As a Saints fan in Manchester it’s been hard to escape the aftermath of Sunday’s League Cup Final defeat to United. Fans of both sides, neutrals too, all seem to come to the same conclusions – Gabbiadini’s 11th minute goal should have counted, United were poor, Saints didn’t deserve to lose.
On the third point I’m not sure I can agree.
It’s true that we pounded away at the United door for much of the second half, that we showed heart and determination in a way that did us all proud, and that we were electric across the midfield. But the reasons we lost were the same as they have been all season – a weak defence and a lack of quality finishing.
That might sound harsh, but until we can smooth out those rough edges, our progress will continue to stall. There’s certainly hope – England Under 21 player Jack Stephens played well overall and anyone who hadn’t heard of Manolo Gabbiadini before certainly has now. Who would have thought that a player forgotten by Napoli would explode so vividly in the Premiership.
And that’s the key to our future – a recruitment system that identifies players before we even know we need them, and slots them into a club with a genuine ethos to succeed and flourish in a ruthless league where money does the talking. That ethos extends to the youth set up, and it is no surprise to see the likes of Stephens and James Ward-Prowse playing the big matches for us.
That’s what has kept us going through all the big name sales – the Manés, Lallanas, and Fontes – and taken us into the Europa League for the last two seasons in a row. Not an achievement that would mean as much to the United fans as it does to us, but maybe it means a bit more to them in these lean times.
We won’t reach Europe this season, but if we can build on the positives from that Cup Final performance, there’s no reason we can’t gain pride and lucre by climbing up the league and making another assault on the European spots next season. For a club whose last final was the Johnson’s Paint Trophy only seven years ago, maybe that’s not so bad right now.