Image: Wikimedia Commons / User890899
Image: Wikimedia Commons / User890899

FA Cup: professional Saints performance enough to win place in round four

Southampton secured progression to the fourth round of the FA Cup after a professional 2-0 victory over League One outfit Shrewsbury Town. Southampton, who fielded a youthful side, were aided by goals from Daniel N’Lundulu and captain, James Ward-Prowse.

N’lundulu opened the scoring early with a driven shot across goal, benefiting from Shrewsbury’s failure to clear the danger.

The Saints dominated possession throughout, but Shrewsbury had their fair efforts too. Despite being pressed, the visitors showed defensive discipline and limited Southampton’s creativity in attack.

The second half progressed in a similar fashion to the first. Southampton continued to probe with the ball as Shrewsbury dropped deeper and deeper. It seemed Southampton’s insurance goal was incoming on 66 minutes, as Caleb Watts’ shot was saved by Matija Sarkic, only for Aaron Pierre to nearly walking it into his own net. Fortunately for Pierre, he eventually swept the ball away.

Pierre would perform such heroics again. On 88 minutes, substitute Che Adams dribbled around the goalkeeper only for his tame effort to be swiped at the goal line by Pierre.

If you give Ward-Prowse a free-kick there, you know what he can do

– Aaron Wilbraham

Shrewsbury’s attempts to commit players forward were punished as Ward-Prowse’s free-kick late in the game sealed the result. With just one minute of regulation left, the England international fired in a powerful free-kick from 25 yards.

“If you give Ward-Prowse a free-kick there, you know what he can do,” Shrewsbury assistant coach Aaron Wilbraham told reporters after the match.

In the days leading up to the fixture, it was always assumed that Southampton would be fielding an inexperienced side. The match reinforced the illustriousness of Southampton’s famed youth academy as 19-year-old Watts provided a man of the match display, as well as the assist for N’Lundulu’s his first goal for the club.

England youth international Jake Vokins got the nod opposite Yan Valery, who both showed promise at the wing-back positions, especially going forward. 18-year-old Kegs Chauke was the last of the younger academy selections.

Saints manager Ralph Hasenhuttl had previously complained they were “running out of players” after the 2-0 loss to Leicester three days prior to this FA Cup fixture. Star centre back Jannick Vestergaard and integral ball-winner Oriol Romeu have both been missing for recent fixtures, with injuries mounting on the south coast. Notably, talisman Danny Ings and Che Adams have been constantly swapping places on the injury/COVID list.

However, there is no doubt that this promising and professional display from his academy prospects will fill Hasenhuttl with trust in his club’s youth setup.

The absence of manager Steve Cotterill was a product of Shrewsbury’s larger struggles with the pandemic

For Shrewsbury, the opportunity to extend their cup run was certainly missed, but their fans will be optimistic about a solid performance. The absence of manager Steve Cotterill was a product of Shrewsbury’s larger struggles with the pandemic. Having not played for three weeks, an away fixture at a Premier League side hardly seemed like a warm welcome back to football, especially given the wet and rainy conditions.

With that said, Shrewsbury Town showed promise. Their midfield was a good balance of industrious and creative and their defence was disciplined and stout. Despite being starved of the ball, they had their chances to score, even if it never amounted to a cup upset. Early signs of creativity dropped off towards the end of the game, with fatigue a huge factor.

The victory means that Southampton will play host to fellow Premier League outfit Arsenal in the fourth round of the FA Cup. Shrewsbury will need to catch up on their league fixtures, with three fixtures against Sunderland, Burton Albion and Peterborough United, over seven days.

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