Southampton recorded their second home victory of the season with an encouraging performance against West Brom. After a run of disappointing results, this was viewed as a must-win fixture for the Saints and they managed to get the job done. Although it wasn’t as convincing as they would have liked, the home side offered a bigger threat in the final third than they have during recent matches. As usual, the Baggies came to defend and offered little imagination in attack. They had two or three chances, but they can have no complaints with the result. Here are three talking points from the match at St Mary’s Stadium:
Sofiane Boufal deserves to start
The home supporters will have been excited by the match-winning substitute appearance from Sofiant Boufal. The club’s record signing has had a difficult first 12 months at the club, but there have been signs during recent matches that he is starting to find his feet on the South Coast. During his ten-minute spell on the pitch, he scored the winner after a superb solo run that started in Southampton’s half. He took it past several West Brom defenders before finishing smartly past Ben Foster.
The 24-year-old completed four dribbles during his short time on the pitch, which underlines the mercurial talent that he possesses. He can provide match-winning moments and if a role is found for him, it will be exciting to see whether he can produce this level of performance on a weekly basis. Southampton have been poor in the final third and lacking ideas at time. Boufal may be frustrating at times, but he isn’t short of ideas and he deserves a run in the first-team after his contribution on Saturday.
Tony Pulis is losing his magic touch
The problem that Tony Pulis has in management is supporters have no patience with him once results turn. He chooses to play a boring style of football that is difficult to get behind if wins aren’t being picked up regularly. West Brom haven’t won since August in any competition, while they have kept only one clean sheet during their last eight matches. That isn’t good enough and the pressure is starting to build.
Pulis is lucky that there are other managers taking the headlines for underperformance, but the poor results haven’t gone unnoticed by the Baggies’ supporters. They will be the first to attest to the side’s underperformance and there is a growing section of the fan-base that wants to see a managerial change at the club. He will be given more time by the board, but he needs to start to pick up results. A look at the fixtures suggests it will get worse before it gets better.
Virgil van Dijk is slowly getting back to his best
After an unsettling summer filled with transfer speculation, Virgil van Dijk is back in the Southampton team and he is beginning to get back to his best at the heart of their defence. He played a key role in them earning a clean sheet on Saturday and looked impressive whenever he was tested. The Dutchman won four aerial duels and made six clearances to help his team deny West Brom.
However, it was his contributions in possession that impressed most. The 26-year-old was comfortable with the ball at his feet, completing 82% of his passes. This included two key passes, which is very impressive for a defender. Van Dijk showed his ability to bring the ball out of defence to launch attacks on several occasions. He isn’t afraid to take responsibility and try to make something happen, as he showed in the first-half when he strode forward with confidence before unleashing a powerful effort that went just over. If he continues to improve, Southampton will benefit from it.