Writer: Eamonn Moore
Date:Saturday December 10 2011
Blackpool came within minutes of ending Southampton's amazing unbeaten home record this afternoon live infront of the Sky Sports cameras.
Goals from Chris Basham and Callum McManaman looked to have given the Seasiders an invaluable win against the league leaders, but ex 'Pool striker Richie Lambert popped up in injury time to maintain Southampton's run.
Ian Holloway made one change to the side who had beaten Reading last weekend - Basham replacing Lomano Tresor LuaLua.
Meanwhile, Southampton were handed a boost with the news that Lambert was fit, but were dealt another blow with Kelvin Davis sidelined through injury. Bartosz Bialkowski - more on him later - deputised.
Holloway promised in the week that his side would show no fear against the Saints and were relishing the opportunity to end their home record; and the crowd at St. Mary's were entertained by open game of football that ebbed and flowed.
'Pool did well to soak up the pressure from Nigel Adkins' side early doors, and started to look dangerous themselves going forward as the first half progressed - Bialkowski nearly dropping Matt Phillips' cross into his own net.
This lunchtime's performance was Phillips' best in a Blackpool shirt for a long time, and he no doubt benefitted from being instructed to find as much space as possible and having the ball played into his feet.
By comparison, Bialkowski endured a nightmare. After spilling Phillips' cross, he then made a real hash of keeping out Ludovic Sylvestre's strike as an agitated Kelvin Davis watched in from the stands.
It would be fair to say that since his return from injury and since signing his new contract, Gary Taylor-Fletcher has not been the same player and he endured an awful first 45 minutes today; his horrible slash wide when he should have crossed the the ball inside the first ten minutes summing his contribution up. Whilst the likeable frontman did improve in the second half, serious questions have to be raised about why he continues to be picked - didn't Ollie say only a few weeks ago that what players have contributed in the past is irrelevant and that everyone would be picked on current form? Billy Clarke - being linked with a second loan move to Sheffield United - must be wondering what he has to do to get a game.
Southampton's first real chance came from a freekick following a Callum McManaman foul, but Jan Hooiveld could only head over the bar.
Craig Cathcart then made a tremendous sliding challenge to stop Lambert from having the opportunity to run through on goal. The Northern Irish international has been imperious in recent weeks and you have to wonder whether - with his current defensive woes - Sir Alex Ferguson regrets selling him.
The home side's second real chance came after some excellent footwork from the ever impressive Guly Du Prado, but his cross across the face of goal found nobody.
Morgan Scheiderlin then fired over the bar as the Saints began to get a hold on the game.
Everything the home side created seemed to come through ex 'Pool trainee Lambert - his clipped ball from the left found Du Prado, but he misjudged his header and the chance was gone.
Dean Hammond then fired over the bar before Southampton made their pressure tell and took the lead on the half hour, although the goal was through an error at the back by 'Pool rather then the clever interchange of forward play which has seen Southampton storm to the top of the Championship and remain unbeaten at home for so long.
Matt Gilks played the ball short to an under pressure Neal Eardley, but the Welshman should have been able to deal with the situation, but instead failed to control the ball, Adam Lallana seizing it off him and squaring the ball to former 'Pool target Jack Cork, who in turn found Lambert, whose strike was deflecting in via Craig Cathcart.
Minutes later Lambert found himself through on goal after a wonderful through ball, but Gilks denied him with a wonderful save.
Shortly after, the Seasiders were level. The ever impressive Callum McManaman twisted and turned his way into the box, before firing a wonderful cross to back post for the unmarked Chris Basham to head home. Tv replays showed that the former Bolton man was clearly onside.
The equaliser seemed to reinvigorate 'Pool and they began to dictate proceedings; Matt Phillips hitting the post with a clever shot after a powerful run, with Bialkowski beaten.
At the other end, Ian Evatt picked up his 8th booking of the season for a sliding challenge on Du Prado. Although still not at his best, today was an improved performance from Evo. Still, the popular centre half must be fearing the return of Alex Baptiste with Cathcart and Eardley playing so well as well.
Another player who must be nervously looking over his shoulder team selection wise is Stephen Crainey, who seems to have developed a habit of making stupid errors. You get the sense that if 'Pool could really click and play at their top of their game consistently, there's be nothing stopping us from going on a run similar to Southampton's.
Back to the game, 'Pool found themselves ahead shortly after the interval after another howler from Bialkowski.
McManaman - who is sadly set to rejoin Wigan at the end of his loan spell in January - went on another dynamic forward run, but seemed to have fired his shot safely straight at the Southampton stopper... however, with Macca having turned around and jogging back to position, the Saints keeper somehow managed to let the ball go through a combination of his hands, body and legs and into the back of the net.
Southampton - as you'd expect - went all out to get an equaliser, following players forward. Dean Hammond nearly found the back of the net with a fabulous curling shot that flew just wide of Gilks' left hand post.
One thing you can say about the Saints is that they're not scared to get the crosses in. For the most part today though, their finishing in such situations eluded them.
Lambert and Barry Ferguson were then booked for a little spat in the corner off the ball. Having seen the incident again, our skipper does nothing wrong, and Lambert was perhaps lucky to have stayed on the pitch.
Gilks then brilliantly tipped another cross away from danger as the Saints desperately looked for an equaliser.
'Pool's first change of the afternoon saw Kevin Phillips replace McManaman, who was later awarded man of the match by Sky.
Hooveld fired wide for Southampton before LuaLua replaced Basham. The idea behind the sub was clear; Ollie was looking to kill the game on the counter. However, it seemed bizarre to take off the impressive Basham - who will now be hoping to get a run in the side - with Southampton throwing so many forward. Surely a better choice would have been to take GTF off, who despite a few nice touches in the second half, wasn't really in the game at all?
After the fourth official indicated 5 minutes of time added on at the end - now if anyone can tell me where that came from I'd like to know! - 'Pool made their final change; Tom Ince replacing Matt Phillips.
Ollie's attacking subs nearly played dividends when Sylvestre's through ball found LuaLua, but he could only find the side netting.
With just over a minute remaining of the five signalled though, Southampton finally found their shooting boots; Lambert heading home.
And the Saints could have nicked it at the death had De Ridder crossed for one of his unmarked teammates before being tackled by Stephen Crainey.
All in all, a fair points, although it feels like two lost with the late equaliser.
The draw keeps 'Pool just outside the playoff places with Watford at home next up next weekend.
Date:Saturday December 10 2011
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