Danny Ings celebrated his return from injury with an emphatic penalty to give the visitors all three points, with Southampton rising up to fifth in the Premier League.
Saints started the game below par, looking like a shadow of themselves in the first half. Brighton & Hove Albion took the lead deservedly through Pascal Gross from the spot-kick. However, Southampton had a response of their own, as seen before this season, the 6ft 6in defender, Jannick Vestergaard met James Ward-Prowse’s inch-perfect cross to level the scoring just before the interval. Another crucial goal from the Dane to add to his goal-scoring tally this campaign (3).
Ralph Hasenhuttl made a decisive change at half time, looking to steal all three points. Moussa Djenepo made way for Southampton’s talisman, Danny Ings. This substitution proved to be a shrewd move from the manager as Ings gave the attack more fluidity going forward. The Saints were rewarded for their persistence with a controversial penalty, which saw Solly March bundle Kyle Walker-Peters over, deemed to be inside the box by the VAR officials. Southampton’s top scorer, Ings, stepped up to give the visitors all three points at the AMEX stadium for the third season running.
The influence on Hasenhuttl's system
Undoubtedly, a player that stood out from the rest was clear to see on Monday. The great Dane, Vestergaard put in another phenomenal performance at the back. The Danish international has been nothing short of invaluable to Hasenhuttl’s side since his return to the starting 11. Vestergaard has slotted into the back four, which in turn has seen Southampton reap the benefits as their defensive woes have been suppressed.
The defensive ace has proved to fit Hasenhuttl’s system to a tee and the manager has not been short of praise for the centre-half, stating to the press:
"This is how we want to play, maybe a little risky, you need centre-backs who attack the space. And he is a role model for a centre-back to play like this."
"He was fantastic. Like every time in the last weeks. With the ball he takes responsibility."
Vestergaard has met Hasenhuttl's expectations and understood the style of play required. Yet again, completing two out of two take-ons from the back, marauding forward, and picking up little pockets to cause the Brighton midfield more problems.
To the surprise of Southampton supporters, Vestergaard is starting to reach the heights Southampton first thought he could achieve when bought in the summer of 2018 for a hefty £18 million. Southampton’s towering centre-half’s tenure at the Saints seemed to be coming to an end following poor performances with Premier League rivals, Leicester City rumoured to be interested but were not willing to meet Southampton’s valuation.
Southampton have benefitted hugely from Vestergaard’s turnaround in both ends of the pitch. Since being integrated into the side, Southampton have kept four clean sheets (The third highest in the league) prior to conceding six goals in two games against Crystal Palace and Tottenham Hotspur in the two opening games of the season without the man-mountain. Vestergaard has steadied the backline with his composed nature on the ball and good reading of the game, being the influential factor to Southampton’s success at conceding fewer opportunities as well as being significantly instrumental to building an attack from the back.
Vestergaard further demonstrated his all-round development with another man of the match display. The defensive giant won 10 aerial duels (the most in the game), four recoveries, and three interceptions proving to be a handful for Welbeck and Co. There is no doubt he has come a long way since last season, but his transformation pays tribute to good coaching and a bit of belief from Hasenhuttl, needless to say, Vestergaard has grasped the opportunity given to him with both hands and repayed the belief instilled in him from the manager.
On the other end of the pitch, Vestergaard is using his height to his advantage, netting on three occasions. The Dane’s relationship with Ward-Prowse from set-pieces is beginning to flourish this season with two of Vestergaard’s goals coming from crosses provided from the dead ball maestro. Vestergaard is beginning to build a healthy habit of scoring, only Chelsea’s Kurt Zouma has scored more goals as a defender this season. Vestergaard showcased his influence on the side yet again by having a hand in both of the goals against Brighton. First, with a towering header to level the scoring, then the incredible diagonal ball to Walker-Peters. The range of passing he possesses is to be admired. This was seen with a ball sprayed out wide to perfection received by Walker-Peters who went on to win the penalty. Vestergaard is a testament to hard work and should be seen as an example for the rest of the team to follow suit.