Paterson secures vital win at a rain drenched Cardiff City stadium
Ralph Hasenhuttl’s first game in charge of Southampton ended in defeat after Callum Paterson’s goal gave Cardiff City a precious victory over their Premier League relegation rivals.
Cardiff squandered several chances during a frenetic first half in which a vulnerable visiting defence looked there for the taking.
Southampton appeared to have weathered that storm after the break but, as the rain came driving down at a raucous Cardiff City Stadium, they fell behind in shambolic fashion.
A pass from Victor Camarasa ran harmlessly to Jannik Vestergaard but the Saints centre-back inexplicably dithered on the ball and was dispossessed by Paterson, whose low finish dribbled slowly into the corner.
That gave Cardiff a fourth win from five home matches, lifting them up to 14th place in the Premier League, four points clear of the bottom three.
For Southampton, meanwhile, a 12th league game without victory leaves them second from bottom of the table, three points adrift of safety.
The size of the task facing new Southampton manager Hasenhuttl was underlined on Wednesday, when the Austrian watched from the Wembley Stadium stands as his side were soundly beaten by Tottenham.
Dubbed the ‘Klopp of the Alps’ because of his charismatic personality and emphasis on high-pressing, energetic football, the 51-year-old made his mark immediately with a first-team selection which showed six changes from that midweek loss.
One of the players recalled, striker Charlie Austin, had three early chances but failed to make the most of any of those openings – putting one wide, one over and the other straight at goalkeeper Neil Etheridge.
Those opportunities, however, were something of a false dawn.
Hasenhuttl will have been concerned by his side’s defensive frailties, particularly their vulnerability against Cardiff’s counter-attacks.
Even with three changes to their back four, the Saints defenders were often out of position and exposed by the pace of their opponents’ wingers, Josh Murphy and Nathaniel Mendez-Laing.
It proved the undoing of young right-back Yan Valery, taken off at the break after a chastening 45 minutes in which he was run ragged by Murphy and booked for a foul on the Cardiff player.
As fragile as Southampton were, the hosts’ inability to convert their chances appeared to lift the Saints’ confidence in the second half.
They started to hold the ball for longer periods and, after an hour, they had an appeal for a penalty turned down by referee Jonathan Moss as Stuart Armstrong fell rather theatrically following a challenge from Camarasa, with replays suggesting there was only minimal – if any – contact.
Southampton offered little else as an attacking threat, and their defensive weaknesses eventually led to their downfall as Vestergaard – unconvincing throughout the game – crumbled under pressure from Paterson to hand Cardiff the winning goal.
Cardiff may still be regarded by many as prime relegation candidates but they had given their survival prospects a real shot in the arm with three wins from their previous four home matches.
What was particularly impressive about those victories was that they had all been achieved from losing positions, a combination of their tenacious team spirit and the rousing atmosphere inside Cardiff City Stadium.
Cardiff manager Neil Warnock had joked in the build-up to this match that, while impressive, those comebacks were not good for his stress levels and general wellbeing.
For once, however, this was not a match that Cardiff needed to pull from the fire.
They had a host of chances to take the lead, Harry Arter volleying tamely at Alex McCarthy before Murphy ran clear of the Southampton defence, only to be foiled by their goalkeeper as well.
Cardiff looked most dangerous on the break, countering at speed with Murphy and Mendez-Laing – but their finishing was amiss.
Warnock’s men were also threatening from set-pieces, though their wastefulness looked like undermining their hopes of winning.
But with a helping hand from Vestergaard, makeshift striker Paterson – signed as a right-back at the beginning of last season – provided the crucial finishing touch to score his fourth goal of the season.
Cardiff manager Neil Warnock: “We made it hard work. I felt we should have made it more comfortable with the chances that we had.
“I criticise referees a lot, but Jonathan Moss is the only referee who would have played advantage like he did for the goal.
“We know that we’re going to get most of the points here – we’ve already surprised a lot of people – but we just need to keep our feet on the ground.”
Southampton manager Ralph Hasenhuttl: “For a long time it looked like a 0-0. It was a very tough game for both teams.
“In the second period our performance was better and better. We had a few chances but in this best period we nearly made an own goal. It was a terrible mistake.
“The mentality was OK. We never gave up today. I have seen some good things from my team but we made too many mistakes today. We know that we have a hard and long way ahead of us.”
Mendez Laing 7
Hoilett (for Mendez-Laing 67 mins) 6.5
Harris (for Murphy 85 mins)
Ralls (for Arter 90 mins)