Resilient Saints earn FA Cup progression


Southampton secured their place in the fifth round of the Emirates FA Cup on Saturday with a win over Coventry City at St Mary’s Stadium, needing extra-time to do so.

Mark Robins’s side took the lead after just 21 minutes via a well-worked Viktor Gyökeres goal, with opportunities presenting themselves at either end during an enthralling cup encounter.

It wasn't until the second-half that Saints found themselves on the scoresheet, with a strike befitting of any victory, as super sub Stuart Armstrong launched a rocket into the top left corner of the net to restore parity.

The hosts were made to wait until the second-half of extra-time to get their noses in front for the first time, with Kyle Walker-Peters firing the decider into the far corner via a fortunate deflection off Todd Kane late on. Plenty of endeavour from the visitors certainly made for an entertaining showing across the 120 minutes, but ultimately Saints' Premier League quality told, earning a spot on the billing of the competition's final 16 - with ties being played in early March.

Ralph Hasenhüttl made ten changes to the side that faced Manchester City a fortnight ago. Captain James Ward-Prowse was the only player remaining in the manager's selection, with Theo Walcott and Ibrahima Diallo joining him in midfield.

Willy Caballero was named in place of Fraser Forster, with the boss opting for a back three of Yan Valery, Lyanco and Jack Stephens. Thierry Small entered the starting eleven to make his first senior appearance, while Tino Livramento returned to action after recovering from a short knee injury. Adam Armstrong and Shane Long led the charge up top. 

Goalkeeper Caballero was forced into an early save at a sold-out St Mary’s as Gyökeres found space down the left flank, danced his way into the penalty area and manoeuvred past Valery before releasing a shot towards goal.

Moments later, Valery was in action up the opposite end, firing a tantalising cross into the area, which had a little too much vigour on it for Long to reach.

An energising start from the visitors saw Caballero challenged again in the tenth minute, as Josh Eccles released a shot from outside the area, slipping through the legs of Lyanco, which Caballero was forced to push behind for a corner. Chances aplenty.

Livramento was brought down just outside the area with calls for a free-kick in the next phase of play. Saints, on the attack, played on with Ward-Prowse attempting a right-footed shot from the edge of the box, but his effort was comfortably blocked by a combination of Coventry defenders.

Saints’ first real opportunity of the game came as Ward-Prowse played a short corner towards Armstrong, who back-heeled the ball to Walcott, with the latter firing at target. Simon Moore blocked comfortably as Saints tried to make something of the rebound but the opportunity soon fizzled out.

The Championship outfit continued to put on a spirited display with Gyökeres looking increasingly dangerous in the final third, although Lyanco was marshalling the forward well, before being forced off early with what looked to be an untimely ankle injury. 

Small, on his professional debut, attempted a somewhat panicked clearance shortly after, as he headed the ball back to Caballero with a lot more weight than the goalkeeper had anticipated. Fortunately the Argentine was alive to the mishap and saved the blushes of the young full-back, collecting the ball at the second attempt. 

Midway through the first period, a perfectly weighted through ball from Callum O’Hare found the feet of the lively Gyökeres breaking into the area, but he was unable to release a shot before the ball was recovered by Armstrong.

Redemption was just around the corner for the Swede, though, as he sprung into life to give the visitors the lead in the 22nd minute. In plenty of space centrally, the 23-year-old played a neat one-two with Ben Sheaf, before escaping the offside trap and firing accurately into the far corner. The goal was well-worked and capitalised on a bright spell for the Sky Blues, prompting a particularly loud roar from the 5,000 strong away following. Saints had work to do.
While the goal served to ignite the passions of the visiting Coventry fans in the stands, it also induced a lull in the action on the pitch. Nathan Redmond had entered the fray in place of the injured Lyanco, eliciting a change in formation for Saints - one that would latterly favour the introduction of game-changer S.Armstrong.

Moving towards the interval, a well defended Coventry corner fell to the feet of Ian Maatsen who sent a looping volley towards goal; it skimmed minimally over the crossbar. Shortly after, another chance fell Maatsen’s way, having the time and space to control the ball before releasing a low shot, which ended narrowly wide.

Some nice work from 17-year-old Small down the left flank saw Saints on the attack next; his delivery into the box was an accurate one, but intended target A.Armstrong didn't quite make the connection he'd planned for, diverting his header well wide.

With the first half drawing to a close and Hasenhüttl’s side still trailing, newly introduced Redmond tried his luck from outside the area but his effort fell straight into the hands of goalkeeper Moore.

Intent was clear from the Saints dugout at the start of the second period, with S.Armstrong replacing his namesake and Walker-Peters's introduction spelling the end of Small's debut.

As play resumed at St Mary’s, Coventry looked to strike early, with Saints needing some resolute defending to deny O’Hare the opportunity to extend his side's advantage.

With Saints controlling much of the possession, Coventry looked to hit on the counter as a lovely ball to Gyökeres gave him space to explore. Valery was the covering defender, and he made up the ground valiantly before executing a well-timed interception to keep Coventry at bay once more.

Walker-Peters’s half-time introduction had injected some pace into Saints’ forward movement, linking nicely with Redmond on numerous occasions. There was an absence of clear openings, though, prompting S.Armstrong to take matters into his own hands. Something magical followed.    

Shortly after the hour mark, the Scot admirably took centre stage. With little to aim at, S.Armstrong received the ball from Valery 25 yards from goal, slightly right of centre, and unleashed a swirling rocket that was destined for the top corner the moment it left his boot. Goalkeeper helpless, Saints were level. A rapturous applause from the St Mary’s crowd ensued, while the Coventry players stood stunned by the sheer quality of the shot.

Armstrong’s strike was the perfect tonic for the home side, and with parity restored, they began to exercise more freedom and fluidity going forward.

Armando Broja made his way onto the pitch in place of Theo Walcott next, giving Saints more of a presence up top, as he became the focal point of most attacking play. His first thought was to get Saints moving forward, enlisting the help of Livramento to manoeuvre himself into a shooting position, but he was soon crowded out by Sky Blue shirts. Clear purpose, though.

With scores tied and twenty minutes of normal time left to play, Hasenhüttl's opposite number Robins made his move. A triple substitution gave Coventry fresh legs, and renewed hope of a cup upset with the scores still tied.

Almost immediately after the changes, the visitors again found themselves threatening. Martyn Waghorn had the chance to make an immediate impact on the game, but was denied by Caballero who had astutely narrowed the angle in the 75th minute, forcing Waghorn's shot wide.

With ten minutes left for either side to find a winner, Redmond released another shot from range. It was comfortable for Moore, who despite fumbling for a moment, cleared the danger and relieved some mounting pressure for Coventry. A marauding run from Broja was the next notable action, as he escaped his marker and charged towards goal before slicing his shot into the side-netting. The tight angle didn't favour the Albanian. Extra-time loomed.

Ward-Prowse had the chance from a deal ball situation within seconds of the third restart of the tie, but wasn't able to match the extremely high standards he has set for himself in recent years, finding only a Sky Blue wall. It did however epitomise Saints' mindset, which was go for the kill to avoid the lottery of penalty kicks.

15 minutes elapsed without too much more happening. Enter Walker-Peters.

With fatigue setting in, and one eye on the possibility of spot-kicks if the scores remained, the full-back was the spark that Saints so badly needed. He linked with Broja, jinxed his way into the box with a step-over or two, before proudly burying his shot with his right boot - promptly wheeling away to celebrate with the St Mary's faithful. The tie looked to be won, but the action wasn't over.

Kane's back-post cross was met by the head of Waghorn in the 117th minute, whose effort was so close to an equaliser that there was an audible groan from all inside St Mary's - some hoping for the prospect of penalties more than others.

With the clock winding down, Coventry came closer to a leveller than ever before. Star man Gyökeres hit a bouncing volley towards goal, which was rebuffed by Caballero but seized upon by Waghorn, who again tested the Saints stopper. Confusion ensued as the second save fell to the feet of Kane, who teed up Waghorn to tap home. Momentary heartache, but for the flag of the linesman who correctly ruled that Waghorn was standing in an offside position before turning the ball into the empty net. A saviour for Saints.

A gritty but valiant display from a much changed Southampton side was rewarded with a place in the hat for round five, before returning to Premier League action for two away ties next week; firstly against Tottenham Hotspur, followed by a trip to Old Trafford.