Saints edge 10-player Birmingham in seven-goal epic

2 March 2024 0 By Total Football News

Substitute Joe Aribo struck at the death to seal stuttering Sky Bet Championship promotion hopefuls Southampton a dramatic, much-needed 4-3 victory away to 10-man Birmingham.

Russell Martin’s Saints were in desperate need of a morale-boosting win having lost four of their five games in all competitions since their club-record 25-match unbeaten run came to an end.

Birmingham threatened to further dent their fading automatic promotion bid on Saturday afternoon, but Southampton’s strong bench and unwavering spirit paid dividends as substitute Aribo struck deep in stoppage time.

It was a blockbuster end to a breathless encounter that began with Koji Miyoshi putting the Blues ahead inside two minutes, only for Adam Armstrong to deservedly level for Saints.

But Birmingham back caught the visitors out and Jay Stansfield put them back ahead against the run of play, meaning Saints had to rally after the break.

David Brooks scored a brilliant equaliser and Che Adams put Martin’s men ahead, with Blues skipper Dion Sanderson’s sending-off appearing to end this clash as a contest.

Further twists followed, though, as Birmingham – fighting for absent boss Tony Mowbray – levelled through Juninho Bacuna, before Aribo snuck Southampton a potentially huge stoppage-time winner at St Andrew’s.

This clash was a wild ride from the start, with Bacuna’s fine ball putting Miyoshi all too easily in behind to send an effort whizzing past Gavin Bazunu via a Ryan Manning deflection.

The 26-year-old appeared to handle in the build-up, but the goal stood and Birmingham nearly had a quickfire second, with Bacuna’s strike hitting a post and then going out off the back of the goalkeeper’s head.

Saints woke up after that fifth minute let-off as Brooks’ volley into the ground flew just over before Armstrong and Adams tried their luck.

Martin’s men would level in the 18th minute as Brooks slipped in Armstrong to prod through John Ruddy’s legs, with the home faithful’s appeals for offside falling on deaf ears.

The equaliser gave Southampton a pep in their step and Adams saw an audacious long-range effort take a touch off Sanderson and hit a post.

Birmingham were hanging on for dear life, only to go back ahead in the 41st minute. Jan Bednarek managed to flick on rather than clear Sanderson’s hopeful long ball, putting Stansfield behind to blast past Bazunu.

Armstrong saw a curling effort hit the bar and Will Smallbone fizzed across the face of goal as Saints pushed to reach parity before half-time.

Birmingham began the second half well as Taylor Harwood-Bellis escaped a penalty shout for handball before a Bacuna strike whistled just wide from 20 yards.

Again, Saints’ sloppiness at the start of a half sparked a vast improvement and they equalised in the 55th minute.

Brooks cut in from the right flank and was left inexplicably open to get hit stunning curling effort past Ruddy.

Southampton scented blood and took the lead four minutes later as Adams controlled a deep cross and showed patience before lasering home.

Birmingham fans’ frustration was quickly compounded by a straight card to Sanderson in the 62nd minute after leaving Smallbone in a heap.

The hosts’ complaints about the decision fell on deaf ears and Saints tried and failed to put the game to bed.

Instead, lively Stansfield saw a strike come back off a post and Bacuna reacted quickest to fire Birmingham level.

Adams hit a snapshot into the side netting as Saints pushed for a winner, which finally came during nine minutes of stoppage time.

Harwood-Bellis headed on a corner and Aribo showed strength and skill to steer home in front of the elated away end.

The managers

Birmingham’s caretaker manager Mark Venus:

“It must have been exciting for the fans. It was emotional sat there, to be honest.

“I think if you just look at the end of it, we got to 90-odd minutes with 3-3 with 10 men and just to concede the last goal is heartbreaking for everybody, really.

“I think they were dangerous every time they put the ball in the box and bottom line is we rode our luck.

“We played against a good team in the league and showed a lot of character.”

Southampton’s Russell Martin:

“The identity of the team has changed and how it functions and how it plays, and what is important to the team. But the biggest change has been in that (spirit).

“I think how together they are, how much they believe in each other, how much they trust each other, how much they care for each other.

“And that just takes time and hopefully they see that the same thing from us as a group of coaching staff. It has been amazing and they are so together and they feel everything together.

Football has a tendency to make you into a bit of a robot, really, emotionally, especially when you’ve been in the game for a long time.

“You have a bit of like scar tissue from previous battles but been amazing to see some of them open up and be a bit vulnerable.

“To play the way we play you have to be a bit vulnerable sometimes with the ball because it’s a bit scary. I have nothing but gratitude for that and I’ve loved watching it. That spirit will help us for sure in the last quarter of the season.”

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