In the battle of the two Premier League sides at St Mary’s on Wednesday night, it was Southampton who came out on top and booked their place in the quarter-finals of the Emirates FA Cup after a 3-1 win over West Ham United.
David Moyes only made two changes to the team that beat Wolverhampton Wanderers in Stratford on Sunday, as Alphonse Areola replaced Łukasz Fabiański in goal, while Issa Diop was preferred to Aaron Cresswell in defence.
Youngsters Ajibola Alese, Dan Chesters, Sonny Perkins, Armstrong Oko-Flex and Pierre Ekwah Elimby were also included in the matchday squad.
Ralph Hasenhüttl’s side had enjoyed two extra days worth of preparation ahead of this game but it was the visitors who started on the front foot. Jarrod Bowen was first to go close, only for Saints’ defender Jack Stephens to block his effort.
Then Tomáš Souček tried his luck but he was off target, before Bowen was again blocked, this time by Yan Valery. Michail Antonio couldn’t even find a way through, before the spell of pressure ended when Manuel Lanzini had a chance from close-range but didn’t make the most of it.
The nine changes that the Saints Head-Coach made to his side seemed to be having little effect up to this point but the only real attempt they did offer was when Adam Armstrong tried his luck but fortunately for a strong travelling contingent of Irons’ fans, Craig Dawson was in the way.
To be fair to the home side though, once they did take control, there was no looking back. On thirty one minutes French defender Romain Perraud scored his first goal in English football and when I say that Areola had no chance, I really mean it. He struck a thunderbolt out of nothing to have the majority inside the stadium cheering loudly.
That goal had clearly rocked the Hammers, who struggled to regain momentum for the rest of the game. They had chances but unfortunately, Ben Johnson fired into the side netting, before Antonio tried his luck again but was blocked after collecting a pass from Captain Declan Rice.
When referee Andre Marriner blew the whistle for the break, Moyes knew he had some work to do to get his side back into the tie.
He made an early second-half substitution, as Souček was replaced by Saïd Benrahma, due to a facial injury after he was caught by Ibrahima Diallo. Marriner didn’t see enough evidence to book him.
James Ward-Prowse then could have put the hosts further in front but fortunately for those in the away end, he sent a curling effort wide, before West Ham had a golden chance to level matters through Bowen but his effort was blocked. If the home defence hadn’t got in the way, it would have been the equaliser. Instead, a corner was awarded but when the ball was sent back in, Kurt Zouma couldn’t direct it on target.
It was from another corner that West Ham found their equaliser. It was sent over and instead of confidently claiming the ball, Saints’ goalkeeper Willy Caballero elected to punch but only found Diop. Thankfully, Antonio was there to pick up the pieces and knock the ball into the net, bringing joy to those who had travelled to the South Coast.
The East Londoners were just starting to get a foothold on proceedings when Dawson challenged Armando Broja who had been brought on by Hasenhüttl as a half-time substitute, along with Stuart Armstrong.
Marriner didn’t see anything wrong originally but it was referred to VAR who then told him to consult the pitchside monitor. The on-pitch decision was changed and a spot-kick was awarded. Ward-Prowse converted from the spot when the two teams met in Stratford on Boxing Day and he did the same here, sending Areola the wrong way.
On seventy six minutes, Moyes made his second change, as he introduced Nikola Vlašić in place of Pablo Fornals.
The Hammers wanted to level for a second time and nearly did so but Caballero made a superb save from Dawson’s header after Bowen had sent a corner into the box.
Another chance may have passed West Ham by but as the clock ticked over to the ninety-minute mark, seven more were added for stoppages. They thought that would give them hope but instead, the Saints took the initiative and, in the fifth minute of the added period, wrapped the game up with a third goal when Broja raced past three West Ham defenders to ease his way into the area and beat Areola.
Having picked up a vital win just three days earlier, this was a chance to boost confidence levels further, ahead of a daunting trip to Anfield to face Liverpool in Saturday’s late kick-off. Having said that, they have already beaten Jürgen Klopp’s men this season and they are on for the double.