Without Andy Carroll, Joe Cole and Stewart Downing, West Ham United's three most dangerous attacking weapons, Sam Allardyce lacked options in the final third for the trip to St Mary's.
Instead, Allardyce's gameplan was about nullifying Southampton. Using a 4-1-4-1 system rather than his usual 4-2-3-1, Allardyce asked Nolan and Ravel Morrison, making his first Premier League start, to push up and press Southampton's two defensive midfielders, Victor Wanyama and Morgan Schneiderlin. Mark Noble remained in a more defensive position.
It was a simple approach, but proved surprisingly effective. Southampton were determined to pass out from defence and knock simple balls into midfield, but with both central midfielders occupied and neither comfortable receiving the ball on the half-turn and charging into attack, Southampton's moves were predictable.
This wasn't primarily the fault of Southampton's defensive players, however. Mauricio Pochettino's formation was difficult to decipher and often appeared to be 4-2-4, with wide midfielders Adam Lallana and Jay Rodriguez, and forwards Daniel Osvaldo and Rickie Lambert, frequently interchanging. They sometimes pushed high up against West Ham's back four, apparently waiting for service, but none of them dropped into deeper positions to provide a link between the two sections of the side. In a team determined to keep their passing short and neat, that was a problem.
In the first half the home side created a couple of decent chances down the left, where Allardyce had used Mohamed Diamé in a defensive-minded, right-sided role in an attempt to nullify Luke Shaw, further evidence of the full-back's burgeoning reputation. After half-time, Southampton worked Jussi Jaaskelainen more – partly because Lallana linked play better, partly because Schneiderlin stormed forward to help, but also because West Ham's pressing dropped, inviting Southampton into attack.
The real surprise, however, was that Pochettino didn't use Gastón Ramírez, who remained an unused substitute. Granted, the playmaker was away on international duty in midweek, but a Sunday game allowed the Uruguayan a sufficient period of time to recover.
Ramírez is yet to start in 2013-14, and yet to complete 90 minutes since Pochettino's arrival in January. If he does not feature in a contest such as this, where Southampton were clearly dominating yet crying out for a link between midfield and attack, precisely the area where Ramírez specialises, one wonders where the £12m signing fits into Pochettino's plans.