Look elsewhere, do not blame Pochettino for Southampton's FA Cup exit

Luke Shaw and Southampton players

Much has been made of Southampton's exit from the FA Cup at the hands of Sunderland, but the blame does not lie with the Saints boss, argues Connor Armstrong.

In the wake of Southampton's elimination from the FA Cup, it's fair to say there has been an acrimonious response from supporters of Mauricio Pochettino's side, with many laying the blame at the door of the Argentine.

The common argument is that the former Espanyol boss played "a weakened side/the reserves" and as a result "disrespected the competition" or "showed he did not care for the cup".

That's simply not true.

First, let us look at the side that Pochettino picked.

Kelvin Davis deputised for Artur Boruc in goal, whilst Paulo Gazzaniga was on the bench. Boruc was absent from the squad altogether, but has no fitness concerns.

This has been the club's cup policy throughout both the FA Cup and the League Cup. After progressing this far, would it have been fair to drop Davis in favour of the Pole? With hindsight, what exactly would Boruc have been able to do about Craig Gardner's wonder goal that Kelvin Davis couldn't? The answer to that particular question is "nothing".

In terms of full-backs, in Nathaniel Clyne and Luke Shaw, you have two of the best young full-backs in the country, who have routinely been Southampton's first choice right back and left back respectively during Mauricio Pochettino's reign.

At centre-half, there were clear difference. Maya Yoshida was an expected starter, following the injury sustained by Dejan Lovren against Sunderland in the Premier League meeting between the two sides in January. However, Jos Hooiveld, much maligned by many, was also handed a start.

On the face of it, perhaps a baffling or confusing decision. A quick search on the internet and a bit of awareness as to Jose Fonte's condition however, would've revealed that there should have been no such surprise in seeing Hooiveld line up for the Saints.

In the aftermath of Southampton's 1-0 win over Hull City at the KC Stadium last Tuesday, Jose Fonte posted this picture on Instagram, detailing an injury picked up during the game in which he scored the winning goal. Fonte's shins are visibly lacerated, so it should perhaps come with little surprise that Pochettino opted to leave the Portuguese defender on the sidelines for this one.

So, onto the midfield.

In Victor Wanyama you have Southampton's one-time record signing, and currently the most expensive player at the club in terms of fee paid. Wanyama was a stalwart in the Southampton side that started the season so strongly, demonstrating many a imperious and dominating display.

He was joined in central midfield by James Ward-Prowse, who has represented the Saints no less than 24 times in the Premier League this season. A reserve? A weak player? Not at all. Rather a rising star who has drawn acclaim from several quarters for his on the ball ability and reliability.

So, where next? Attacking midfield.

Regulars Adam Lallana and Steven Davis started here, joined by Guly do Prado. Evidently, Lallana as the club captain is a crucial player to the club, as demonstrated in his performances this season. Steven Davis has been a regular, winning plaudits from supporters for his all-action but low-key displays in which he plays a vital role in ensuring the turnover of possession and recycling of the ball.

Guly Do Prado is possibly the only arguable point. The Brazilian is, unfortunately, seemingly not cut out for Premier League football. He turned in a pretty dire display, truth be told, but he was filling in for Jay Rodriguez. It is said, by club spokesman Jordan Sibley that Jay Rodriguez was not 100%, something backed by BBC reporter Adam Blackmore who reported in the week beforehand that Rodriguez had a knock.

So yes, Guly was a reserve player. Once again though, it appears that he was drafted in to allow Rodriguez a period of rest.

The only other player is Rickie Lambert. It's not even worth getting in to this one because Lambert has been the face, the talisman and the icon of this Southampton side for some time now. Disappointingly, he also spurned one of the clearest chances the Saints will get all season.

After Steven Davis slipped Nathaniel Clyne in down the right-hand side, before drilling across goal, only for Lambert to sky his attempt over the cross bar from close range. A similar opportunity, albeit less clear-cut, was spurned by captain Lallana.

So the fault does not really lie at the feat of the "disrespectful" Pochettino.

If Pochettino was disrespecting the competition, would Clyne, Yoshida, Shaw, Wanyama, Ward-Prowse, S. Davis, Lallana and Lambert have started the game?

The fact is that Sunderland also made nine changes. Southampton should have had enough to see them off. They didn't. This was down to basic errors by senior members of the club's set-up. Lambert and Lallana must chiefly take the blame for disappointing performances in which they should have scored.

The performance as a whole was lacklustre, but Pochettino looked to inject urgency and additional quality into proceedings through the introduction of Morgan Schneiderlin and Jay Rodriguez. It didn't work.

It was 'one of those days'.

Of course it was incredibly disappointing for supporters of Southampton who trekked all the way to the Stadium of Light for a lunch-time kick-off, some for the third time this season. They are understandably irked by the underwhelming display.

Does turning on Pochettino, or aiming the vitriol in his direction make anything better. Of course not.

This is a season that has potential to be the best ever in the club's Premier League era. The Saints sit just three points off Manchester United in 7th. Finishing 7th would denote the club's most successful Premier League campaign.

In addition to this, Mauricio Pochettino's side play some of the most exciting and attractive football in the entire league, with a squad with large chunks of young talent, for the most part cultivated from the club's own Staplewood academy set-up.

So there is plenty to be positive about. In a potential summer of upheaval, perhaps Saints fans should think twice before being too hostile towards the man has been leading from the front since his arrival in January 2013.

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