinked inside on to his right foot and sent a shot bending in towards the far corner that Horvath parried out only as far as Aribo, who gleefully drilled home the rebound from 15 yards.

Saints were simply too sharp for their hosts, and Stuart Armstrong sent Aribo through with a ball over the top soon after. Whilst the goalscorer was eased out of it by covering defender Dimitrios Goutas, the ball ran kindly for Ché Adams, who should have done better than hit a tame shot against the legs of the advancing Horvath.

Cardiff were lucky to still be in the game, even at this early stage, but Saints might have been punished when David Turnbull was left completely unmarked to meet a left-wing cross with a header comfortably held by Alex McCarthy.

At the other end there were further chances for Aribo and Adam Armstrong to double Saints’ lead, as both players fired over before the midpoint in the first half.

McCarthy made another routine save from Ollie Tanner’s daisy-cutter, before punching clear an in-swinging corner and tipping away a drilled cross from Cian Ashford as boots were flying inside the Saints six-yard box.

But the Saints chances kept coming. Smallbone’s clever low corner picked out Brooks to hit a low shot well saved by Horvath down to his right, before Brooks initiated a slick move that led to Adam Armstrong curling one just over.

Then Stuart Armstrong slipped a clever pass through the legs of a defender for Adams, but the striker was just put off balance by a shoulder-to-shoulder challenge as he tried to steer the ball home with his left foot, and skewed his shot wide.

Joe Aribo celebrates his early opener as Saints took a deserved lead

Perhaps the best opportunity of all fell to Brooks. After Adam Armstrong pounced on a loose touch from Horvath following an awkward backpass, Brooks picked up the pieces but inexplicably delayed his shot with the keeper grounded, allowing Horvath to recover with a fingertip at the winger’s feet, denying the Welshman a goal on his international home ground.

Martin made a change at the interval, as James Bree replaced Ryan Manning, prompting Kyle Walker-Peters to switch to left-back.

The pattern of play remained the same: attack against defence in Saints’ favour. Stuart Armstrong’s first-time lay-off set up Adams, albeit the angle was against him and the striker pulled his shot wide of the far post.

Then some brilliant wing play from Brooks, who sidestepped his man beautifully, offered Stuart Armstrong another chance to set up another opportunity, this time finding Adam Armstrong to his left, but Saints’ top scorer delayed fractionally too long and saw his left-footed shot blocked.

With the hour mark approaching, Aribo’s floated pass freed Adams, whose driven cross was met by the flying figure of Adam Armstrong at the far post, only for Horvath to scramble across his goal and keep out Armstrong’s diving header.

Saints’ dominance was getting ridiculous, considering the jeopardy that remained on the scoreboard, as Adam Armstrong teed up Smallbone to guide one wide from 15 yards from yet another attack.

With his team still in the game, Cardiff manager Erol Bulut introduced Diédhiou and Raheem Conte, and it was the two substitutes who combined to miraculously draw the home side level.

Right-back Conte surged down the right and cut the ball back for Yakou Méïté, whose scuffed shot across goal was stabbed in by Diédhiou to level the scores.

Cardiff goalkeeper Ethan Horvath gets a crucial touch at the feet of David Brooks

Martin turned to Joe Rothwell in place of goalscorer Aribo to help turn the tide back in Saints’ favour, but in truth the visitors should have been home and dry a long time ago.

Instead McCarthy was the next keeper to make a save, as Méïté’s cross-cum-shot had to be tipped over by the backpedalling England international.

With the clock ticking down into the final ten minutes, Martin brought on a trio of wingers in Kamaldeen, Samuel Edozie and Ryan Fraser, leaving the in-form Adams on the field as Adam Armstrong, Brooks and Smallbone were sacrificed for the closing stages.

A serious-looking injury to Kamaldeen led to nine added minutes after the Ghanaian collided with his own teammate, Stuart Armstrong, in the Cardiff box.

But it was the Bluebirds who came closest to edging in front when McCarthy stooped to keep out Diédhiou’s header and Taylor Harwood-Bellis made a crucial block as Saints survived a stoppage-time scramble.

But there was still time for a winner, and 19-year-old Ashford provided it when his speculative strike took a massive deflection off Bednarek to deceive McCarthy and break Saints hearts.

A disastrous end to the game was compounded by a serious-looking injury for Stuart Armstrong, who had to be stretchered off after going close to an equaliser with a blocked shot from Adams’s cutback, leaving more than 3,000 travelling Saints fans wondering how things had unravelled so spectacularly after such a dominant display.

Cardiff: Horvath, Romeo (Conte 66), Goutas, Phillips, Colwill, Ralls (c), Siopis, Turnbull (Diédhiou 61), Tanner (Giles 77), Ashford, Méïté.

Unused substitutes: Turner, Wintle, Lawlor, Colwill, Antwi, Sawyers.

Goals: Diédhiou (68’), Ashford (90+6’).

Yellow cards: Phillips.

Southampton: McCarthy, Walker-Peters, Harwood-Bellis, Bednarek, Manning (Bree 46), Smallbone (Fraser 80), Aribo (Rothwell 73), S Armstrong, Brooks (Kamaldeen 80), Adams, A Armstrong (c) (Edozie 80).

Unused substitutes: Lumley, Stephens, Charles, Dibling.

Goals: Aribo (12’).

Yellow cards: S Armstrong, Kamaldeen, Bednarek.

Referee: Oliver Langford.

Attendance: 22,372.