April 24, 2024

Despite being the better team for the bulk of the game, Southampton suffered a sad defeat in the final minute against Ipswich Town on Monday evening.

After falling behind early on, Southampton turned the game on its head with goals from Che Adams and Adam Armstrong in the first half.

However, it was a familiar story for Russell Martin’s side, as they failed to capitalise on their dominance before a 97th-minute Jeremy Sarmiento goal clinched Ipswich’s 3-2 victory in a crucial Championship automatic promotion encounter.

The pressure was on Southampton to win the game because they started the day ten points behind their opponents, but an 84th-minute red card meant it was a question of attempting to hold on for the draw.

These efforts were not rewarded, however, as Sarmiento’s unorthodox stab at goal nestled in Gavin Bazunu’s far corner, breaking Southampton hearts in the process.

James Bree struggled against Ipswich

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Martin took a big decision in picking his starting lineup, bringing in Jan Bednarek to replace Kyle Walker-Peters.

Bednarek normally plays in the heart of Southampton’s back four with Taylor Harwood-Bellis, but he missed the 1-1 draw against Middlesbrough on Good Friday due to an injury received while on international duty with Poland.

In the ‘Boro game, Jack Stephens paired Harwood-Bellis at centre-back, Walker-Peters at right-back, and James Bree over Ryan Manning at left back. However, in the most important game of Southampton’s season thus far, against league leaders Ipswich, Martin chose to bench Walker-Peters, arguably their best player of the season.

This meant Bree played right-back at Portman Road, with Stephens serving as an auxiliary left-back who moved into midfield in possession, and Harwood-Bellis and Bednarek returning to their central roles.

Tactically, this worked effectively, allowing Southampton to dominate the game by condensing central areas and maintaining mobility in the midfield, but Bree’s temporary slip in focus allowed Leif Davis of Ipswich to score in the 84th minute. Bree hauled the Ipswich player down on the edge of the area, resulting in a straight red card for the defender who was assessed to be the last man.

Southampton’s aspirations of a late comeback, as well as their chances of automatic promotion, were dashed.

Russell Martin got it wrong starting Bree over Kyle Walker-Peters

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Walker-Peters is unlikely to have started against Ipswich because he had only recently returned from injury and Southampton had two games in four days owing to the Easter weekend.

When asked if this was the cause for the 26-year-old’s omission, Martin denied it and said the choice was tactical, saying, “James Bree deserved to play.” Nobody is guaranteed a start on the team. “The players on the field did fantastic.”

While it is not surprising that Martin stands by his decision and supports the player he brought in, it does seem strange to leave such a key player out of a game of this magnitude, especially given that Walker-Peters had played every league minute prior to his injury in the FA Cup fifth round defeat to Liverpool in February.

The former Tottenham Hotspur defender was linked with a move to Chelsea in January, and Martin’s only reason for not playing against Ipswich was that he wanted his side to look more solid defensively. Given that Southampton conceded three goals and Bree was sent off, as well as leaving Davis too much opportunity to strike for Ipswich’s opening goal, the decision proved ineffective.

Southampton had 17 shots, six of which were on target, but Walker-Peters’ quality may have helped them win the final third, as it has so often this season.

While he may not acknowledge it, Martin will most certainly be regretting his choice to bench Walker-Peters for this must-win game.

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