Hello, and welcome to Sports Mole
's live coverage of the match between Southampton
and West Bromwich Albion
in the Premier League.
With competition hotting up at both ends of the table, the performances and results of the teams placed in the middle of the standings has sometimes gone unnoticed, but with two of them squaring off this afternoon, they both have an opportunity to move back into contention, and ensure that they should not be involved in any relegation discussions over the coming months.
Southampton's form over the last couple of months has led to reports suggesting that Ronald Koeman
's position at St Mary is not as safe as you would think, but the victory over Watford in midweek has given the Dutchman, and his squad, the boost they required as just the right time. Before that, they had registered just four points from eight Premier League outings, but a maximum return in midweek has taken the club eight points clear of the drop zone.
Just goal difference separates Southampton from West Bromwich Albion in the table, but the Baggies have accumulated their 27 points in contrasting fashion to that of their hosts. A slow start saw West Brom occupy a place in the bottom three during most of August, but Tony Pulis
's men have suffered just four defeats from their last 13 fixtures - a solid record for a team associated with mid-table. They also travel to the South Coast as one of the form teams in the division after posting seven points from their last three games, but that work will be undone should they slip up this afternoon.
Anyway, let's take a look at how both teams line up this afternoon...
SOUTHAMPTON XI: Forster, Cedric, Fonte, Van Dijk, Bertrand, Targett, Ward-Prowse, Wanyama, Davis, Long, Mane
SOUTHAMPTON SUBSTITUTES: Davis, Yoshida, Tadic, Romeu, Martina, Pelle, Juanmi
WEST BROMWICH ALBION XI: Myhill, Olsson, Yacob, Evans, Gardner, Anichebe, McClean, McAuley, Fletcher, Dawson, Sessegnon
WEST BROMWICH ALBION SUBSTITUTES: Foster; Chester, Brunt, Lambert, Berahino, McManaman, Rondon
Despite their impressive win over the Hornets, Koeman has opted to restore Victor Wanyama to his starting lineup at the earliest opportunity. The Kenyan midfielder returns to the side in place of Oriol Romeu, who drops to the bench. Saido Mane also gets the nod over Dusan Tadic
, who came off the bench to score on Wednesday night.
Unsurprisingly, Craig Gardner comes into the starting lineup for West Brom after coming on as an early substitute against Chelsea in midweek and netting a goal. There is also a start for Victor Anichebe, who replaces Salomon Rondon in the attack.
The selection of both goalkeepers had been a topic of conversation heading into this encounter, but they have both gone the way that many expected. On Wednesday night, Fraser Forster make his first senior appearance since March after a long-term knee injury, after coming through his return unscathed, he remains between the posts this afternoon. His opposite number Ben Foster has also endured a number of months on the sidelines after a cruciate ligament injury and made his return in the FA Cup last weekend. However, he must wait for a Premier League start with Boaz Myhill continuing to impress.
Before we talk more about today's fixture, we must take a look at the news that emerged earlier today as Southampton announced the signing
of Charlie Austin from Queens Park Rangers for a cut-price fee of £4m. It's already being said that the deal will represent the coup of the January transfer window and it is difficult to argue against that. Austin does not feature this afternoon but his arrival has definitely competition within the attacking ranks on the South Coast.
Scoring goals hasn't necessary been a problem for Southampton this season - they have 28 from 21 games - but like last season, Graziano Pelle has gone off the boil during the winter months while dealing with a nagging injury problem, while Shane Long has just five Premier League goals to his name. Summer signing Juanmi is also yet to find the net, although he can hardly be blamed after not making a Premier League start all campaign, but there was the feeling that the striking department needed freshening up. Only time will tell whether the signing of Austin will lead to a departure, but for now, and more specifically today, Long has the opportunity to keep ahead of Austin in the pecking order, something which Pelle and Juani will be striving to do should they come off the bench.
This was the Southampton team heading over for the warm-up earlier. Don;t be fooled by the dry, relatively bright weather. It's bitterly cold!
As far as West Brom have been concerned this season, much of the off-field talk has surrounded the future of Saido Berahino, and that will undoubtedly continue during the remainder of the transfer window. That said, West Brom have done alright without him, despite many of their goals coming from the midfield and defence. Pulis will be looking for better contributions from his forward line, but he will also be aware of the threat that his team pose in other areas, something which Southampton will have to be wary about today.
PREDICTION! Given Southampton generally earning most of their points at St Mary's and West Brom being unbeaten in three, this is a tough match to call. The Saints have the potential to turn it on at home, but the Baggies will be full of confidence having drawn with Chelsea in midweek. We are going to plump for 1-1, but don't be surprise if either side prevail by the odd goal in a low-scoring encounter.
The first Premier League match of the afternoon has just finished, with Tottenham Hotspur sealing a 4-1 victory over Sunderland to move within four points of Arsenal and Leicester City. You can read our match report by clicking here
As well as providing live commentaries for each of today's Premier League fixtures, we are also keeping track of all of the action in the top flight here
It's alsmost time for kickoff at St Mary's. Both teams are out on the pitch and pleasantries are being exchanged between the two sides. This may just be a mid-table contest, but victory for either side could be massive at the end of the campaign.
West Brom get the game underway.
It's been a relatively quiet start at St Mary's. The home side are having a lot of possession in the middle third of the pitch but they are yet to create anything in a forward position. The Baggies look content to ride out the opening moments of the game.
GOAL! Southampton 1-0 West Bromwich Albion (Ward-Prowse)
What a free kick from James Ward-Prowse
! From around 25 yards out, and somewhat of an angle, the England Under-21 international stepped up to curl the set piece out of the reach of Myhill in the West Brom. That's not the start that West Brom wanted.
It's taken a free kick to break the deadlock early in this game, but Southampton look a lot more confident than they did a few weeks ago. Sometimes it only takes a victory to help a team rediscover their rhythm, and the win over Watford could have done just that.
CHANCE! Saying that though, West Brom have not allowed their heads to drop despite the poor start. Their two goalscorers from Stamford Bridge - Gardner and McClean - combine in the final third, but Gardner's header goes just wide of the target.
There have been a few early goals elsewhere too. Remember, you can follow them all as they go in with our Saturday football coverage here
Aside from the goal and the chances for the Baggies, action in either penalty area has been hard to come by. That's not to say that this contest isn't evenly-matched. The West Midlands outfit are well in this one but they cannot afford slipping further behind.
There is a stoppage in play as McClean receives some treatment but the Republic of Ireland international looks fine to continue. The winger has come in for some criticism this season but he is an important player for Pulis, as he proved against Chelsea.
SHOT! Soon after the resumption of play, Sessegnon worked the ball to Gardner who was waiting on the edge of the penalty area, but he blazed his shot high over the crossbar. Encouraging signs from West Brom, however.
Koeman may be slightly concerned with his team's lack of cutting edge in the final third, but they almost create an opportunity through a Targett cross before the ball was cleared to safety.
To highlight what I said earlier about what a win could do for either side, Southampton are currently moving up to 10th in the table
, just five points off fifth position. Still, there is a long way to go...
Bit better from Southampton as Soares whips in a cross for Mane, but his header is deflected wide for a corner. From the resulting set piece, Long almost got a header in on goal, but West Brom were able to clear before he gave himself the chance to notch his sixth league goal of the season.
There's a bit more happening in this match now. Moments after Anichebe created confusion in the Southampton penalty area with a header back across goal, Long got a long-range strike on target with Myhill making the routine save.
PENALTY TO SOUTHAMPTON!
GOAL! Southampton 2-0 West Bromwich Albion (Ward-Prowse)
Ward-Prowse puts some breathing space between the two sides with a well-taken penalty after Dawson was adjudged to have brought down Targett inside the 18-yard box. That's the midfielder's third goal for the Saints, although he is yet to score from open play. Still, I don't suppose he minds at all...
Saints are running rampant now. It was almost 3-0 as Targett fired a shot towards goal but McClean was on hand to clear off the line. West Brom need half time.
One consolation for West Brom is that they have plenty of options on the bench. It seems inevitable that some new faces will be appearing for the second half.
Southampton deserve their lead but we must remember that both goals have come courtesy of set pieces. On another day, West Brom perhaps wouldn't have been behind. There will be one minute of added-on time.
HALF TIME: Southampton 2-0 West Bromwich Albion
The half-time whistle goes at St Mary's and Southampton head into the break with a commanding advantage thanks to James Ward-Prowse. West Brom didn't offer a whole lot during the final 20 minutes of that half and Pulis needs to work his magic to get a result from this game.
Quick reminder before he get underway again - head over to our 'Saturday football' coverage
to catch up on all of the action from the opening 45 minutes up and down the country.
SUBSTITUTION! Unsurprisingly, Pulis has made a couple of alterations. Chris Brunt and Salomon Rondon have replaced Darren Fletcher and Jonas Olsson. I assume that means that the Baggies will play with two up top. Bold move. We are back underway.
Good start from West Brom, with Gardner crossing in for Anichebe, who heads the ball over the crossbar. With Anichebe and Rondon both in attack, you would expect a direct approach throughout this second half.
SHOT! More pressure from West Brom, with Sessegnon sending a shot high into the stands after being teed up on the edge of the penalty area. Both their chances in this half have gone off target, but this is better from the visitors.
Southampton finally get the ball up the other end after a spell of possession and pressure from their opponent, but Soares's attempt from distance is never threatening a third goal.
With West Brom now operating with both Anichebe and Rondon in attack, they have switched to three in defence. It's perhaps only a matter of time before Southampton create a significant chance due to that tactical move, but it has resulted in more openings coming in forward areas. Another opportunity fell to Sessegnon in a long-range shooting position, but again, the supporters behind the goal were more threatened than the target.
Sure enough, Southampton taken advantage of more space in the Baggies defence but they can't net the goal that would put the result beyond doubt. Former West Brom forward Long played in Mane, but the attacker's effort across goal missed the far post.
I wonder what Charlie Austin is making of his new teammates...
SUBSTITUTION! That missed chance from Mane seems to have tempted Koeman into making his first change. One comes Dusan Tadic, who usually makes a contribution during home matches. Only time will tell if that continues today.
The threat from West Brom has dried up a touch over the last 10 minutes. Pulis is likely to turn to Berahino or former Saints striker Rickie Lambert at some stage.
SHOT! Anichebe may be the man who could make way but tries to show his boss that he is capable of leading a revival by controlling the ball with his chest before dragging a shot wide.
SUBSTITUTION! It's Berahino who gets the nod from Pulis, rather than Lambert. It may be too little too late, however...
GOAL! Southampton 3-0 West Bromwich Albion (Tadic)
This game is done and dusted as a contest. Davis played a neat ball through to substitute Tadic, who made no mistake in firing the ball home from an acute angle. My prediction regarding the result of this match is going to be wrong, but I've salvaged some pride in predicting a positive contribution from Tadic.
This has been a good performance from a Southampton side who still have Charlie Austin to introduce up front. Maybe it is all starting to click for Koeman?
Tadic has looked a threat ever since he was introduced by Koeman, and he almost provides an assist from fellow substitute Romeu, but West Brom do well to get the ball away. I think Pulis will be happy to hear the final whistle.
SUBSTITUTION! Southampton's final change of the afternoon sees Martina replace right-back Soares for the final six minutes.
SHOT! There's still a bit of life left in West Brom, but they can't breach Fraser Forster's goal. A free kick was only partially cleared to Brunt, but like his teammates have done all afternoon, he failed to hit the target.
There will be three minute of added-on time. I wouldn't expect too much action, though.
Southampton had been heading for the top half of the table, but Everton have struck late at Chelsea to open up a 3-2 lead! On a positive note, Southampton will be six points clear of the Blues.
FULL TIME: Southampton 3-0 West Bromwich Albion
The final whistle goes at St Mary's and Southampton have ended a fantastic 72 hours with a 3-0 demolition of West Brom. The damage was done in the first half through James Ward-Prowse's double, but Dusan Tadic capped off a fine team performance with a third in the second half. The Saints have only moved into 11th place, but they now sit just five points behind fifth position in the table.
Wait a minute! Chelsea have scored an equaliser in the 99th minute! Southampton fans - you are moving into the top half of the table. Sounds a bit better, huh? On that note, I shall bid you farewell for this afternoon.