Report: Saints set new record in win at Swansea

Live Matchday Images/2023-24/20240120 Swansea vs Southampton/106A0571_749d1706-ea8d-4a28-83f8-d8da65867386_20240120124550_t0ugaf

An outstanding first-half performance laid the foundations for a 3-1 victory at Swansea, as Southampton set a new club record in the Football League era of 21 games unbeaten in all competitions.

Russell Martin’s return to south Wales started swimmingly, as Ché Adams tapped in from close range inside six minutes, before Will Smallbone tucked home a low cross from the influential Stuart Armstrong.

Saints were purring, only for Swansea to respond by getting one back completely against the run of play through Jamie Paterson, which looked set to give Martin a rather more uncomfortable half-time team talk than expected.

Instead Flynn Downes completed the scoring with Saints’ third goal just before the interval, rifling home from the edge of the box against his former club.

Saints were good again at the start of the second half, threatening to add further goals before Swansea finished strongly, racking up the chances in the closing stages.

Jerry Yates and Paterson both struck the post, the former a horrible miss and the latter a fine save from Gavin Bazunu, who also repelled Yannick Bolasie’s close-range header and a Paterson free-kick, but Saints would not be denied their place in the history books.

Martin named an unchanged starting line-up following last weekend’s 4-0 win over Sheffield Wednesday at St Mary’s, which meant new signing Joe Rothwell, who arrived on loan from Bournemouth this week, would begin his Saints career from the bench.

The manager was quick to point out the early scare his side had faced after defeating the Owls, but there were no alarms here as Saints tore into the Swans straight from kick-off.

Even before Adams struck the opener, the striker already had a sight of goal inside three minutes.

Ryan Manning, another one back on familiar territory, delivered an inch-perfect diagonal pass over the top for Adams, who had peeled away into space and was primed to hit the ball on the volley, but just skewed the chance wide.

It was an early sign of Saints’ intent and Adams’s confidence, and the in-form marksman soon made it five goals in six games with a simple tap-in, as the visitors made their early dominance count.

Ché Adams celebrates Saints' opener at Swansea

Adams was involved in the build-up too, playing the ball around the corner for Stuart Armstrong, who wriggled into a shooting position in the box only to be denied by a diving save from goalkeeper Carl Rushworth, but Adams was in the right place to finish it off.

Saints were only just getting started. This was wave after wave, as Adam Armstrong sent Rushworth sprawling to his left, before the keeper denied Ryan Fraser and skipper Armstrong in quick succession – the latter a brave, brilliant reaction stop.

Temporary respite arrived for the hosts when Taylor Harwood-Bellis blocked off Paterson for the game’s first yellow card 16 minutes in, at least allowing the shell-shocked Swans a moment to regroup.

But four minutes later Saints had doubled the lead. Again Stuart Armstrong was at the heart of it, as his low cross from the left was gift-wrapped for Smallbone to steer in the second.

Saints were looking on course to replicate the 5-0 mauling they dished out to Swansea at St Mary’s on Boxing Day, though City did muster a shot shortly before the half-hour mark.

Liam Cullen might have gone for goal himself when the ball was played into his feet in the box, but instead he teed up Josh Tymon for an eye-catching attempt with the outside of his left foot, leaving Bazunu at full stretch and grateful to see it sail over his crossbar.

Saints, undeterred, wanted more. Stuart Armstrong was denied by some solid Rushworth handling, before namesake Adam showed his strength to hold off his man underneath a dropping ball, but his finish was uncharacteristically tentative, allowing the keeper to save with his legs when striking through the ball with his laces would surely have left him no chance.

Will Smallbone adds Saints' second as the visitors dominated the first half

As well as Rushworth’s saves, Swansea’s last-ditch defending was keeping them in the game – or just about – as Adams and Adam Armstrong both saw shots blocked, before Smallbone’s low cross was deflected only inches wide of his own goal by a relieved defender.

Saints should have been out of sight already, but somehow Swansea gave themselves a foothold five minutes before half time with a goal back entirely against the run of play.

Harrison Ashby’s cross from the right tempted Bazunu, who collided with Jamal Lowe in the middle. The ball bounced into the path of Cullen on the far side of the box, who, with Bazunu stranded, was able to clip the ball back in for Paterson to halve the deficit.

At 2-1, Swansea probably could not believe their luck, but the hosts were unable to see out the remaining minutes, as Saints instantly restored their two-goal cushion.

Fittingly it was Downes, the former Swan, who fired home his first Saints goal with a clean 20-yard strike that veered away from Rushworth, helped via the slightest touch off Lowe.

The West Ham loanee was respectful of his former club but could not hide his delight with a sheepish grin, celebrating his 25th birthday in style.

The 3-1 lead was the least Saints’ outstanding first-half display deserved. But Paterson’s temporary ray of hope was a reminder that Martin’s side could not rest on their laurels, and the same player gave the visitors a fright from the first attack of the second period, whipping a right-footed shot just wide of the far post.

If that was designed to signal a change in the direction of travel, Saints were not interested in playing along.

Normal service resumed when Fraser set off down the left, fizzing in a low cross that would surely have been tapped in by Adams had Rushworth not got the faintest touch to change its course.

Full-backs Manning and Kyle Walker-Peters both saw shots deflected over, illustrating Saints’ desire to continue pouring forward, before Martin took the yellow-carded Harwood-Bellis out of the firing line, affording another half an hour of action for club captain Jack Stephens off the bench.

Flynn Downes was a popular goalscorer - with his teammates at least - on his return to south Wales

Unusually, Adam Armstrong was yet to contribute a goal or assist to this performance, and Saints’ leading scorer was fractionally offside when released by Adams, who had intelligently dropped short to thread the ball in behind for his strike partner.

Armstrong threatened to add to his league-high 11 assists when he chipped a ball to the far post for Fraser, but the ball just bounced up in front of the winger, who subsequently blazed the ball into the stand behind Bazunu’s goal.

Saints seemed so comfortable, yet Swansea quietly began to mount up the chances in the final 20 minutes, which will have irritated Martin.

First Charlie Patino casually shot wide from an inviting cutback when perhaps he had more time than he realised, before Stephens’s misplaced pass found Paterson in the Saints box, whose low ball across goal was inexplicably missed by Yates, who prodded against the post from barely a yard out.

By now Rothwell had been introduced for his debut, but Saints were rocking, which was completely out of character with the opening 70 minutes of the game.

Swansea hit the post for a second time in quick succession when Bazunu pushed Paterson’s shot on to the post, before the Irishman kept out Bolasie’s far-post header with another fine reaction save.

Veteran winger Bolasie also fired over as Swansea kept pushing for the second goal that would have set up a tense finale, but Bazunu tipped over Paterson’s free-kick from the hosts’ last chance, as record-breaking Saints showed they could dig deep as well as dominate.

Swansea: Rushworth, Darling, Wood, Humphreys, Ashby (Bolasie 65), Fulton (Allen 75), Grimes (c), Tymon, Cullen (Patino 65), Paterson, Lowe (Yates 65).

Unused substitutes: Fisher, Ogbeta, Pedersen, Naughton, Cooper.

Goals: Paterson (40’).

Yellow cards: Fulton, Darling.

Southampton: Bazunu, Walker-Peters, Harwood-Bellis (Stephens 60), Bednarek, Manning, Downes, Smallbone (Charles 87), S Armstrong (Rothwell 76), A Armstrong (c), Adams (Mara 76), Fraser.

Unused substitutes: Lumley, Holgate, Alcaraz, Dibling, Amo-Ameyaw.

Goals: Adams (6’), Smallbone (20’), Downes (44’).

Yellow cards: Harwood-Bellis, Charles.

Referee: Oliver Langford.

Attendance: 17,356.