You could make the case that every club’s season is shaped by a handful of defining moments. Had these turned out differently, a good season might have been a disastrous campaign, and vice versa.
One such moment occurred at St Mary’s on Saturday as Eldin Jakupovic reinforced his fan-favourite status by pulling off a 90th minute penalty save to earn City a vital point away at Southampton. The Tigers’ performance warranted at least a draw, yet it was ultimately down to Jakupovic to salvage a result. We will find out how important this was come 21st May.
Marco Silva named an unchanged side from the victory over Watford the previous weekend, with Oumar Niasse keeping his place following the (correct) rescinding of the red card he picked up in that fixture. Nathan Redmond came in for James Ward-Prowse in the Saints’ only change from their 4-2 loss at leaders Chelsea.
City started brightly as Kamil Grosicki came close on two occasions – his first effort found the side-netting from just outside the box, while the second was an exquisite free-kick that had Fraser Forster well and truly beaten, but the ball struck the post to deny the Polish international his first goal for the club. On 12 minutes Niasse should have done better when put through on the right-hand-side. An encouraging start indeed.
Although the home side prevented any more City attacks and dominated possession, they failed to trouble Jakupovic. Gabbiadini saw a powerful shot well blocked by Ranocchia but the visitors held firm to go into the break on level terms.
Perhaps unsurprisingly Southampton had more energy about them at the start of the second half, and Harry Maguire had to make a superb tackle to prevent Boufal getting a shot away on 47 minutes. Nathan Redmond then tried his luck from range but couldn’t keep his shot down.
A double substitution by Claude Puel saw ex-Tiger Shane Long come onto the field – no doubt some City fans feared the worst. Southampton continued to dominate and had a good opportunity when Jakupovic could only clear a corner as far as Tadic, but City’s keeper managed to get himself in the way of Tadic’s volley to keep the score 0-0.
Markus Henriksen and Tom Huddlestone came on for the Tigers, and it was the former that was involved in City’s best chance of the half. The Norwegian expertly knocked down a hopeful long ball into the path of Niasse, but the man who has scored so many crucial goals since January blazed his shot over the crossbar from 20 yards out.
Just when we thought the game was destined to be scoreless, a moment of madness from Alfred N’Diaye gave Southampton a penalty as he pulled Yoshida down inside the area. Tadic stepped up and struck a decent penalty, but ‘the Jak’ was on hand to keep it out and provoke elation in the away end.
Things might have got better for City when Michael Dawson, a late substitute, flicked on a Clucas corner to Niasse, but the Saints managed to prevent a dramatic ending by stopping his effort on the line. 0-0 was how it finished, and there is little doubt that Marco Silva and his players will have breathed a sigh of relief after disaster was averted with Jakupovic’s penalty heroics. With three games to go, City remain two points clear of 18th placed Swansea. Get ready for squeaky bum time.
Harry Drew (@hdrew95)