Saints edge Boxing Day thriller


Southampton were worthy collectors of three hard-earned Premier League points on Boxing Day, getting the better of West Ham at London Stadium after edging a five-goal thriller.

The second half in particular was full of drama, including a glut of goals and more than one contentious decision.

Moi Elyounoussi scored the only goal of the first 45 minutes, with further strikes from James Ward-Prowse and Jan Bednarek to ensure Saints' valiant efforts were rewarded with maximum spoils.

The away side were twice pegged back, but managed to overcome each setback to fight for victory, despite having to contend with a slightly depleted squad thanks to positive Covid cases. The win lifts Saints into 14th, comfortably above the drop zone, and within touching distance of the top half of the table. They play again in two days' time - meeting Tottenham Hotspur at St Mary's.

Ralph Hasenhüttl made four changes to Southampton's chosen 11, with a couple of forced absentees. Nathan Tella, Jack Stephens and Lyanco all tested positive for Covid in the run up to the game, ruling them out.

Fraser Forster made his first Premier League start of the season, displacing Willy Caballero, while top scorer Armando Broja was partnered in attack by Nathan Redmond. All four of Broja's Premier League strikes this season had given Saints the lead in that respective tie and have earned a total of five points.

Saints were previously winless in eight against their hosts. An unfavourable stat prior to kick-off, but one that was addressed in earnest by a fresh-looking line-up, having not competed for eleven days after a postponement to last week's Brentford clash.

The visitors began brightly, with plenty of energy and vigour. Every attack had intent and purpose, no more so than in the eighth minute. A chance that was fashioned from Saints' willingness to get forward in numbers, yellow shirts had flooded the box, as Kyle Walker-Peters advanced from left-back.

He elected to play the ball square, inside to Elyounoussi, who took one touch before firing low and hard past Lukasz Fabianski from 20 yards. Shouts of "yellows" reverberated from the away end as celebrations centred around scorer Elyounoussi, who netted his second league strike of the season.

West Ham began exerting some pressure of their own thereafter. Jarrod Bowen's free-kick was curling dangerously towards goal in the 23rd minute, as Craig Dawson attempted to divert it goalward with an outstretched leg, but the pace on the ball made the connection difficult.

Mohammed Salisu was called into action multiple times in the proceeding five minutes, battling with the presence of both Nikola Vlašić and Vladimir Coufal. The Ghanian stood firm, costing Saints only a succession of corners, which they defended manfully.

Up the opposite end, Theo Walcott tested the hosts' defensive resilience once more, cutting inside before shooting goalward. The effort was headed away by Arthur Masuaku, sparking a wave of West Ham attack. The tempo of the game was suddenly elevated.

Elyounoussi, gleaning confidence from his earlier effort, used clever feet to engineer another shooting opportunity in the 35th minute, testing Fabianski after an incisive pass from Redmond. The shot wasn't quite as precise as the one that broke the deadlock, giving the Pole a straightforward chance to save.

Saints played their way into trouble shortly after, as Bednarek's loose pass was seized upon. Vlašić's low strike was well kept out by Forster, who got a strong hand to the shot and managed to force it wide enough to evade Coufal on the follow up.

Declan Rice led the last attack of the first period, motoring down the left. He earned a corner thanks to Oriol Romeu's awkward block, but Forster was again commanding and collected the ball at the second attempt. The hosts introduced Michail Antonio and Manuel Lanzini at the break, upping their threat in the final third. The change was immediately evident as the reinforcements made the desired impact.

A corner was well met by the head of Dawson at the back post, who nodded it back into the danger area, allowing Antonio the easiest of finishes from three yards out.

The substitute, who has a knack of scoring against Saints, gave Forster no chance, such was the distance and power on the header to level the scores in the 49th minute. There was a hint of offside which was duly checked by VAR, but dismissed.

England midfielder Rice, enjoying his best goalscoring tally of any season, tried his luck in the 56th minute, shooting from distance which ended up only a whisker wide of the post. The game had again sparked into life, causing dramatic moments at both ends.

Broja broke forward on the hour mark, armed with strength and tenacity as he tussled with Dawson. The West Ham defender looked clumsy in his attempted tackle as the two collided, but the referee was initially unmoved, awarding a corner.

This time, VAR intervened in Saints' favour. The video referee recommended that Kevin Friend consult the pitchside monitor, and having done so, rightly awarded Saints a spot-kick for an ill-timed attempt to win the ball inside the box. Ward-Prowse's eyes lit up at the prospect of an opportunity from 12 yards, which was predictably dispatched with expert precision. Low and hard, the ball had hit the net before Fabianski could even react.

But no sooner had celebrations ended, West Ham were once again level. A mere four minutes later, Bowen had escaped down right channel, finding enough space to steer a measured cross towards Benrahma. The ball fell kindly at the feet of the Algerian, as he applied a smart one-touch finish to align the scores once more. Another Saints lead had evaporated.

More twists were to follow. Ward-Prowse's set-piece prowess, already abundant, was on full display again in the 70th minute. The tireless Broja won the free-kick, which was whipped with guile into the box and met superbly by Bednarek. The header was so precise, in fact, that Fabianski was unable to get anywhere near it, as it settled in the far corner. Saints in ascendancy for the third - and final - time.

Christmas cheer was certainly not in short supply at the London Stadium, as both sets of fans were being treated to an entertaining match-up. Chè Adams entered the fray shortly after, greeted by more cheers from the away faithful. Broja was withdrawn but had more than earned his rest.

A thrilling encounter where both sides continued to look menacing late on. Stuart Armstrong was introduced to add to the festivities, having missed a huge chunk of this season, as Saints' maturity made the ending to the game slightly less nervy. A mature away performance was duly recompensed with three important points, eight points behind sixth-placed West Ham, ahead of another tough test against Spurs in 48 hours' time.