Tuesday, February 20, 2018

FA Cup 5th Round - West Brom 1 Southampton 2

Positive Commanding Goalkeeper Off Line Shocker

FA Cup 5th Round and a return to The Hawthorns, scene of our 3-2 win from a couple weeks ago, which filled people with kind of cautious optimism, which was kicked firmly out of the door by our performance against Liverpool last weekend. West Brom are one of the few who have definitely been more shit than us this season. Having spent a fair bit of cash in the summer on permanent and loan signings, many expected them to actually do a bit better this season but they’ve gone backwards. Time ran out on Pulis-ball which it always does and they still are a team of that centre-backs even now, and of the stewardship of Alan Pardew who was appointed in one of those bizarre examples of a serial failure just walking into another job at the top level, much like David Moyes at West Ham.

Pards has not had a good week. West Brom were away, doing a bit of warm weather training during the week which of course partaking in some warm weather drinking and four players decided it was a good idea to steal a taxi and drive back to the hotel, many hours after the curfew for them to be back. Seems to me that the players were treated like adults and asked to be responsible and then decided to act like a bunch of twats. The Cab Four as they will inevitably now be known, stepped forward and owned up, probably stop Jay Rodriguez getting any more trouble with that 99% probability bullshit racism charge hanging over him and Johnny Evans, Gareth Barry, Jake Livermore and Boaz Myhill were the guilty men. As far as I can tell, no one has actually mentioned who drove the cab yet because I’m sure the driver of it had just had half a pint of shandy and was therefore under the drink-driving limit. You don’t steal a cab unless you’re pretty fucked up in the first place and you’re making alcohol influenced decisions.  Hang on…Gareth Barry? Mr Boring. Mr Grey, drab and uninteresting involved in stealing a taxi on a night out, A man who was probably brought to the club as much to be an example to the youngsters as for his contribution on the pitch. No, Pardew has not had a good week.  Still, they have the mercurial Daniel Sturridge on loan from Liverpool… injured…shocker.

Saints week has been pretty quiet with the only real talking point coming from Pellegrino Press conferences. He spoke of usual bollocks about learning opportunities, growth and acknowledged that winning was fundamental to a staying up. It’s a relief that he knows that being a man who is paid an absolute fortune for his expertise and then he says that some people deal with the pressure by taking sleeping pills.  I’ll tell you mate, if you sat the entire first team squad down for an hour and talked, not many would see the second half as they will be out like a fucking light.

Pellegrino had made some worrying noises about players with not been playing, getting game time in this fixture but in the event, his hand was slightly forced as Shane Long, Maya Yoshida, Steven Davis and Sofiane Boufal were all ruled out injured so the only change to the team from the Liverpool game was Nathan Redmond coming in for Oriol Romeu who has nine bookings and therefore only one away from the suspension, again. There were places on the bench for Sam McQueen and Josh Sims who probably deserve to be there anyway and also for Jan Bednarek.  The injuries meant that Pellegrino had less decisions to make and less opportunity to tinker with the team and I feel that this is a good thing.  The taxi incident that obviously didn’t bother anyone at West Brom too much because the two of the Cab Four who are fit and are regular starters, both started. The only concession was that Johnny Evans wasn’t captain.

The Baggies fans are clearly not in love with their team at the moment judging by the empty seats everywhere and their mood won’t have been improved on 10 minutes when Cedric wins a corner when a cross is deflected behind, JWP whips in an outswinger and all the defenders have fucked off, leaving Wesley Hoedt all on his own about 10 yards out.  He meets the corner on the volley and places it past Foster as easily as you like.  Hilarious.  Four centre backs in the back four of Dawson, Hegazi, McAuley and Evans and no one marking the tallest opposition player.

Another corner is won on the other side and this time it’s an inswinger from JWP and again there are free Saints players all over the place but no one can get a decisive touch.  Pards has set up West Brom in a traditional 4-4-2 with Matt Phillips and that nice bloke James MacClean on the wings.  MacClean has their first effort as he fires wide after being expertly picked out in midfield by Hojbjerg.

Saints are in control for most of the first half and Krychowiak, who must wonder what the fuck he’s done joining this shit show for a year goes in studs up on Lemina.  Borderline red card that one but he gets away with a yellow.  Bizarrely, he spends the next few minutes diving about as if he’s trying to get sent off but the ref decides to ignore it, probably because he’s already been booked.

Right on half time we get some ridiculous theatrics by 6 foot 5 Hegazi who loses yet another header to Carrillo and then acts like he’s been smashed in the face, earning a bemused looking Carrillo a booking.  Half time and so far so good.  If we can survive the Pellegrino half time demotivational team talk and not be fast asleep when the second half starts, we should be ok.

And here we go… it’s all West Brom and it’s familiar failings for Saints.  Rondon massacres Stephens in the air and flicks on and Hoedt does the Ice Skating Giraffe thing again and J-Rod is through but luckily it’s J-Rod post injury and not pre-injury and he screws a left footed effort wide with McCarthy getting a touch to make sure.  Corner, free header for Dawson which bounces down and McCarthy gets over to make a good save.  Two minutes later and Krychowiak stops diving on the floor for a minute and has a dig from the edge of the box which deflects off Hoedt but McCarthy is there again, changing direction to make a top drawer save once more.  Another corner and once more a free header for Hegazi which he flicks across goal with no one getting a touch.

And then… robbery.  A God Save our Gracious Queen MacClean cross is headed our by Bertrand and we’re away up the left.  Carrillo to Redmond, back to Carillo and he hoiks a cross intot e middle with the outside of his left boot and Tadic brings it down past the airshot of Krychowiak and then chips is superbly over Foster and into the net.

That’s it now surely… is it bollocks.  Almost straight from the kick off, Tadic gets run off the ball in midfield and Krychowick drills a long ball from the half way line, right to left to Rondon who just smashes it left footed on the volley and it flies in the near post to make it 2-1.  What a goal that is.  On first look I thought McCarthy would be disappointed but if so, he’s been caught out by a ridiculous bit of play.  99 players out of 100 would control that and the other one would probably lash it into the crowd.  So, 2-1 with half an hour to go.

In generally play we’re not too bad but we’re getting forced back and every corner is carnage.  Hegazi gets in a close range header from one and McCarthy pushes it out whilst everyone appeals for a goal which is pointless because of the goal line technology we have now.  Pellegrino now tries to manage the game and you just wonder what the hell he’s going to do.  Gabbi for Redmond is the first sub which is ok I guess – you could even say it’s an attacking move but it is removing the any pace we have in the front four.  It’s like for like Romeu for Hojbjerg next but the trend is now firmly towards our goal not helped by Jack Stephens having a 50p head moment and giving away a corner when unpressured.  Carnage again as a Hegazi volley loops up and hits the bar, falling to Rondon who volleys down and over McCarthy but Bertrand is there to head off the line.

Someone on the bench has recognized the lack of pace on the break being an issue and Sims is on for Carrillo and we immediately break through Sims after some ridiculous skill by Lemina to get away from 3 Baggies players.  Sims lines up Evans 1v1 and it’s TAXI FOR EVANS as Sims pisses past him before finding JWP on the penalty spot but under pressure, he can only smash the ball straight at Foster.

As the four minutes of injury time are played out though, it’s a succession of balls into our box and headers out and Ben Foster spends about 3 minutes in our penalty area.  Games are so much more fun when you’re not taking 20 minutes over a goal kick aren’t they Ben.  One final attack repelled and it’s all over.

Just before the end of the game, I saw a stat which said we’ve had 4 shots to West Brom’s 22 and they had a couple more shots in the last couple of minutes. Whilst you might say that you won’t win many games if you only have 4 shots against 22, today is one day where I don’t give a shit.  It’s a cup game, we won and now we are in the quarter-final.

If we could play West Brom every week we’d be fine.  It’s off because you’d expect us to struggle against a direct side but the fact of the matter is that they are really not very good.  Team at bottom of league in not very good shocker.  Saints players who stood out today were Alex McCarthy who was excellent in goal and continuing to prove many, including myself, very very wrong indeed.  Commands his penalty area well, light on his feet, superb reactions – long may it continue.  Another interesting comparison today was between Redmond and Sims – two wingers who have been out of the team for differing reasons.  Whilst Redmond was ok, he wasn’t brilliant whereas Sims was electric when he came on and to be honest, looked a much better bet.  We were apparently after a quick winger in January – well maybe we’ve got one already.  It’s the same as the Gallagher-Carrillo situation. Hopefully we’ll see a bit more of Sims between now and the end of the season and maybe that’ll pave the way for Jake Hesketh too.

There was an interesting graphic after the game – a heatmap of where the Saints players were and where they weren’t.  There was a gaping hole behind the striker suggesting that Tadic is not a natural 10 as he was clearly playing elsewhere, probably on the wings.  It looks like the one time he was doing what a number 10 should do, he scored.  Hesketh is tearing it up for the Under 23s in that position so surely he’s worth a look at, at some point.

As part of the ongoing campaign to devalue the FA Cup and not give a shit about supporters, the draw for the quarter-finals was made at about 8pm after Manchester United had comfortably knocked out Huddersfield. There were two 5th round games that hadn’t even been played yet and they were Rochdale versus Tottenham and Wigan versus Manchester City. Assuming that Spurs and City get through, there are four big clubs left and for also-rans including ourselves, Leicester, Brighton and either Swansea or Sheffield Wednesday. The draw was done in the usual way with two ex-pros pulling balls out of a tombola and what do you fucking know, all of the big four kept apart, like you fucking knew they would be. The last four teams were Chelsea, Leicester, Manchester City and Southampton. Chelsea came out first and then the whole world said “Leicester or Southampton“ and sure enough, Leicester came out, Leaving us with Manchester fucking City and not only that, we got them away from home. Absolute bullshit.

A Load of Balls: Warm Balls and Cold Balls

Even if by some miracle, the drawer is not rigged, there is enough suspicion around it now and enough people thinking that it is right to change the way the draw is made. Why not use The National Lottery machines to do the draw and have all the same regulations and safeguards around that as you must have around the National Lottery draw. If the FA want to prove that they are not a corrupt shambles, then why not do this to show they are whiter than white. It’s not an admission of guilt, it’s a change to allay fears of a very sceptical public who have no confidence in them. Anyway, nothing will happen and there will still be warm balls and cold balls and the next FA Cup draw, ensuring that as few big teams get drawn against eachother as possible.  I feel that we would have a chance against Manchester United or Chelsea and even against Spurs but Manchester City is about as close to unwinnable as you can get. And it has inevitably, put a bit of a downer on things.

And then….

Stop press. Wigan 1 Manchester City 0. Ha ha ha, fucking hilarious. So, the FA went to all that trouble to warm some balls up and freeze some of the balls it was all for nothing as Manchester City got beat by Wigan.  Hilarious and well done Wigan.  A talking point of the game was Fabian Delph getting sent off for launching himself what a human missile towards and opponent. By the time he actually made to tackle he was on the ground but he was completely out of control whilst he was flying through the air so in today’s rules, he has to go. Maybe the referees haven’t taken too kindly to Pep and Man City demanding to see all the referees about the tackling they were on the end of and basically telling the referees that they weren’t doing their job properly. Mind you, that is exactly the sort of tackle that he would’ve been moaning about had it been on one of their players.

After all that, we have an FA Cup quarter-final away at Wigan. Of course, it is easier than having to play and Manchester City but Southampton have a huge habit of having a cup draw open up in front of them and then royally fucking up with Sheffield United away being the most recent example when semi final place in the league cup was up for grabs.

Meanwhile, we now have the five games that will decide what division we are in next season, starting with Burnley away. The good news is that Pellegrino has admitted that winning is fundamental and actually quite important to whether we stay up or not.

Watch him set up for a draw now.

Stil, 8th and a Cup Final - still on!

Monday, February 12, 2018

Premier League Match 27 - Southampton 0 Liverpool 2

You See Virgil, I Told You in Blackpool They Were Shit

I’ll start how I mean to go on. I fucking hate Jurgen Klopp. I hate everything about him. I hate the fact he thinks he is really funny. I hate the fact that he gets away with murder in terms of inflammatory behaviour and comments. He’s such an arrogant prick when he’s done absolutely nothing at Liverpool aside from spend shit loads of money. He hasn’t build a team that is going to challenge to win the league and they are out of every competition they had a chance of winning at the start of the season.

His arrogance over other Van Dijk transfer saga was quite breathtaking, getting personally involved with the player that he absolutely knew he had no right to speak to, let alone make DVDs for him or meet him in Blackpool.  Still though, he gets a free pass for the media in this country because he is quotable and a bit of a character. Then there’s the over celebration of Liverpool goals which because the technical area is along one touchline, is invariably in front of home supporters. By all means be passionate but don’t be a complete over the top dickhead. I was wondering how he was going to handle his pre-match press conference bearing in mind all the van Dijk shit that went down and he didn’t let me down. He made some joke about maybe Liverpool needing to set up a Scouting Academy in Southampton. I know it was a joke and I know he’s not serious but that is the exactly the sort of comment that people are going to get annoyed about. Having signed Suarez and Coutinho, you wonder how he would’ve reacted if someone from Barcelona had made the same joke but of course as we all know Liverpool are offended by everything and ashamed by nothing. The bloke has absolutely zero respect for any of the opponents or fans of the opponents the Liverpool play against. With just a little bit more humility, he wouldn’t be too bad but at the moment, he is a massive wanker.

Talking of massive wankers, Adam Lallana. I have never seen anything as cringeworthy and embarrassing as his sending off for Liverpool Under 23s against Spurs when he was on the end of a challenge that really wasn’t that bad and certainly didn’t warrant the reaction of turning round and jumping on his 18-year-old opponents back and to be honest I don’t know what the fuck he was trying to do. Was it an eye gouge, was it a hair pull, was it just ruffling his hair, was it a face scratch? Whatever it was it was fucking pathetic and embarrassing and even more embarrassing is that his ban only stands for Under 23 matches which is absolutely absurd because he was probably not scheduled to play another one for the rest of his career.  I’d have more repect for him if he’d absolutely twatted the bloke but Adam would probably have broken a nail or something.

Then we move onto Dejan Lovren who is now gone down my list because he is quite frankly an embarrassing shadow of a footballer who was decent in the first six months of his one and only season with us. On top of getting dogs abuse from Liverpool fans, his wife also decided to slap it around a bit with the gardner so it would be a bit unfortunate if he got a rendition of ‘stand-up if you’ve shagged his wife’ today.

Other returning players include Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain who has spent eight years achieving next to nothing at Arsenal apart from being a substitute and he has settled for the same again at Liverpool. If he sees out his four year contract there, he will then be 30 years old and never been a first in regular anywhere other than in his season with Saints in league one. I don’t think anyone really has a problem with Sadio Mané who has not been the main man this season with the emergence of Mohammad Salah who has been different class. Nathaniel Clyne has hardly played this season with the official reason being a long-standing back injury but there are plenty of interesting rumours as to what the real problem actually is.

Then we have the other bloke, Virgil Van Dijk who in the face of serious competition, emerges as the biggest tosser of them all. It has been well documented that he plotted his move away from St Mary‘s whilst he was recovering from injury, six months after signing a new five year contract and most of this would’ve been forgiven if he got his head down and tried for the first half of the season but the guy didn’t give a fuck and sulked to such a degree that we decided to cut our losses before January. The good news is that he is absolutely nowhere near the level that he was at pre-injury with us and long may that continue.  Instant hero status to any Saints player who clatters the fucker this afternoon.

A lot is been said as to whether the crowd at the game see you should give a load of shit to our former players. I am firmly of the belief that we should because I have never seen anyone die on their arse as much as Lallana date in his first game back at St.Mary’s. I’m not sure that the same tactic will work with van Dijk because he is incredibly laid-back and the more laid-back he is, the more likely he is to fuck something up. Nevertheless, I hope he gets dogs abuse from the moment he set foot in the ground and that he gets endless shit for any little mistake he makes.

On the other hand, you know that one of Lovren and van Dijk will score with a header from a corner today.  And breathe….

Having all that out the way, we can now talk about us and it’s been a relatively quiet week with no new injuries reported and a slight sense of optimism after the West Brom result. This game is a free hit so hopefully Pellegrino has got us fired up and we go out there and fucking hit it.

Having stumbled across the team that played well last week, I do not trust Pellegrino to tinker so I hope he just leave the team exactly the same. If he brings in Hojbjerg for Tadic then fine but I do not want him trying to be clever because he isn’t clever and it will only go wrong.  Everyone knows Liverpool’s weaknesses which is the defence because they are left totally over exposed by the lack of defensive midfield structure. You would think that the manager as good as Klopp thinks he is would be able to sort that out.

I’m in the ground and there is a rather bizarre hail and sleet shower going on whilst the sun shines as the team news comes through. Just the one change from last week but it is leaving out Boufal and bringing in Hojbjerg. Tadic survives again. This will probably be okay if Pellegrino uses Hojbjerg in a three-man midfield to match up against what Liverpool do but if he uses him as a number 10 then it’s a complete fucking waste of time. There is no place in our front line either so we can’t sit deep and play on the break. This again, points to a midfield three and trying to dominate possession. Somehow, I am not expecting Pellegrino’s thinking to be that joined up and logical.

Liverpool‘s midfield three is Can, Wijnaldum and Oxlade-Chamberlain so there really is nothing to be frightened about in there if we get stuck into them. The front three of course are fucking scary with the pace of Mané and Salah and the intelligence of Firmino.  Before the game, we are subjected to some bizarre Chinese Dragon Dancing Bollocks in celebration of the Chinese New Year.  I forget for a second that we have a Chinese owner because we have never heard from him but I guess this is supposed to impress him.  I guess that not getting relegated would impress him more.

Away ago and we look nervous as fuck right from the off. Liverpool are closing us down what they always do and we are panicking the shit out of it at the back.  A shit kick from McCarthy, an overhit pass from Lemina and some shit control by Wesley and we just about get away with it because Firmino decides to go to ground rather than try and stay on his feet.  OK, now settle down.  Ok then… it takes all of two minutes. It starts with a shit free kick into the box from Bertrand which hits the first man and end up with Karius, a quick throw and then Liverpool break.  One pass from Chamberlain and Wesley gets his legs all fucked up like a fucking giraffe on ice and plays an air shot allowing the ball through to Salah, a quick ball to Firmino who calmly as you like, passes it into the net past an exposed McCarthy who has absolutely no chance. Five minutes gone, 1-0 down. Fucks sake.

Showing great signs of learning lessons we get caught on the break again with Salah feeding Mané who passes to Oxlade-Chamberlain who demonstrates that he’s nowhere near the level of the other Liverpool players by having his shot deflected to McCarthy.

Slowly but surely, Saints are coming back into it and begin winning the midfield area.  Romeu flots a really good ball over Robertson to Hojbjerg who chests it down well and eventually shoots but Karius has flown out well to block.  Not Pierre’s fault but he’s never scored for us and the manager has him playing in an attacking position.  Out resurgence is all a bit fragile though as Liverpool just have to wait for us to give the ball away before they attack again and Mané luckily looks like a man out of form and shoots wide.

Two more chances for us as we build on the right through Cedric and JWP and the latter puts over a great ball and Carrillo climbs high and heads down but straight at Karius.  He slaps the ground in frustration as he knows he’ll probably not get another decent cross to attack for about 4 games.  Carrillo then gets involved laying off to Tadic and he puts over his one good cross for the game onto the head of JWP who makes good contact with the header but Karius tips it over the bar comfortably enough.

So, since the goal it’s been quite even but then guess what happens?  Matip stolls forward from the back under no challenge and takes out our midfield with one ball into Salah’s feet.  He knocks off to Firmino, a quick back heel and Salah is in on goal, bang, 2-0, brilliant goal and that my friends is the difference.  Players with pace and intelligence and movement.

Half time and it’s depressing.  I can hear the approximately 6 year old kids behind me asking if they can go home and their Dad explaining why they can’t but he doesn’t sound convincing.  Usually at 2-0 down, you know that if you make a fast start to the second half and score, you’ll have a chance.  Sadly, you also know that under Captain Chaos, we usually start the second half worse and we’re just as likely to do nothing.

I can’t even really be arsed to write about the second half.  It starts and Captain Chaos team talk has obviously been a Churchillian rabble rousing affair and we carry on with exactly the same players and formation, only 20 yards further back aside fro Carrillo who is beating his head against a brick wall miles away from anyone.  I mean, for fucks sake.  Liverpool have settled for a 2-0 and are just passing it about under no pressure from us and we appear to have settled for it as well.  Go and fucking kick someone.  Liverpool just take the piss and are almost keeping the score down out of pity.  Mané is trying but he’s playing shite and Salah and Firmino both miss chances because they aren’t bothered any more – the job is done and it’s Champions League on Wednesday.

Captain Chaos takes off the clearly suffering Lemina and replaces him with Boufal who was then completely shit for the reminder of the match.  The next sub was one you really need when you need 2 goals in 20 minutes – Shane Long (4 goals in 75 games approx) on in place of JWP – the only guy who stands a chance of playing a decent ball into a striker.  Long goes out on the right before we go 4-4-2 again with Tadic, who is somehow still on the pitch despite being a useless wanker out on the right.  The last throw of the dice sees Steve Davis who has been in awesome game-changing form recently, brought on for Romeu.  Romeu had been poor and had picked up a yellow card cos at least he had the fight to go and kick someone.

Klopp just took the piss – first bringing on that pathetic little shit Lallana for the abysmal Oxlade-Chamberlain and then the ultimate – bringing on Lovren for the last 5 minutes.  No one could be arsed to sing about the gardener as the game had been so spirit crushing that no one cared.  It must have been the easiest win Liverpool have ever had – certainly the easiest since they played us at Anfield.  It was probably one of the easiest games of Virgil van Dijk’s career.  I bet he got more of a test playing against Scottish Division 2 clubs for Celtic in their cup competitions.  I’m not knocking Scottish Div 2 clubs here as we would struggle to beat them.

With all the results going against this at the weekend and us being in the bottom three as we kicked off, I expected some fight today and a performance. We got none of that. Instead we got a team and manager that was happy to settle for 2-0 defeat from 45 minutes onwards. We came out for the second half at 2-0 down with the same team, in the same shape but playing 20 yards deeper. What innovation, what tactical mastery. Fuck me!!!  Liverpool were content to just fuck about in the second half and we did not lay a glove on them or hurry them up or do anything. The atmosphere completely died within the ground and none of our players did anything to try and raise things to a decent level. Still, we had the fucking plastic clackers for that I guess.

Rule Number 1 for today should’ve been that the first player gets a chance fucking clatters Van Dijk. That would’ve got the fans fired up, the players fired up, shown we meant business and we may have got a performance. Unfortunately, no one could be bothered and Van Dijk (and the rest of the Liverpool side) was allowed to just stroll through the game under no pressure whatsoever. We didn’t get anyone around him to test him and just left Carrillo upfront on his own battling against two huge centre backs. It was pathetic. If Liverpool have needed to win the game 5-0 then they easily could have done. They took their foot off the gas in the second half and luckily they weren’t taking care over the final ball and finishing. They didn’t need to, they had already scored two goals in the first half with great economy and that was enough. They have a Champions League match coming up on Wednesday so they saved themselves for that and they could’ve just strolling around doing the bare minimum the whole of the second half and we allow them to do that in the most pathetic manner.  Would they have fancied it if we’d been flying into tackles?  We’ll never know.

Captain Chaos came up with two more bewildering substitutions and the game limped to it inevitable conclusion which was a pathetic defeat which leaves us 18th in the table, staring relegation in the face and completely deflated after last weeks little bit of optimism. With two weeks to go before the next league game, it is of course another great opportunity to sack the useless fucker which of course, we won’t take though there has been a picture published of Chairman Gao, Katharina Liebherr and Ralph Krueger all out in China so you never know.

Of the players, Alex McCarthy was blameless as he had no chance with either goal. Jack Stephens played well because there was no physical battle today but because it was pacey tricky attackers, Wesley Hoedt was a nightmare. Bertrand and Cedric did their best but were unable to influence the game too much going forward. Romeu tried hard without getting anywhere and Lemina was by far away our best player before he had to be substituted.  With Romeu, you could actually argue that he was our Man of the Match because at least he picked up a yellow card for taking someone out.  Hojbjerg unsurprisingly was like a fish up a tree again and of the two wingers, JWP was by far the most threatening (least shit) but he was the one of course who got substituted whilst Tadic stayed on for 90 minutes in what was one of his more pathetic displays. Up front, anyone criticising Carrillo really doesn’t have a clue what it’s like to play as a striker when you offered a diet of complete shit for service and have no players anywhere need you and you’re playing against two monster centre backs on your own.

Wesley Hoedt Trying to Get His Legs Sorted Out

So, with West Brom being a step forward, we somewhat predictably then took two steps back and back into the bottom three. Our next chance to get out of it is in two weeks time with an away game at Burnley followed by a home game against Stoke which is another one of those must win game is that Pellegrino is so good at. I of course would prefer him not to be our manager when the game takes place. Before that we have the small matter of the 5th round of the FA Cup and another trip to West Brom. Pellegrino needs a win so there is no danger of us not picking a full side for that game.

I’ve said before that it’s kind of pointless worrying about other teams results at this stage but what is interesting is the comparative levels of performance.  Newcastle beat Manchester United and it looked from highlights that they were really putting in a shift for their supporters and for the shirt and most importantly, for their manager.  I was not a huge fan of Benitez when he was Liverpool manager but he is a superb manager, especially when compared to the guy who was supposed to be learning from him who is sat in our dug out.  Benitez has a squad with many players who are nowhere near the alleged level of ours but they’re organized and they fight and they have attacking intent.  The point is that the manager is the most important member of the staff, bar none.  A good manager can make average players into a good team.  Meanwhile, in Southampton…

Our season is going to be decided in the next five league games which are Burnley away, Stoke at home, Newcastle away, Swansea away and West Ham away. I would say that we need nine points from those five games.  If we end up with significantly less than that then we are completely fucked.  Again, I reiterate that I would trust almost any manager more than Pellegrino with those 5 games.

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

The Last Match at The Dell

I have managed to stitch together three pictures of The Dell from the last ever match there.  I took these in 2001 from the Milton Road End.  The 'stitch' hasn't worked perfectly but it's pretty good.

Feel free to download from the following page.


Monday, February 5, 2018

Premier League Match 26 - West Brom 2 Southampton 3

Top Corner, Over There.

The game that would possibly complete our journey to the bottom of the league and maybe even be Pellegrino’s last stand was here, with a trip to The Hawthorns to play West Brom. Tony Pulis finally managed to turn West Brom into what he wanted which was a team of centre backs and defensive midfielders and at that point after one win in about 20 games they got rid of him. His replacement is our old manager Alan Pardew. It was an appointment that many people scoffed at but how many Saints fans would take Pardew over Pellegrino?

Jay Rodriguez of course, moved to West Brom at the start of the season and has found some form of late, notching five goals in his last seven games. This is brilliant for him and a complete indication that he was correct to move on from Southampton. He needed a change of scenery and he needed a run of games and he was never going to get that with us. Fairplay to him, he moved for football reasons and like Jack Cork, it has paid off so far for him.  You don’t wish him any ill will because he wasn’t a twat about anything. In this transfer window, West Brom have made what is being lauded as a great signing, in bringing in Daniel Sturridge from Liverpool. I’m not convinced myself and think he is decidedly overhyped. It’s easy to be a flat track bully boy playing for clubs in the top six who are always attacking and of course, he has to stay fit.

In addition to it being a tough game anyway, we have to cope with the fact that it is West Brom‘s first home game since Cyrille Regis died. I remember him well, terrorising Saints defenders in the late 70s and early 80s in their iconic green and yellow West Brom kit. He was a brilliant player and in his later years at Coventry City, though he lost a bit of pace he more than made up for it with football intelligence. The main focus is about the racial abuse he used to have to put up with and his part in changing that. As a kid at the time, I didn’t really understand all that but he was an absolutely superb footballer.

It is Pellegrino time and time for the team selection (closes eyes and prays even though I’m not religious)…. on the face of it, it looks miles better than the Brighton selection. Carrillo starts up front so we have a proper number nine instead of a false nine, a fake nine or just a shite nine (you know exactly who I’m talking about). There were also places for Mario Lemina and Sofiane Boufal in place of Steven Davis and the ridiculously unlucky Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg. Whilst overall, the team looks much better on paper, I am quite staggered that the two players who got hauled off at half-time against Brighton because they were shite, both managed to stay in the team whilst Hojbjerg, despite being our most consistent player this season, gets left out.  Tadic keeps his place due to his hard-drive full of photos of Les Reed, Nicola Cortese and various farmyard animals.

There were loads of tributes to Cyrille at the start of the game and the Saints fans did themselves proud by respectfully joining in with everything. West Brom handled the whole celebration superbly.

The West Brom team is missing a few with Krychowiak injured and J-Rod has surprisingly been left out to accommodate show pony greedy bastard Daniel Sturridge.  I just can’t see him doing it for a relegation threatened club.  He’s not going to get the ball as much so his greedy bastard tendencies are going to grate and I can’t really imagine him putting a huge shift in when they haven’t got the ball.

The game starts and West Bromwich win a corner on our left. Over comes the in swinging ball from Brunt and Hegazi, all 6 foot 5 of him has a completely free header from 6 yards which he buries. Needless to say, Jack Stephens was supposed to be marking him and just like the goal that Harry Kane scored for Spurs against us a few weeks ago, he got totally manshamed by an opponent who wanted to win the ball and head the ball much more than Jack did. West Brom are very good at set pieces and a 6 foot 5 player can score with a header and there be absolutely nothing you can do about it but this is now an epidemic regarding Stephens and heading the ball in our own penalty area and every single team we played against knows about it.

Whilst it was very depressing to fall behind early, given our lack of goals, we were given encouragement by West Brom having similar issues to us and appearing to sit back.  We began to dominate possession and the chances started to come.  After a decent spell of possession, Hoedt stepped out of the back 4 and played Boufal into space and he shot just wide with Foster concerned.  I was encourage by the fact that Hoedt found himself up the park and joining in.  Also encouraging was Carrillo.  When Rondon and Sturridge could be arsed to close us down and we were forced to go long – Carrillo was winning headers, flicking one on to Tadic, taking the return and shooting wide once more.

Tadic had an effort deflected by Brunt, spooning it up and landing on the roof of the net before another defensive calamity by Stephens allowed Sturridge in on the left but he blazed across the goal and over.  The Sturridge chance was a rare break in our domination as Hoedt won a tackle on the left against Matt Phillips who couldn’t have bottled it any more if he tried.  On it went to Tadic and then to Bertrand on the left – a great cross on the run and Carrillo dived in to meet it only for Foster to pull out a very good stop low down.

Another encouraging sign was forward players being fluid in their movement and not restricting themselves to one channel.  Boufal turned up on the right and nothing much seemed on as he teed up Lemina but with real intent, the returning midfielder took a touch forward and then just launched it right footed, perfect strike and still rising as it sped past Foster and into the top corner (near enough).  Great goal and just what we deserved.

And then, fuck me, it got better.  Hoedt played a great ball to Bertrand and his cross was blocked for a corner.  Over it comes from JWP and in a bit of role reversal, Stephens loses Hagazi, meets it in front of the near post and flicks it perfectly over everyone and into the far corner as Foster looked imploring at the man he hadn’t put on the post.

Of course, having turned it around and gone in front, we have a go at fucking it all up with Bertrand trashing Rondon on the edge of the box and from rine left footed territory, Brunt smashes it and McCarthy read it all the way and got down superbly to his right to parry it away and not back to the penalty spot like Fraser would have done.

Half time and it had been a very good first half.  After the Cyrille stuff and the early goal, it would have been easy to fold but we kept at it and were the better side and deservedly 2-1 in front.  The second half started with a joke decision as Dawson fell over Bertrand who wasn’t even looking at him or moving or trying to play the ball or anything and got given a free kick in Brunt territory once more.  This time he tried to scuff one under the jumping wall but it flicked off someone and wide.

Another thing I like about us today and the inclusion of Carrillo is that it allows us to mix it up.  We can play possession or go long which at least keeps the opposition guessing, unlike the Brighton game for example.  From one such long ball, everyone leaves it and Tadic gets there just before the keeper, lobs him but it’s half cleared and eventually Boufal sees his shot deflected wide.

Out next attack is out of some decent possession and Hoedt once more sees a chance to run and he’s past a couple of half arsed pathetic challenges and gets cynically taken out on the edge of the box.  There’s a bit of a tussle with Boufal wanting to take it but Wes steps in and points at JWP and Sofiane doesn’t feel like arguing.  Up steps JWP and drills it low to the right of the wall and into the corner for 3-1 with Boufal being the first to catch of with him for the celebration.  I can’t help but feel that Foster put the wall in the werong place here but he wasn;t helped by Barry being farthest right and turning his back like a 10 year old would.

 OK, I forgive you.

Just stay on the front foot lads.  Lemina is making my pre-match midfield Twitter prophecy come true on his own and once more he’s all over the Baggies midfield, freeing Tadic on the right but he underhits the cross and Dawson gets back to clear from Carrillo. 18 minutes to go and you’re just hoping it’s really boring to the end and as Dave Merrington would say…what we don’t want to do is concede a goal.  So we do as West Brom retrieve their own corner after it had been cleared by Carrillo, feed it to Brunt on the left and he puts over a superb cross which Rondon meets (with his shoulder) and it flicks into the net.  This time, neither centre half has covered themselves in glory.  Stephens has mis-read it and gone up under the ball and Hoedt has allowed Rondon to get in front of him. 3-2.

It is more or less Carrillo’s last involvement as we resort to the False-9 formation and bring on a False Striker.  I’ll give you a clue – in the last year he’s averaged one goal every six months.  There is always hope with Shane that he’ll do something and then he actually touches the ball.  It’s a superb crossfield ball by Hoedt.  JWP knocks it on for the overlapping Cedric and he pulls out a wonderful cross which is a centre forwards dream ball right on his head.  Up goes Long and heads it pathetically over the bar.  Oh just fuck off for fucks sake.

In truth the rest of the game is played out quite comfortably.. J-Rod is on for The Baggies and he has a half shout for a penalty when Bertand stands strong but that’s about it.  Hojbjerg comes on for Boufal and then Redmond for Tadic and it’s Redmond who nearly has the last word, cutting in from the left and forcing a decent save out of Foster just before the final whistle.

Get in there, we have finally won a fucking game and Pellegrino didn’t mess it up. It wasn’t a perfect game by any stretch of the imagination but it is all about the positives today. We have actually won a ‘must win’ game, we have won a six pointer away from home, scored three goals and moved four places at the league. You cannot moan about any of that.

The only thing I will say is that one win against West Brom side that had a lots of injuries and have their manager making some really fucking strange decisions does not mean that everything is wonderful in our account. One game in isolation never means anything until it becomes the norm. In other words, we had little two game spells before where we have looked ‘not shit’, only to revert to being shit again.

Having hinted at the start of the piece that I would take Pardew over Pellegrino any day, you have to seriously question his decision to leave Rodriguez out and play Sturridge. Rondon has to play because of our weakness in the air but why pick Sturridge ahead of a player who scored five goals in his last seven games. That is absolutely bizarre.  It’s almost as if Liverpool are demanding that he plays.

The game was won for us in midfield and I don’t get to say this often but I kind of predicted this on Twitter before the game started once I saw Gareth Barry and Claudio Yacob as the West Brom midfield. In the event, Mario Lemina put in one of those performances where he looks like the best midfielder on the planet. The goal he scored showed exactly what he can do at the top of the pitch but the general performance had everything. Energy, pace, trickery, passing short and long and then he smashes one in the top corner from 30 yards - just leave all the man of the match awards and champagne outside my locker thank you very much.  The man has it all.

Supporting cast was led by JWP who had an excellent game and buried another goal for his 4th goal in 5 games.  Boufal was a constant threat on the wing and I am sick and tired with people saying he gives the ball away too much.  Let’s pick Davis and go sideways and backwards then.  The fact is that whilst Boufal is on the pitch, the full back he’s playing against didn’t go forward too far because they know that he is going to make them look an absolute mug once he gets goal side of them.  Guido Carrillo looks promising upfront as well and was unlucky not to score. His first touch is not great at times but he gave us that focal point which we have been missing. It is just a shame that he wasn’t still on the pitch when Cedric put over that wonderful cross from the right wing which Shane Long headed pathetically over the bar.

Overall it was very encouraging but we need to keep it going of course. Next up we have bloody Liverpool who are not looking quite what they were before they sold Coutinho but they can be ridiculously good. As well as all the other wankers, they now have King wanker Virgil Van Dijk and I hope he gets dogs abuse from the first whistle to last. This game is a big test for Pellegrino because he naturally want to apply his 9-0-1 formation but our defence is not good enough to sit back and let the other team attack so we are going to have to try and use the huge space that exists in between Liverpool‘s defence and midfield.  If we take the game to them and get beat then no one will mind too much but if we just sit there and wait and end up getting beat 1-0 then that is no good for anyone.

It is up to you Mr Pellegrino, stay on the front foot and you never know, good things might happen.