Huddersfield Town manager Danny Cowley admitted his squad has struggled with five matches in 14 days as they failed to land a knockout punch on Premier League Southampton in the FA Cup third round.
Huddersfield won twice and lost twice in the Championship over the festive period, a sequence that culminated in a chastening 5-2 home defeat by fellow Championship strugglers Stoke City on New Year’s Day.
And the start to the year did not get any better on the south coast.
Cowley said: “I thought it was a bit of a game of chess.
“We were pleased with our performance. I think we defended with a lot more intensity, more discipline and concentration than we did on New Year’s Day for sure.
“We came here respecting Southampton and the fact that they’ve had a great Christmas, taking 10 out of 12 points, the athleticism they have at the top end of the pitch and how good they are at getting in behind you.
We tried to stick to our game plan to frustrate them, I think it was alright in the first half and had our chances on the counter attack.Florent Hadergjonaj
“We knew that as a consequence we had to protect that space so we defended deeper than we would normally, but we were pleased with the discipline and the concentration of the group.”
Cowley’s concerns about the wear and tear on his squad were echoed by defender Florent Hadergjonaj.
“At the moment we haven’t got a big squad, we can’t rotate a lot of players, so a lot of players had to play nearly every game, so it’s hard in this Christmas period,” said the 25-year-old Kosovan.
“You have to stick together as a team, keep following our game plans and then get some points.”
Two teenagers fired Southampton into the fourth round.
Making his first senior appearance, 19-year-old William Smallbone gave the hosts the lead in the 48th minute with a well-timed volley. Smallbone had only featured once for the under-21s this season, in a Football League Trophy defeat to Forest Green in September, but had been named on Ralph Hasenhuttl’s bench for Saints’ New Year’s Day draw to Crystal Palace.
The home side had the ball in the back of the net in the first half, after a well-placed effort from Shane Long, but a VAR review ruled the striker offside.
Saints sealed their progress in the 86th minute when Jake Vokins, also aged 19, fired in from the edge of the area for his first goal of the season, in only his second senior appearance.
Southampton dominated the ball in the first 10 minutes possession in the first half but failed to turn that into chances against a well-organised Huddersfield defence.
The Terries looked threatening the first time they got forward however, as Fraizer Campbell was fed through by Juninho Bacuna, but the 32-year-old was unable to get a clear shot away.
At the start of the second half, Kevin Danso drove down the right before sending in a lofted cross which Long headed down to Smallbone who volleyed in for his first Saints goal.
Less than 10 minutes after the opening goal, Huddersfield’s Bacuna sent in a dangerous free-kick and Christopher Schindler met the ball at the near post, but his close-range volley went just wide of the goal.
Southampton wrapped up all three points in emphatic fashion in the 86th minute, when Vokins drove the ball into the top corner.
Hadergjonaj, who is primarily a full-back but played on the right wing, said: “It was a difficult game.
“We knew that Southampton were in a good mood, they got 10 points out of their last four games, so were in a good shape.
“It was always going to be hard away here.
“We tried our best.
“We tried to stick to our game plan to frustrate them, I think it was alright in the first half and had our chances on the counter attack.
“We knew that we would get some chances, but at the end you need to take your chances if you want to get through to the next round.
“At the end of the first half we had some good chances, so if you take them it would’ve been a different game.
“I think our defensive shape was very good. We need to keep going and working hard as a team.”
Southampton: Gunn, Danso (Cedric 75), Vestergaard, Yoshida, Vokins, Smallbone (Armstrong 70), Romeu, Ward-Prowse, Boufal (Obafemi 78), Adams, Long. Unused substitutes: Stephens, Ings, Slattery, Lewis.
Huddersfield: Coleman, Simpson, Schindler, Stankovic, Brown, Hogg, Chalobah, O’Brien (Koroma 83), Hadergjonaj, Campbell (Mounie 62), Bacuna (Ahearne-Grant 66).Unused substitutes: Schofield, Harratt, Daly, High.
Referee: T Robinson (West Sussex).