Southampton miss their big opportunity

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NOT even Jesus could save Southampton from an awkward inquest after they crashed out of the FA Cup on the back of an under-strength side.

It should, of course, have been Saints boss Mauricio Pochettino explaining why he chose to rest so many key players for a cup tie which was screaming out to be given the highest priority.

Arrogance? Ignorance? Nonchalance?

We will not know because the Argentine was not there to defend himself, instead sending out amiable deputy Jesus Perez to stand trial.

Despite the Press’s sometimes fearsome reputation, post-match interviews are usually sedate affairs – a series of gentle full-toss questions lobbed up for managers to smack to the boundary.

But there was more of an edge this time.

And understandably so as the Saints committed the sin of not giving high enough priority to a competition which their fans would dearly have loved to have seen them go further in.

Even Gus Poyet admitted his pre-match team-talk had been given on the basis that Southampton would select their strongest side possible for the competition which offered them the most obvious route to glory this season.

“We are always doing the same in every game,” countered Perez, to the question of how the team selection was arrived at.

“After our last game, we assessed our players, and then we decided the best team to play against Sunderland.

“It was a tough game away to Hull (in midweek), we had our struggles, some of our players were not fully recovered and so we had to put out what we thought was our strongest team.”

He was asked directly: was that the strongest team Southampton could have played though?

“We chose the team we trusted and they supported us and I don’t think there’s any problems,” he replied delicately.

“We played the best team we decided to play.

“We decided the best team to play on the day because we trust every player in our squad, not just the ones who normally play.

“So we are not disappointed, we are just a little bit sad to have gone out of the cup.”

And what of the 859 hard-core Southampton fans who made the long and fruitless journey to Sunderland for the third time this season?

“Fans have come a long way to see us and we tried the best we could,” said Perez of those who had endured the near 700-mile round trip.

“The players tried their best, especially the first half, in which Sunderland played with energy.

“Sunderland stopped us better than they have done before and, in the second half, we conceded a simple goal.

“But we had enough chances after that to get something out of it.”

Whether Southampton would have beaten Sunderland with a full-strength side is something that we will never know.

Unfortunately for their fans, neither will they.