Stoke City 0-1 Southampton: Stuart Armstrong special guides Saints past stubborn Potters

Both teams came into this on the back of huge wins. Southampton arrived at the bet365 Stadium looking for a second win in a row, following a victory against Daniel Farke’s Leeds last time out, while Alex Neil’s Potters came from 2-0 down to beat Bristol City 3-2 at Ashton Gate. 

STO: Travers; Hoever, McNally, Wilmot, Tchamadeu; Haksabanovic, Laurent; Leris, Pearson, Johnson; Lowe

SOU: Bazunu; Walker-Peters, Harwood-Bellis, Bednarek, Manning; Smallbone, Sulemana; S. Armstrong, Downes, Alcaraz; A. Armstrong

A chilly night in Stoke-on-Trent began with the Saints dominating possession early on, with Stuart Armstrong trying to force his way through to goal, only for Luke McNally to clear his lines well.

However, it was the home side who forced the first half-chances of the game, as from a corner, Ben Pearson took aim from outside the box – but his long-range effort zipped over the bar, while Sead Haksabanovic’s mistimed volley ebbed just past the near post. 

What was proving to be a rather quiet first half, however, was almost brought to life in the 19th minute as Haksabanovic’s flick on in the box saw Nathan Lowe almost latch onto the ball and take the shot on, but Jan Bednarek was there to put the ball out of play. Josh Laurent also saw a wayward effort go wide shortly after. 

It was then Southampton’s turn to find the opener, only for Kamaldeen Sulemana – who was impressive in the Saints’ win over Leeds last time out – to fire a curling effort well over the bar. 

Nathan Lowe then had another chance to open the scoring for the home side, but Mehdi Leris’ cross in from the right hand side was headed just wide by the young forward. Lowe’s cross then almost found Mehdi Leris in the box in the 35th minute, only for the cross to be heavier than first thought and thus the Saints could clear their lines easily.

With goalmouth action at both ends increasing, it was only a matter of time until the deadlock was broken, and that’s exactly what happened as the game entered the 41st minute. A free kick was won just outside the Stoke City box by Stuart Armstrong after he was pulled back by Josh Laurent. The Scottish international then picked himself and bent a beautiful free kick past Mark Travers in off the bar – leaving him to run to manager Russell Martin in celebration.

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Alex Neil’s men could have had an equaliser just before the half-time whistle, as Junior Tchamadeu raced forward and struck a well-hit low effort, but it drifted just wide of the far post.

The second half began with the Saints almost doubling their lead, as a wonderful Adam Armstrong cross found his namesake Stuart in the box, whose header was deflected wide by Ben Wilmot. 

Mehdi Leris then threatened to find an equaliser for the Potters, only for his excellent effort to be tipped over the bar by Gavin Bazunu. 

Carlos Alcaraz then found himself through on goal for the Saints, having been found superbly by Stuart Armstrong, but Luke McNally cleared up any potential damage that the latest Southampton attack posed. Kamaldeen Sulemana then had the beating of Ki-Jana Hoever as he cut inside and curled low towards the bottom corner, but Mark Travers made a great save to keep City in this game. 

The Potters could have had a penalty after Nathan Lowe was fouled off the ball by Jan Bednarek as Daniel Johnson’s shot was deflected towards goal, but referee James Bell waved away any appeals.

At this point, Potters boss Alex Neil was left with no choice but to believe that attack was, indeed, the best form of defence, as he sent on Aston Villa loanee Wesley for Ki-Jana Hoever. Within just moments of coming on, the striker almost found the elusive equaliser, only for the header to drift well wide of the far corner.

Saints substitute Sekou Mara received the ball from Joe Aribo and was through on goal – but the forward somehow fired the ball the other side of the near post! Fellow substitute Shea Charles also had a low effort saved comfortably by Mark Travers in the Potters goal.

As the game entered ten minutes of added time at the end of the game, Stoke still threatened to find what was proving to be an elusive equaliser, as Nathan Lowe met substitute Wouter Burger’s cross at the far post, but his header looped over the bar. Burger then had a chance of his own to save the day for the home side, but his fierce low shot was saved comfortably by Bazunu – that save effectively sealing another three points for a resilient Southampton team rapidly growing in confidence.

Next time out, Stoke City travel down south to take on Championship leaders Leicester City, while   Southampton return to St. Mary’s to face beleaguered Rotherham United – both 3pm kick-offs.