Southampton’s Pathetic Fallacy
By the time that Andre Marriner blew the full-time whistle at St Mary’s Stadium last night, Southampton had undergone a desolate and appalling evening. The final whistle as an act of mercy, putting them out of their misery. The wind had spent the previous couple of hours blowing sheets of rain across a sodden pitch against a backdrop of washed out, empty, red seats. Such was the weight of pathetic fallacy in the air that it is tempting to consider that their stadium would have been better renamed St Mary Shelley’s.
This was a record away win in the entire history of top flight football in England, and it equalled the biggest margin of victory since the Premier League began, twenty-seven years ago. There can’t really be any sugar-coating such a performance, on an evening when the home team disintegrated before our very eyes. It took just twelve minutes for Leicester City to open the scoring, and Southampton supporters looking for a portent of how their evening would play out needed to look no further than the subsequent VAR referral, which, rather than pulling play back for a Leicester infringement, resulted in a red card for Ryan Bertrand for a reckless, studs-up challenge on Ayode Perez at the start of the build-up to the goal.
It was a double-whammy, but there wasn’t a great deal of arguing with it. Regardless of what happened what happened within the next thirty seconds, Bertrand’s challenge sat somewhere on a spectrum with “stupid” at one end and “dangerous” at the other. It also set the tone for the rest of Southampton’s evening, which went from bad to worse, to even worse, to record-breakingly bad over the course of the next hour and a half or so. Leicester went on to run up a five-goal lead by half-time, and the closest that Southampton got to respite was the twenty-seven minutes where their opponents slowed things down after having extended their lead to seven with two goals in just over a minute, early in the second half.
Of course, last night wasn’t just about Southampton’s grotesque incompetence. Leicester City were superb last night, taking full advantage of the disintegration occcurring in front of them. Perez was the early beneficiary of Southampton’s defensive profligacy, smacking in a hat-trick by the fifty-seventh minute, with Jamie Vardy, who arrived a little later to the party than his attacking partner, also grabbing three goals. Presumably, they sat in the dressing room after the game with a pen-knife and divided the match ball down the middle.
It was tempting to think that the claims made for Brendan Rodgers’ Leicester City team before the season began were a little overstated, a symptom of the desperation on the part of both the press and the public for the hegemony of the Top Six to be broken. All current evidence, however, seems to indicate that such prescience was well-placed. Leicester City are now in second place in the Premier League table. They’ve lost as many games as Manchester City and they’ve scored more league goals than Liverpool.
They probably won’t still be there by the end of the weekend – Manchester City only need a point from their Saturday lunchtime home match against Aston Villa to leapfrog back over them – but we’re getting past the point of the season where league tables can be dismissed as anomalous on the basis of a couple of results. As Tottenham Hotspur, Arsenal, Chelsea and Manchester United continue to flaunt their flaws like perverse badges of honour, Leicester City are there on merit.
For the Southampton manager Ralph Hasenhuttl, it both rained and poured last night. His team has been drifting since it secured its Premier League place lats season, but the feeling of End of Term Party has never quite left St Mary’s since then. This season has seen occasional sparks of life. They picked up a decent point at Molineux in their last match before the international break, whilst September saw a spirited performance at Spurs, a win at Sheffield United, and tidily side-stepping a huge banana skin in the League Cup by winning handsomely at Portsmouth. They’re capable of better. But then again, that should be blindingly obvious, shouldn’t it? Eleven strategically-placed dustbins wearing Southampton shirts would likely have been capable of what they offered last night.
In the meantime, at least Hasenhuttl didn’t try to offer any excuses for his fools in the rain in his post-match interviews last night. It’s difficult to, after your team has just shipped nine goals at home in a league match, but it wouldn’t be beyond the imagination of some Premier League managers to do so, especially after an early sending off at the same time as conceding the opening goal of the night. But this is ultimately a matter of collective responsibility. Hasenhuttl claimed “100% responsibility” for the debacle in the post-match interview, but the problems at Southampton run deeper than that, from the absentee landlord ownership of Gao Jisheng to the apathetic reaction of the players to falling behind, both last night and at home recently against Chelsea.
Will another knee-jerk managerial change make any difference? Hasenhuttl is a capable manager. He’s demonstrated that in his previous positions at Ingolstadt and RB Leipzig, as well as last season at Southampton, where he pulled the team clear of the relegation places with room to spare. But if changes need to be made at the end of October, what other changes can be made? The owner will only go if he chooses to, while the transfer window straitjacket limits changes that can be made to the playing staff until the new year. Getting rid of Hasenhuttl now would probably be attacking a symptom of the club’s current malaise rather than its cause, but that isn’t to say that it won’t have happened by the end of next week.
In October 1983, Southampton had a chance of going too the top of the First Division when they travelled to play Leicester City in the First Division. They didn’t, with the match being abandoned after twenty-two minutes, and Liverpool went on to win the league at a canter. The match did, however, earn itself a degree of cult status for its appearance on that night’s Match of The Day regardless. It’s an achievement of sorts, to say that another record broken at St Mary’s last night was that for “The Most Memorable Match Between Southampton & Leicester Played In Conditions Approaching A Monsoon,” but it’s doubtful that Southampton supporters will be taking a great deal of solace from that today, having just witnessed their team putting the “pathetic” into pathetic fallacy.