Coming off the back of what is usually branded as a boring and uninspiring International break, Southampton couldn’t be higher in confidence. Before catching the plane to carry out their duty, the boys in red and white had put 3 back to back wins together – including a domination at Stamford Bridge that will live long in the memory of many Southampton fans.
Unsurprisingly, the first mention will go to Steven Davis. After the midfielder ended his lengthy goal drought – the last goal coming in February 2014 – he told the media how he hoped the floodgates would now open. However, even Davis himself wouldn’t have anticipated quite how quickly the next goals would come. Davis scored a game winning brace during the Euro qualifying clash with Greece at Windsor Park; those two goals would prove to be the crucial point in Northern Ireland’s first ever Euro qualification.
This wasn’t the only strong performance over the ten games either, Davis featured in the Euro qualifiers team of the tournament.
The second man to note is Graziano Pellè; the Italian has started the season in incredible form having netted an impressive five goals in just eight Premier League games. Not to mention joining Davis as a goalscorer in the preceding fixture against Chelsea.
With thanks to his move to the Premier League and Ronald Koeman, Pellè has become somewhat of a regular for the Azzuri. Every touch in recent games has turned to gold and the fixture against Norway was no exception; Pellè was on the receiving end of a lashed cross and with a clean strike of the left boot, he fired the ball into the bottom corner in the 82nd minute with what would prove to be the winner. The resulting goal placed Pellè as Italy’s top qualifying goalscorer, allowed them to top their group and extended their unbeaten run in European qualifying to 50 games.
The third big star of the break was Ireland’s new poster boy and cult hero, Shane Long. To the annoyance of the Republic of Ireland fans, Long once again began the fixture against world champions, Germany, as second fiddle to Jonathan Walters. But as Martin O’Neill looked to his options in the 65th minute, it was the Southampton man he turned to for a moment of genius. Just five minutes after stepping onto the pitch, Darren Randolph sent Long bounding through on goal to fire into the top left corner. Manuel Neuer stood no chance.
The goal resulted in Long being awarded with a start against Poland; however, this proved to be a poisoned chalice as the Irishman now finds himself sidelined for the next two weeks with an ankle injury.
Even England senior, Ryan Bertrand, and the U21 boys came away with strong results and showings to match. After missing out on pre season and the early Premier League fixtures, Bertrand would have been delighted to earn himself an instant recall to Roy Hodgson’s first XI. The full back gained 90 minutes under his belt during a routine 2-0 win versus Estonia, Bertrand was ever-present.
James Ward-Prowse and Matt Targett also recorded a full 90 for Gareth Southgate’s U21 side. During their 3-0 victory over Kazakhstan’s U21’s, Ward-Prowse delivered a number of impeccable set pieces that should have made the scoreline all the more merrier.
Where International breaks are often seen as a time for teams to re identify in times of crisis, Southampton can use such results and performances to continue their recent rich vein of form. Afterall, if an International break can be used to re organise, then why can’t it be used to improve? Morale is running high and performances are even higher, the Tinkerman is next on Koeman’s list.