Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Premier League Match 22 - Leicester 1 Southampton 2

Shane has Aged a Bit Since His Last Goal

It came as a major surprise to me when I became famous in Leicester. Geoff Peters regularly appears on talkSHITE and was sent a blog I wrote about Claude Puel which was written just before he got sacked by Saints. Part of this was read out on air apparently and I now appear to have lots of Leicester supporting followers on Twitter, Hi there. The blog entry in question can be found here.


Ironically, straight after that bit of fame for myself on talkSHITE, Leicester beat Manchester City and Chelsea which took the pressure off for a bit but then they lost to Cardiff at home, beat Everton away and then in a classic Claude moment, rested seven players including all the best ones and got knocked out of the FA Cup by League Two Newport County. When you are under pressure as Claude undoubtedly is and your team is not going to get relegated or qualify for Europe, why in the name of arse, would you play a weakened side and give anyone a better chance of beating you? The only chance of a trophy that Leicester had this season has now gone. It is a lost opportuniteee and a lost possibiliteee. It still makes me laugh thinking about Leicester tanking us 4-1 last season and the Leicester fans chanting “are you glad you sacked Puel“ at us. I’ll just leave that one there. My new friends from Leicester will probably be deserting me in their droves by the end of this match report

Having been beaten by Newport last week, there is going to be a lot of hostility towards Claude which will remain under the surface just about, until something goes wrong so an early goal for us on Saturday should see the fans turn on the manager and it hopefully affect the Leicester players. The reason we have to hope for that or something like that is that we are likely to have Shane Long up front as we have been decimated with injuries and suspensions in that area. Ings, Obafemi and Gallagher are all injured though the latter is back in training now. Also, the FA have seen in their wisdom, to ban Charlie Austin for two matches after his two fingers and fuck off gesture at the Manchester City fans. Dele Alli got a one-game ban for similar and Troy Deeney got nothing for flipping at the double bird so it’s definitely a case of double standards but to be honest, Charlie has been so poor that I can’t really be bothered to get annoyed about it.

Ralph has been talking to the media again and once more I’m grateful that he doesn’t speak English well enough to bullshit on any particular issue. I actually don’t think he would bullshit even if he did have 100% mastery of the nuances of the English language. Wesley Hoedt is not his type of player and would be advised to find another club. Not much room for ambiguity in that sentence. I’m sure that if the interviewer had pushed him further he would’ve said that Wesley has a piss poor attitude and thinks he’s a lot better than he is. Ralph also said that Charlie Austin can’t press high so will be limited to cameo appearances. That one was so obvious that even I thought it but for some reason, Mark Hughes didn’t.

Definitely out of the exit door are Manolo Gabbiadini and Steve Davis. Over the past months it has crushed me every time Long and Austin are on the pitch and Gabbiadini is not. There is a very good player in there but we as a club have been unable to get much out of him for the last two seasons so it was inevitable that he was going to go given the need to raise some cash. He’ll be remembered for the scrappy goal that he got at Swansea which was so important to keep us up last season but for me, his performance in the League Cup final, under Claude, at Wembley is my best memory of the past two seasons. When he scored the second goal to equalise, I allowed myself just for a second to believe that we were going to come back from 2-0 down and win a Wembley Cup final against Manchester United. Didn’t happen of course but we will always have that goal and the feeling afterwards. Claude eventually sold Gabbi down the river when he decided to make the midfield play on top of the defence at the tail end of his one season in charge, giving Gabbi no support at all. Gabbi had no chance at all under Pellegrino and Hughes who didn’t even have a fucking game plan, let alone be able to say whether it suited him or not. Ralph has at least been honest and said that Gabbi won’t fit the style he wants the team to play in. Manolo Gabbiadini has signed for Sampdoria which is a fantastic move for him and I hope he does really really well and thanks for the memories.

You are my Davis, my Steven Davis. You make me happy when skies are grey.

For five years Steve Davis was a magnificent player for the club, keeping the midfield and by extension the team moving and always putting in consistently good performances. We always noticed when he wasn’t there, you thought you wouldn’t miss him but we always did. Was at his best in a midfield three with Wanyama and Schneiderlin and always put in 7 or 8 out of 10 performances, chipping in with a few goals as well. The Davis memories that spring to mind are the goal on his debut away at Manchester City which got somewhat overshadowed by Sir Rickie’s goal, the goal at Chelsea when he smashed Graziano’s chest-down in from the edge of the box and the two goals at Spurs in the last game at White Hart Lane when we beat them for just about the only time in living memory.

His powers have definitely been on the wane for the last season and a half, especially struggling against bigger physical players but he still has his moments. He was incredibly unlikely to break back into the first team with any regularity and it is the right time for him to be leaving. He is going back to Rangers, who he joined us from and he will do a great job there and will probably end up with a Champions medal and be playing in the Champions League next season. Good luck to the man and he deserves all the success he gets. The main thing about Stephen Davis which is great is that he stayed with the club for 6 1/2 years and you just know that at no point, even when surrounded by a catalogue of shithouses with big egos, he was never ever an issue. A player who would never put himself ahead of the team. He will be back here as manager one day.

Back to today and our team virtually picked itself. As predicted, Shane Long was upfront and the only other question was at left back where Matt Targett was preferred to Cedric with Yan Valery on the right. In a move that surprised no one, Claude made 15 changes from the Leicester 11 that started against Newport.

Away we go and Saints are right in Leicester‘s faces from the first minute. Chilwell tries to run the ball out of defence and into midfield but that is where Romeu lives and you should fear to tread.  Bang!!! he totally bins him and the ball is moved on to Armstrong who skims one along the ground and just wide. There is another half decent chance for Armstrong straight afterwards as Leicester are once again guilty of trying to be too clever and Armstrong, Long and Redmond engineer a break with Redmond bearing down on the Leicester defence before finding Armstrong who unfortunately slips as he shoots and hits the side netting.

Yet more overconfident pissing about as Schmeichel tries to drill a goal-kick to a specific player on the right wing but Targett wins the header and knocks down to Armstrong who feeds Long. Shane is on the corner of the Leicester penalty area with his back to goal and going nowhere. I know he is deadly with a fantastic goalscoring record and all that but the challenge from Mendy which was to basically jump on his back with his arms flapping about, was amazingly dumb. There are few complaints about the penalty being awarded and up steps JWP and smashes a proper penalty past Schmeichel who did well to get a touch. 10 minutes gone and hopefully the early goal which would see the Leicester fans turned against Mr Personaliteeee in the dugout.

We have clearly got them rattled and nearly score again from a corner as JWP’s kick is powerfully met by the unmarked Stephens but Schmeichel clawed it away straight back to JWP on the wing who was somehow offside.

More action down our right as Valery takes on Chilwell and gets past him and there is a clumsy coming together but Valery makes a huge meal of it and goes down sparking diving accusations from Maguire and of course Chilwell who does appear to have completely lost any composure that he might have had.

Since the first whistle, Valery and Chilwell have been at each other and our young Frenchman with the “I don’t give a fuck who you are“ attitude has clearly got under the England man’s skin. He then gets further under it by steaming into a tackle which is not pretty which results in handbags and a yellow card for both of them. The resulting free-kick nearly brings an equaliser as Morgan finds himself free, gets the ball past McCarthy but Bednarek has read it superbly and got back to smash it off the line. He actually smashes it into Vestergaard and it goes off for a corner and the Leicester players are around the referee appealing for a penalty despite it a) not hitting his arm and b) there is no way on this planet that that was deliberate.

I’m beginning to think that the next thing I’m going to describe didn’t actually happened as it appears to have been airbrushed from every highlights package and write-up I’ve seen of the game and no one has mentioned it in the media so I am beginning to question my sanity but I am pretty sure that I saw Valery burst past Chilwell again and the Leicester player drag him back with what in rugby would be called a high tackle around his head. Saints were given a free kick but the second yellow card that surely should’ve come out at that point, didn’t happen. Like I said, I’m beginning to doubt that this ever took place.

The next bit definitely took place as Choudhury and his wig had an effort deflected wide. Vestergaard headed the corner out to our right and the ball pings around a bit and then Valery clearly pulls Albrighton back. With no second yellow being shown to Chilwell in the incident that I must’ve made up, I am expecting a final warning for Valerie but oh no, of course fucking not, second yellow and off you go.

With a minute to go to half-time it’s surely just a case of getting to half-time 1-0 up and then regrouping in the second half but then, something miraculous. McCarthy punts the ball forward and Ricardo, the Leicester right back, under pressure from Long, heads it like an 8 year old straight up in the air. Down it comes and Mendy, he who gave a penalty away, has the responsibility to clear it up but instead of that he kind of pathetically falls on his arse and Shane is in. Usually, this is of course nothing to get excited about but from a tight angle on the left he hit it, Schmeichel got a piece of it again but like the penalty, it ended up on the net and fuck me, we were 2-0 up and Shane has scored and this is not a drill.

Claude is obviously got more proactive since he was our manager as at half time he has decided that he doesn’t need three defensive midfielders and so the disastrous Mendy is off to be replaced by Demerai Gray and Albrighton is off to be replaced by Harvey Barnes. Ralph has moved JWP into Valery‘s position and Armstrong is playing deeper, next to Romeu. Predictably, it’s all Leicester but everything is in front of us and any ball into the box is not particularly scientific and Vestergaard and Bednarek are heading everything away with ease. Maguire has a go from long range which is deflected but McCarthy saves well and then Maddison tries to be a hero from 30 yards and it’s straight down the goalkeepers throat.

The first 15 minutes were negotiated comfortably but then it’s time for a change with Cedric coming on for Armstrong. Now, it wasn’t Cedric’s fault but immediately, Leicester get down our right with Ricardo bursting past Romeu, getting to the line and pulling it back to the onrushing Ndidi and it bobbles off both of his knees and ends up on the net. Bollocks. Half an hour to go.

The next 15 past in relative comfort with the occasional dangerous cross coming into the box but nothing particularly imaginative apart from Vardy of course.  He has the imagination to try the big dragging-foot-initiating-contact dive. Trouble is that it is such a fucking horrendous dive that even Ratboy himself can’t bring himself to appeal for a penalty.  No yellow card again.

Maddison Is still trying to be hero from the edge of the box and finding the crowd and with 15 minutes to go it’s time for Ralph to show how much he trusts the young players again with Callum Slattery coming on for a Premier League debut in place of Long.

For the next 15, we are trying to get out of the defence but not getting anywhere. Even if Redmond upfront gets hold of the ball there is not anyone with him because the midfielders have clearly been told not to go over the halfway line. Slattery kind of gets as far forward as he is allowed to but once the ball is in the Leicester half then he drops back in. On 90 there is a welcome return for Sam Gallagher, replacing Redmond in the thankless running around chasing the ball role, up front And we get to the end when Leicester win one final corner and with Schmeichel up in the box, Ndidi heads it wide.

Get in there. What a fucking win that is. An absolutely deserved win in the face of adversity. I’d like to start off by giving Charlie Austin style salute to Ben Chilwell and Jamie Vardy with an honorary one fingered version to James Maddison.

Make no mistake, we won this game relatively comfortably and it would’ve been a whole lot more comfortable if Michael Oliver had done his job and refereed with any consistency. With Chilwell and Valery both having been booked, he then allowed Chilwell to pull back Valery with no second yellow card being produced. Two minutes later, Valery pulls back Albrighton and of you go, quite rightly I might add. If Oliver had produced the second yellow for Chilwell when he should’ve done then we are playing the second half, 11 against 10 instead of them. Despite the second-half being like a training game of attack versus defence, Saints held firm with McCarthy only having a couple of anxious moments, mainly because the Leicester Claude-ball attacking was somewhat one-dimensional and the back three, especially Bednarek and Vestergaard were excellent. Targett surprised me by being really defensively solid at left back and that is the sort of performance that he needs to be putting in on a regular basis instead of the really flaky stuff he tends to produce.

Yan Valery had what you would call an interesting match. I love the fact that he has no respect for opponents and refuses to be intimidated. Today he was up against the current England left back (unbelievably) and he very clearly rattled him to the point where Chilwell should’ve been sent off as previously discussed. Yan’s second booking was of course completely stupid and he of course made a big meal of the fall when looking for a penalty in the first half, after skinning Chilwell incidentally. He did go down a bit theatrically but at least there was some contact. Jamie Vardy on the other hand is a fucking 100% cheat. A dreadful attempt to initiate contact with a defender and he even missed that with no Saints player even brushing against him. I know the rules say that he cannot be banned because he didn’t succeed in conning the referee but why should he escape a ban just because his dive was so shit that he didn’t even manage any contact with the defender? He clearly tried to dive, clearly tried to cheat though I expect honest Jamie would’ve told the referee that he was wrong had he given it - extreme sarcasm alert.  Still, I’d rather it was this way than he wins the penalty, scores and then gets a ban which benefits someone else.

Back to Valery and his red card - I think we are going to except that we are going to pick up a few more cards and suspensions with Ralph in charge. When Hughes first arrived we seem to develop a harder age before resorting back to being this bloody awful passive team that doesn’t go near the opposition. This bloody awful passive style of play was of course started by Claude Puel.

In the centre of midfield, Romeu and JWP battled for the full 95 with JWP again proving that he does belong at this level and it will be very hard to leave him out of the team when Hojbjerg and Lemina come back.  It wasn’t really a day for the forwards with the second-half being played exclusively in our penalty area but we have to mention Shane Long of course. If ever a game illustrated that old adage of “football is a funny old game”, then the Shane show today is it.. He wins a penalty for an absolutely brainless challenge by Mendy. Then he scores a goal where the same Leicester defender presents him with the ball and his shot might even have been going wide before it hits the keepers glove and goes into the net. He earned his luck for both of those incidents with his hard work and hassling of the defenders. It won’t always work and in between times he was back to the normal Shane of the ball bouncing off him and in general not being great but today was his day and it worked for him and fair play. Hopefully this will give him a bit of confidence as we are going to need him.

Ralph is a fucking legend isn’t he? Already. The best thing about Ralph is his bravery. What other manager with 15 minutes to go, when you’ve got 10 men and you are 2-1 up away from home, would bring on a 19-year-old for his debut in the Premier League. Now I know that basically all Callum Slattery did was run around and tried to press the ball when we didn’t have it but the fact that Ralph trusted him for those 15 minutes will be a huge thing for the player. We won with 10 men and Shane Long scored a goal. Ralph will be sorting out Brexit next.

Claude got hung out to dry in his interviews when he was asked about being booed off the pitch at the end. He clearly didn’t understand the question because he said it is "not my concern" which I’m sure is not what he meant. He probably meant he was not concerned about losing his job. It won’t be spun that way however. Oddly, it was still incredibly fucking painful to listen to one of his interviews and I’m just pleased he not our concern and not talking about our players anymore. Leicester have some good players and will finish 10th or higher regardless of whether Claude stays or goes but leave it until the summer and the damage will go on into next season whether he stays or whether there is a new manager charged with picking up the pieces of the deflated squad he leaves behind.

Claude: So Risk-Averse He Won't Even Look Down

Onwards to the FA Cup replay against Derby at St Mary’s on Wednesday. I am expecting a team with the likes of Sam Gallagher, Kayne Ramsey and Callum Slattery playing but I am expecting us to get through as after today, it seems like anything is possible.

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

FA Cup 3rd Round - Derby 2 Southampton 2

Ralph Congratulates Southampton's Entire Goal Threat

I usually refer to what ever the League Cup is called these days as the Reserve Team Trophy. The FA Cup, has been going the same way especially when you are a Premier League side, drawn against a lower division side.  It also happens for teams who are in with a shout of getting promoted, especially those with a chance of getting promoted to the promised land of the Premier League. So, with one team in the relegation zone in the Premier League and another in the play-off zone in the Championship, I can only assume we will not be seeing many first-team regulars on the pitch today at Pride Park for Derby versus Southampton. Maybe this is the reason why this is one of the very few games that has not been moved from the Saturday 3 pm slot but that’s another discussion.

I didn’t expect there to be any way that Ralph Hasenhüttl would not rotate the squad and sure enough, it came to pass with the only Redmond, Vestergaard, Cedric and JWP being in the side who are likely to play in the next league game. Callum Slattery was awarded his first full start alongside JWP with Matt Targett and Jack Stephens in the back four. On the wings we had Nathan Redmond and Mo Elyounoussi was given another chance and upfront we had the dream team, the double talisman, the deadly duo, the dynamic duo, yep you guessed it, Long and Austin with a chance to prove their credentials in preparation for their transfers to Championship clubs either in January or next summer. Captain for the day was JWP.

Usually, when there are two scratch teams who are not familiar with each other at all, the first 15 minutes is really dull and nothing happens but something did happen and it was something very surprising in that we took the lead. Cedric lobbed a throw-in down the line, Long flicked infield and suddenly Redmond seem to have half of the pitch to himself and he accelerated into it before firing across the goalkeeper and no matter what the commentators say, it was going in anyway before Keogh made sure and everyone said it was an own goal.

Everyone was interested in how Callum Slattery was going to fare in midfield but the first time he was really noticed was when he lost the ball in their half sparking a Derby break with Marriott combining with Holmes who kind of ran out of angle before shooting straight at Gunn at the new post. Derby didn’t have many attacks but they looked dangerous when they had them and found some joy against our somewhat lightweight central midfield with Holmes again having a decent chance on the edge of the box but curling it wide. We don’t really look like scoring a second goal as our strikers didn’t really look like they even knew what sport they were playing.  Trampoline touches or the inability to play a basic 5 yard ball were the order of the day.

We had taken the lead five minutes into the first half and lo and behold, five minutes of the second-half, Austin made his first positive contribution of the game by laying the ball off to Redmond but this is really all Redmond’s work as he advanced and then curled an unstoppable shot over the top of the keeper and into the far top corner.  Great goal and how well is this lad playing now?

This game was comfortable now and then followed 10 minutes of almost total Saints possession and Derby appear to give up but as you know from watching Saints this season, it only takes one little thing and it all goes to shit. One ball through to Lawrence who is been played onside by Cedric he very inventively chips the ball up and Marriott it’s a really good controlled volley giving Gunn no chance at all. Jack Stephens bravery must be noted here as he turned his back in case the ball hit him.

Peak Southampton is reached five minutes later as Vestergaard under no pressure, passes it straight out of play. Derby take the throw, move the ball from their right to left, Lawrence picks it up in midfield and absolutely no one closes down as he saunters to the edge of the box before firing it across Gunn and into the corner to make it to 2-2. For fuck’s sake. Another feature of this goal was Jack Stephens once again looking at our goalkeeper with his back turned to the striker who was having a shot.  Cedric didn’t close down the player with the ball and our right winger who should have been tracking back, Elyounoussi… wasn’t even in our own half.

Having woken up to the fact that we are going to get knocked out if it carries on like this, Saints find a bit of life. Shane Long gets free on the right but pisses around until he loses it gets lucky as it breaks to Austin, who to be fair pulls out an excellent cross and picks out Elyounoussi - 6 yards out, unmarked, with just a goalkeeper to beat and the ball at a perfect height so what does he do? - cushion the header straight at the goalkeeper. Honestly, it’s one of the worst headers I have ever seen from that position. Absolutely pathetic.

Ralph has seen enough with Elyounoussi straight off to be replaced by Marcus Barnes for his debut and Tyreke Johnson is on for Charlie Austin who clearly has it written in his contract somewhere but he can’t play 90 minutes against anybody. There is time for us to try and lose it as ex-Skate and all round knobhead David Nugent sets up Marriott with more or less an open goal on the edge of the box but luckily he smashes it over the bar And his lack of composure is the only reason why we are still in the FA Cup this year.

First things first, we didn’t get knocked out. It was a bit of a return to the bad old days where we were comfortably leading and managed to switch off the 10 minutes and totally fucked it up. We really should be in the fourth round proper and everyone would say it was a job well done but as it is, we have to play again at St.Marys in the next couple weeks which at least takes one more game out of the Pierre Hojbjerg suspension.

When you going to talk about who did well today then you really have to start with Nathan Redmond who was superb throughout and is turning very quickly into the kind of player that he always had the potential to be. Callum Slattery did okay for a first game considering how lightweight the midfield was and I am sure he will get another chance when hopefully he will have a bit more muscle around him to give him more of a chance to express himself. The defence had very very little to do until the mad 10 minutes when they looked absolutely shocking. Cedric and Stephens at right back and right centre back has always been a disaster, the famous Cedric/Stephens corridor of uncertainty and so it proved again today.  Mind you, Stephens can’t see it because he’s got his back turned.  Vestergaard always looks shaky in a back four and Targett just always look shaky whenever he has to do any defending.  

The three players who really needed to need to step up today and prove something to Ralph, were Elyounoussi, Long and Austin and all three of them were absolutely shit. Austin gave one of his best hangover performances, barely raising a jog and hardly having a touch again.  Elyounoussi is a player with absolutely zero confidence and he capped it off with that header. When you have a free header from five yards, cushioning it straight to the goalkeeper is really not what you should be doing for fucks sake.  The trouble is that Moi has never shown anything so there’s nothing for fans to fall back on.  By that I mean that with Boufal, you could at least see there was skill there and he did the odd decent thing so people cut him a bit of slack.  When Redmond was struggling you could see the pace and potential.  Moi doesn’t seem to be particularly blessed in any department at the moment – pace, skill, vision etc.  We need to see something.

Shane produced his full repertoire of not reading the game, blind alley reactive running, Jack Russell impersonation chasing the ball and trampoline touches. The fucking worrying thing is that Danny Ings is injured, Michael Obafemi is injured, Sam Gallagher is injured, Manolo Gabbiadini is being sold probably to Sampdoria and Charlie Austin is probably going to get banned for his two fingered farewell and fuck off effort against Manchester City and Shane Long is therefore the only fit striker that we have for the forthcoming league games. Marcus Barnes didn’t really stick his hand up today but he is going to be there or thereabouts unless someone miraculously gets fit or we sign another striker.

So we now have a replay to look forward to and the prize for winning that, is a 4th Round trip to Accrington Stanley which is one to get the away travellers buzzing as apparently we haven’t played there since 1959. That of course is a very winnable game should we get there which should focus the mind is a little bit more on the Derby replay.

Next we go to Leicester in the league and despite beating both Chelsea and Manchester City recently, Claude Puel is back under pressure because he has managed to lose at home to Cardiff and now away at Newport in the FA Cup. As a mid-table side with absolutely nothing to play for, you would think that he would prioritise the FA Cup and put out a strong team but not a bit of it.  It really isn’t going to take too much for the fans to turn on him there so an early goal should do nicely as long as we don’t fuck it up again like we did today.

Friday, January 4, 2019

Premier League Match 21 - Chelsea 0 Southampton 0

Two of the Main Reasons This Ended 0-0

Chelsea at Stamford Bridge where are usually get smashed apart from that fantastic Pellé and Mané inspired 3-1 win we had there a few years ago when Chelsea had a season off when they were trying to get rid of Mourinho. Regardless of that, we were absolutely brilliant that day. The last few times we have played Chelsea we have been absolutely smashed by one player, Eden Hazard. There is a school of thought that if you stop him then you stop Chelsea but we’ve never proved that true because we’ve never actually managed to stop him and in the last few matches and he has something like a seven goal involvements with either the goal all the assist. The job of marking him today is likely to fall on either Yan Valery or Kayne Ramsay. Good luck with that.

The suspicion that Ralph Hasenhüttl this game is more winnable than the Manchester City home game was confirmed with the team selection, seeing the return of the recognised first choice front three and also with Yoshida and Vestergaard returning to the defence. There was also a place in midfield for James Ward-Prowse in place of the suspended Hojbjerg and Mario Lemina was nowhere to be seen, injured we assume. There was a place on the bench for Callum Slattery for the first time who was earmarked as being some sort of wonderkid about three years ago so it is about time that he made some sort of impact. The headline news however was in goal where Alex McCarthy, despite keeping the score down against Manchester City was left out in favour of Angus Gunn. This is a massive call. You could argue that McCarthy has let in a questionable goals against Huddersfield, West Ham and Manchester City or it could be that Ralph wants to have a look at Gunn before the transfer window madness really commences.

Talking of the transfer window, we are of course expecting Manolo Gabbiadini and Steven Davies to leave but one who was expected to leave, mainly because he hasn’t featured for Ralph, was Cedric but he was back in the side today at left back in place of the injured Matt Targett.

Chelsea line up 4-3-3 with Kante, Jorginho and Barkley in midfield. I am really unconvinced by Sarri’s plan to turn Kante into an attacking midfielder when he is the best defensive midfielder in the world. If Barkley has a shithouse of a game which he is prone to do, then it could go well for us. Up front with Hazard is Willian and Morata who, despite scoring against us at St Mary‘s and against us in the FA Cup semi-final last year, is bollocks and not the sort of player you want if you want to be competing at the top end of tables and looking to win trophies. He is playing because Good Looking Suave Bastard Olivier Giroud, with his 400 career goals against Southampton, is out with an injury to his eyebrows and designer beard.

The early danger came from the usual source with Hazard out on the left.  His ball in was heading towards Willian but Gunn came flying out and pushed it away – a decent start for the keeper.  To be honest, we’re just digging in and not doing much going forward but we’re restricting Chelsea pretty well.  They go long to Morata from deep and his header is on target and would have reached the goal on it’s 4th bounce which is what tends to happen when you head it off your face from 20 yards.

At the other end, Ings shows Morata how to head a ball powerfully but his effort from a left footed Cedric cross flies over the bar.  The Ings chance is just a bried respite from Chelsea pressure and Gunn has to be alert to save Hazard’s blast with his forehead after their only threat latches on to a Rudiger chip forward.

Half time and we’ve done well.  Romeu and JWP have absolutely dogged it in the middle of the park, keeping Barkley out of the game and Sarri has had to take Willian off and brought on Loftus-Cheek.  Personally, I’m delighted to still see Fabregas on the bench and the longer he stays there and the longer Morata stays on the better.  Ralph makes a change at half time and it’s Shane Long for Ings and until we sign a new quick attacker or one of Gallagher or Obafemi gets fit – this is how it’s gonna be.

As tends to be the way after a Ralph team-talk, we start the second half well and actually have some possession in the Chelsea half.  Armstrong tries his luck with a curler from 25 yards but Arrizabalaga saves well down low and so he should for £76 million or whatever it was.  There’s an exchange of efforts by each teams’ talisman with Hazard cutting in a forcing Gunn into a save at his near post and then Shane Long having a go from distance and hitting a window on the 30th floor of the Chelsea hotel.

Jorginho is a very neat and tidy player but doesn’t do much going forward but he has a go from the edge of the box and Gunn nonchalantly catches it above his head.  Barkley has stunk the place out tonight and he’s off for Fabregas.  Within 5 minutes he’s nearly won it for them, liking with Hazard before expertly putting Morata through with a perfect pass and though he bobbles it into the net, he’s offside…. Bloody close but just offside.

Into the last 5 now and we’re still looking solid until we somehow allow Chelsea to break on us but we’ve left Morata free as there’s no point marking him and his half-arsed effort is easily saved by Gunn.  Morata then starts moaning at Fat Jon Moss that Gunn is holding onto the ball too long and then he moves in front of him to stop him kicking it out.  Thick twat.

Austin is on for Armstrong as we try to run down the clock.  Charlie is ideal for this as it takes him so long to jog onto the pitch. 92, 93 and panto villain Marcos Alonso who hasn’t been a prick today, decides it high time he was and takes a horrible dive under the slightest brush from Long and Fat Jon mercifully doesn’t give it.  There is just time for Alonso to try from range which Gunn again saves easily and there is just time for another time-wasting substitution as Stephens comes on for Redmond, doesn’t touch the ball and Fat Jon has had enough.

And we got there and boy did we deserve it. An absolute vindication for the team selection against Manchester City. Firstly, the goalkeeper. I have to admit that I would not have dropped McCarthy myself as he has not committed any absolute howlers but Angus Gunn was superb in everything that he did. Ralph was asked about him after the game and indicated that he picked Gunn because he was quicker off his line than McCarthy is and that Chelsea tried to chip a lot of balls over the defence in front of the keeper. I have never, in my 40 odd years of watching football known of a manager pick a specific goalkeeper to cater for an opposition teams tactics. Maybe I’m making too big a deal out of this but I think it’s really quite something.

All three of the central defenders were absolutely superb. Bednarek (along with Valery) had the job of keeping Hazard quiet which of course you can’t do for 90 minutes but he had a superb game, as did Vestergaard on the other side. The main man though was Maya Yoshida who won every tackle, and every header that he went for. Cedric, who I never expected to see into Southampton shirt again, put in a really solid performance at left back and Valery looked all the better for his rest against City. There was a cohesion about our defending and a concentration level which lasted for the full 95 minutes. There were no fuck-ups and no people getting caught out of position. We stayed tight and compact and didn’t give Chelsea many opportunities at all. Also, we had a bit of luck for a change because the Morata offside was very very close. Don’t even talk to me about the pathetic Alonso penalty dive in the last minute bearing in mind what happened to us against City.

Another pleasing thing for me was that JWP played in the centre of midfield all game and looked like he belonged and looks like he believed he belongs in the team. Whilst Pierre is suspended, he really has to keep going and keep Lemina on the sidelines. Armstrong and Redmond both had a really good games, the only issue being the odd misplaced pass which butchered a few breaks that we might of had. Upfront, we are a bit of a worry. Danny Ings doesn’t look remotely capable of playing 90 minutes at the moment but he is all we have as far as goal threat is concerned.

Chelsea were unsurprisingly average with Hazard having a quiet game by his standards and I was amazed and pleased that Sarri left it as long as he did to introduce Fabregas. With both Kante and Jorginho in midfield there is not a lot of creativity and Barkley was pretty ineffective as well. Still, they have just paid £50 million quid for a winger who they can afford to loan back out to the club they bought him from for the rest of the season so let’s not feel too sorry for them. What fucking world are they living in?

Results elsewhere meant we dropped into the bottom three but it really is no cause for alarm. We are playing better and you can see we are getting better and we will climb the league as the season goes on. This transfer window promises to be interesting and I expect us to do a lot of the clearing out that should’ve been done in the summer. The difference is now that I think we have a manager who everyone trusts and if we let Ralph lead the way regarding players in and out then I am fairly confident that we won’t go far wrong.

Next up is Derby in the FA Cup followed by Leicester away in the League. All aboard...

Monday, December 31, 2018

Premier League Match 20 - Southampton 1 Manchester City 3

Hojbjerg and Kompany Get Their Deserved Red Cards.  Almost.

Had we beaten West Ham last week then we would be going into this game on the crest of a wave and maybe, though illogically, thinking that we had a chance of upsetting Billionaire City.   However, after the West Ham slap in the face, even the most optimistic won’t be thinking that today as they approach the ground, they will be thinking variations of “we haven’t got a fucking prayer against this lot”.  Mind you, fans of Palace and Leicester will have been saying the same thing recently and they beat City but crucially it was a City without Fernandinho who is the single most important player in amongst all the Galacticos.  With any luck he won’t be playing today which will give us a small chance I guess.  City’s resolve will also be strengthened by the fact that Liverpool have opened up a seven point lead on them at the top of the Premier League so I would say the chances of getting anything out of the day or somewhere between slim and none.  I feel like I’m a bit of a miserable twat being this negative about our chances but I would say it’s being realistic. Sometimes you just know. It’s a bit like turning up to a gunfight with a fucking peashooter.

Ralph said after the West Ham defeat that some players looked tired and he may rotate a few. When I saw the team…. My oh my!  It was a selection that clearly smacked of saving some of our best players for a game we might win.  All of the front three were rested along with Yoshida and Vestergaard.  There was a debut at right back for Kayne Ramsey and starting places for JWP, Jack Stephens, Charlie Austin and strangest of all, Mohammed Elyounoussi. I actually think that one of these changes might be tactical as Vestergaard will get ripped to shreds by the likes of Stirling Agüero and Sané. The composition of the bench gave some real pointers as to which players will likely be leaving in January. There was no place on the bench for Cedric, Hoedt, Gabbiadini or Davis.   When the manager is freshening up the team and you are an international footballer and not even on the bench – you know you have no future.  To be fair, Guardiola went for some rotation as well but it was stuff like leaving out Leroy Sané and playing Bernardo Silva instead - you get the drift.

Early door and Lemina gives the ball away then Stephens compunds this by getting outmuscled by Sterling who is half his size.  Eventually it is worked back to Bernardo and McCarthy pulls off a worldy to keep it out from about 10 yards.  Our first chance follows a break from Hojbjerg, a ball inside to Elyounoussi and the winger clipped a superb ball to Austin who was clean through but instead of hitting it first time, a trampoline touch that Shane Long taught him took it straight to the keeper.  Two minutes later and Bernardo advances down our left, plays a 1-2 with Danilo and this is enough for Lemina to give up helping Targett out and a pull back is despatched by David Silva for the most unsurprising opening goal in history.

City respond to going in front by humiliating us in their 6 yard box, popping first time passes about and the goalkeeper getting involved as well.  Wankers.  Then they pass out and are away with Mahrez running through on goal.  He drills it wide after a long run but it quite brilliant football. Another quite brilliant move cuts us open and McCarthy again has another worldy to keep out Aguero from 5 yards.

There’s more piss-take as Ederson dribbles round a lunging Hojbjerg on his goal line.  We win a corner which feels like something worth celebrating and JWP’s kick is flicked goalwards by Austin and Ederson surprisingly saves it with his hands instead of catching it between his ankles or some such ridiculousness.

It’s beautiful when all the over-confidence catches up with City and it does when Zinchenko, who is not on the same level as the other City players, turns inside in the left back position and gets caught by Hojbjerg.  On marches the captain and lashes it past Ederson who doesn’t move to unbelievably make it 1-1.

Then the key moment – Stephens picks it up on half way and pings a superb diagonal over Zinchenko to JWP who knocks it past his marker, gets in front of him and bears down on goal.  Arm in the back, over he goes, nothing.  Fuck sake.  So, he’s neither dived or been pushed.  Ridiculously unlikely I’d have said.

Guess what happens?  After another minute which included a City goal kick which possibly should have been a corner to us, forward come City, Stephens gets too tight to David Silva and then gets his feet in a mess and passes it straight to Sterling.  He cuts in and crosses, it hits JWP and flies past McCarthy at the near post.   Part self-inflicted and part bad luck but just when we were looking half decent, 2-1 down and a sense of injustice again as ‘2-1 to the referee’ rings round the ground.

With two minutes left til half time we have enough time to concede another goal and it happens with Zinchenko being allowed to cross from our right and Aguero in in between Targett and Bednarek to head in front point blank range.  Maybe Macca could have stopped it but anyway, it’s 3-1 and game over.

Whether it’s because of his papthetic display or for another reason but Lemina is off for Redmond as we start the second half.  That’s about as exciting as the second half got to be honest as no one really gave a toss.  Sterling smashed a shot into McCarthy’s face so that goes down as another good save and Aguero span past Bednarek and Stephens before hitting the bar.  Saints were content with a  holding pattern with the odd clattering tackle with Austin scything through Fernandinho so late that the ball was in another post code.  City weren’t beyond this kind of shithousery as well and Kompany launched a two footed drop kick as Elyounoussi which earned him a yellow when it clearly should have been a red.

Yan Valery came on for Romeu who was clearly being rested for more important challenges and then the ref evened up the non-penalties when Valery looked to have brought down Sterling from behind but nothing doing.  Long came on for Austin cos we needed 2 goals but unfortunately we only have 15 minutes and not the 63 matches that Shane would need to score them.  Charlie signed off with a ‘playful wave’ at the City fans who had been on his case since the Fernandinho tackle.

Mahrez gets clean through from our left and McCarthy again has to keep the score down and all this would be kind of acceptable until Hojbjerg went into full ‘fucking idiot’ mode and trashed through Fernandinho with 5 minutes to go and give the referee the opportunity to send him off.  The ref got this one spot on.

And so another advert for the European Super League comes to an end after a second half which was as boring as it could possibly be with the game already decided and neither team being that fussed about anything else happening.  We’ve lost 9-2 across two games v City this season.  Despite all this, Hojbjerg still managed to get himself sent off which was fucking ridiculous as he now misses, I think, three matches for the red card plus an additional one as it is his second red card of the season. No question, he deserved to go but how the hell Vincent Kompany stayed on the pitch after his two footed airborne effort against Elyounoussi is completely beyond me. After picking up a yellow for the challenge he should’ve got a red for, he then took out Alex McCarthy whilst he was still in the air which is even a bloody foul and a yellow card offence in Rugby Union.

With the score at 1-1, like the West Ham game, we had a very good penalty appeal turned down, like the West Ham game and 30 seconds later we were 2-1 down, like the West Ham game. The penalty appeal today is given if it’s for a big club (see Salah at least 5 times a season) - like the one in the West Ham game.  Hey, even if we had been given the penalty and gone to one in front, I am 1000% sure that we would have lost because City could’ve scored as many goals as they wanted to today but with their two goals just before half-time it was job done and thank you very much and who are we playing next? The team they are playing next is of course Liverpool so they are going to have their eye on that one and of course I hope they win.  Today’s referee was Paul Tierney from Wigan, which is 20 miles from Manchester – maybe he was worried about them not giving a lift home the spineless twat – just saying.  Penalty aside, we also had the Kompany Drop Kick and also we had Danilo refusing to go to the referee to get booked and the referee then sheepishly walking after him rather than giving him a yellow card for the original foul and then a second yellow for being a fucking dick straight afterwards.  

Ralph certainly hadn’t prioritised this game and had chosen it to rest some of our more influential players like Ings, Redmond and Armstrong. This was not a game for Vestergaard with the ball being at the feet of small nimble attackers the whole game so it was a genuine chance for others to show what they could do.  Bednarek in the main played well but did lose Aguero for the third goal. Stephens did some nice things with the ball on at his feet including putting JWP clean through for the non-penalty but his defending was in the main poor and on the second goal it was an absolute joke.  Kayne Ramsey looked terrified in the first half when he was playing as a conventional right back. When he went to the right of a defensive three (a tactical switch probably bought about by him struggling), he actually did quite well but I sensed that he didn’t really want the ball and other Saints players seem to sense that too and very rarely gave it to him. He did put in a couple of decent tackles and for the first game in the Premier League and playing against this calibre of opposition, he can be quite pleased with himself. This will probably be an unpopular opinion but I thought JWP put in a decent shift at right wingback to cover Ramsay and in the centre of midfield, Oriol Romeu and Hojbjerg were excellent until Pierre’s red mist moment.  

Mario Lemina had one of those games where he found himself playing against better players and a better team and instead of deciding to raise his game to show he was worthy of being on the pitch against these players, he just collapsed and couldn’t be bothered and showed and amazingly disrespectful attitude towards his manager, his teammates and the fans who pay to watch him. On the whole he’s been very good this season but today was a throwback to Chelsea in the FA Cup semi-final. He has too many games where it just looks like he can’t be arsed and I sense that Ralph saw that today which is why he got hooked on half-time.  There have been some reports of him playing whilst injured but it happens so often that you have the question his attitude.  Then we had Mohammed Elyounoussi who produced a very passable impression of a hologram, barely touching the ball and when he did, having a virtual hundred percent record at giving the ball back to the opposition.   The odd promising run but zero at the end of it.  Up front, Charlie Austin at least tried but he had to score that chance (provided by Elyounoussi amazingly) but no…. and its games like this when you have to take every chance, let alone when you are clean throughout against the goalkeeper.

Match of the Day 2, went out of their way to do us no favours whatsoever in that the edit showed Austin being substituted for no reason other than to show that he flicked the V’s at the City fans as he left the pitch. That was deemed more highlight-worthy than Kompany’s drop kick or Danilo’s blatant dissent.  More examples of Top 6 refereeing ridiculousness also happened in the Manchester United versus Bournemouth game when Eric Bailly should have been sent off twice and Ashley Young should also have walked. Earlier on in the week we had Mo Salah diving for a penalty which was less obvious and JWP is one today and needless to say, he got given it. To the Big 6 really need monumentally bent referees? Aren’t the bent FFP rules and consequently the fact that they have mega billions of pounds to spend, enough? Clearly not.

Saints start 2019 away at Stamford Bridge and whilst that is in all likelihood going to end in defeat we have reason to be optimistic for the New Year. It is all about staying up and just maybe having a little go in the FA Cup. 2018 has been uniformly bollocks apart from a small spike when Hughes kept us up and the surge of optimism when Hasenhüttl was appointed. I don’t think anyone can doubt that we have the right man in charge now but January is going to be telling as it is up to Ralph Krueger and the board to back the manager as the manager will have a clear picture now regarding which players are fit for purpose and which ones will go.

All aboard for more ups and downs in 2019. Hopefully The proportion of ups compared to downs will be slightly higher this year. Happy New Year to everybody, apart from Liverpool.  Liverpool can get in the fucking bin.