Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Premier League Match 6 - West Ham 0 Southampton 3

"We Fackin' Lost Again You Caaaaant"

Here we are at the Taxpayer Athletics Bowl to play West Ham. Everyone is calling it the London Stadium at the moment and that's because everybody in London has been fucked over to pay for the thing. Without wishing to get too deeply into it, I can't believe that they haven't been made to share the ground with another London club and I also can't believe they've been allowed to brand the stadium like it's their own home ground. If I paid for a house and someone rented it off me, I'd be pretty fucking annoyed if they painted it Claret and Blue. I do actually have more respect for them if the Dildo brothers had erected a 200 foot high dildo at one end of the ground to bother the aeroplanes coming out of London City airport.  It just seems wrong to me that Spurs have actually redeveloped their own ground and done things the right way.  I hate giving Spurs any credit and I want to dislike them more than I dislike West Ham.

And another thing - West Ham seem to have a bit of a problem with Saints which seems to stem from the season we both got promoted out of the Championship, us by finishing second and them via the play-offs. I don't really get what the problem is. I've never really minded them as a club but the Dildo brothers being in charge and the whole stadium fiasco does make you want them to do very badly. If you ever listen to talkSHITE on the radio you will be aware of The Moose who is a West Ham fan and a massive massive wanker. If we managed to win this then one of the great pleasures will be listening to The Moose on Monday as his voice gets higher and higher pitched. This is because his jowls will be getting in the way of his teeth and he'll be biting big holes in the inside of his mouth trying to make excuses.

Good news this week as Claude revealed that both Jay Rodriguez and Sofiane Boufal would be in contention after the international break.  Today though, Austin starts ahead of Long and Hojbjerg ahead of Clasie.  On current form, this is our strongest starting XI and it was good to see Jake Hesketh rewarded for his performance in the League Cup with a place on the bench today.  Austin will have a point to prove today as West Ham were in for him when we signed him but when he moved to us, one of the Dildo Boys (can’t remember which one) said something along the lines of Charlie having no ligaments in one knee and wanting £100k a week.  This was a statement that Charlie dismissed as an outrageous smear and oddly enough, I don’t recall an apology.  The West Ham side contained no Andy Carroll which is good news for us as he always scores against us but it did contain Payet and Antonio who will be dangerous.  They also signed Simone Zaza who in the Euro’s managed to do the impossible and take a worse penalty than Graziano Pellè.

A cagey opening comes to life when Bertrand comes forward on the left and exchanegs passes with Austin and this takes out Nordveit at right back and his low cross finds hojbjerg who should hit it first time but takes a touch and is blocked by the centre backs.  West Ham’s first foray ends with Zaza being closed down by the Portuguese boys and he gets the slightest brush from Cedric before throwing himself to the ground like a twat.  We have a score when Zaza flicks on a corner and it flies across with no one getting a touch.  Ten minutes in a Romeu hasn’t fouled anyone so he does in horribly mistimed fashion and gets booked.  80 minutes on a tightrope then.

It all seems pretty stale.  We’re passing the ball about nicely and having most of the possession until Davis spots a run to the wing by Tadic, he has Bertrand underlapping and just rolls it in front of him and Ryan pulls it back to Austin who sweeps it first time left footed into the net.  Fucking brilliant goal all round but the way Austin stopped his run to find space was superb.  Great left footed finish as well which I thought was the foot that he used to stand on and nothing else.

West Ham looked blown away by the fact that they’re behind again and we have two good chances to make it 2-0.  First off Redmond superbly brings a ball down from over his shoulder before twisting an opening and smashing it low for Adrian to block well.  Then Cedric makes a great run into the box and Tadic finds him but he loses composure and lashes into the side netting when he should have pulled it back.

Half time and pretty bubbles are not blowing in the air but who gives a shit – we’re happy.  The second half starts I much the same way as the first half ended – they’re shite and not tracking runners at all.  Cedric puts in a ball to Tadic who holds off a defender and back heels it back to Cedric who leaves Antonio on his arse before pulling back to Tadic.  Fucking hit it!!!! Sidefoot, saved, aaaargh! It’s a bloody good save to be fair but he really should have buried that.

The Hammers hsow a bit of life with Kouyate working hard to get a cross in from the right and Zaza arrives with Romeu and pulls another big fucking dive.  What a prick he is.  Jonathan moss doesn’t give anything but allows play to go on, a cross comes over, Fraser comes flying out like Superman, only Superman wouldn’t miss the ball and we get away with it as it bounces off a West Ham player and wide.  Moss then books Zaza.  As he hadn’t stopped the game I assume this was for his reaction, rather than for the dive.

Noble is having a shite game in midfield and shows it when he pulls out a nasty tackle on Hojbjerg and gets booked and his mood won’t have been helped by Reid, Kouyate and Noble himself fannying about in midfield and losing the ball three times – Davis to Austin, first time through to Tadic and he dropped a shoulder to leave Adrian on his arse and rolled it into the net.  Great skill, great goal and 2-0 up.

They’ve completely gone and so have many of their fans as Bertrand flies down left unopposed and finds Redmond who pulls back to Davis who lazily fires over.  Great player but can’t fucking shoot and he messes up again when we once again win the ball high up the pitch and Hojbjerg and Tadic again combine to put Davis through but as he weaves towards goal he takes an extra touch and the Hammers get a block in.

With 20 to go, West Ham have a bit of a go and we get a bit lucky as Feghouli shoots and it hit Bertrand on the hand as he turned his back.  With the current laws it would have been a bit harsh but I’d have been spewing if we hadn’t been given one like that at the other end.  Antonio breaks up the right after Moss had lent a helping hand by giving them a free kick for fuck all and I feared the worst as the ball reached Payet but he dragged it wide.  Last season he scores.

Long is on for Austin but it’s still all West Ham as Payet dances into the box and the ball breaks to the diving git but Zaza’s poked effort is easily cleared off the line by Virgil.  JWP is on for Tadic and he immediately gets on the end of a Cedric pass and brings out another good save from Adrian who has really kept them in it.  He’s at it again as Romeu finds Long who in turn finds Hojbjerg breaking into the box and the keeper makes a find save low to his left but for some reason Moss gives a goal kick. 
As we reach 90 and start feeling that we might at least get a draw, Martina is on for Cedric and we break down the left through Davis who takes a pass back off Redmond and when confronted with Adrian, pulls it back towards the penalty spot where JWP is lurking and he passes it into the net for 3-0.  Brilliant.  Have that Dildo Boys.

As away performances go, well that was just fucking awesome. I don't expect that Claude reads social media but if he did, you can just imagine him logging on tonight and pondering the reactions of some of the fans and that he will have made a note of from a few weeks ago. Now I have to admit that I questioned the formation and the style of football we were playing but bloody hell, has it all come together in the past couple of weeks or what?

The catalyst to the upturn has of course been the goals of Charlie Austin but today he did more than just stick at the ball in the net. The unselfish running to provide space for Tadic and Redmond was absolutely first class and not something that you would have expected him to be doing at the start of the season. I had him pegged as a good striker but quite a limited one in that I expected him to just play it within the confines of the width of the penalty area.  He looks like he totally gets it now and it is embracing it whereas he had previously looked a bit lost. His movement to lose his marker and the first time left foot finish for the first goal was absolutely brilliant. He always seems incredibly reluctant to use his left foot but today when he had no choice, had to take the chance first time and he just rolled it perfectly into the corner.

We didn't have a single player today who played badly. The fullbacks were absolutely awesome and West Ham had no idea how to defend against them. West Ham had set up with a right back at left back and a midfielder at right back so two players out of position so they needed the wide midfield players to help them out and Antonio and Payet could not have been less interested in doing so. Ryan Bertrand is now obviously fully fit and his running and general terrorising of the right side of the Hammers defence was a joy to watch. I am still at a complete loss how Oriol Romeu managed to go 80 minutes without getting booked and the only time when it looked like he might was when Zaza had that horrible fucking dive. Not that they were tested much but Virgil and José were absolutely imperious today and consequently Fraser had nothing to do.

It’s the role of the wide midfielders in the diamond that I don’t think I fully understood and was one area that I didn’t feel was working in our earlier games but today, Hojbjerg and Davis were so energetic and both had a really good chances to score so it shows that when it's played properly, the diamond produces entertaining attacking football and we keep clean sheets as well. Love it.

I've forgot to mention Redmond who was exactly what he wasn't in the last away game at Arsenal and perpetual motion that ran the defence ragged and then there was Tadic.  Can you imagine the wankfest if Pogba had managed to drop a shoulder and beat the goalkeeper without touching the ball?  No and it wouldn't happen because Carlton does not have the level of ability that Tadic has. That was an absolutely outrageous natural piece of skill.

Everyone seems to be queueing up to blame the ground for West Ham's woes. Yes, as a football stadium the ground is complete shit but let's not get away from the fact that the West Ham team was completely outplayed. I always thought that West Ham overachieved last season with Payet being on fire for virtually all of it. I also wondered how Bilic would cope with any sort of crisis as I can see him being the sort to just throw his toys out of the pram and storm out (not that many managers actually quit these days). When you start playing players in the wrong position all over the shop then usually it's the sign of a confused mind who is going to struggle to sort things out. It has to be said that it couldn't happen to nicer owners, the Dildo boys and Karren Brady.  It might not turn out to be one of your better business decisions Karren… maybe Lord Sugar will have a word.

It’s ironic that most Hammers fans would rather be playing at the Boleyn and there was a video this week of part of it being blown up.  Now there’s a chilling reminder that you can’t go back.  When you consider the amount of effort that Gold and Sullivan put into the ‘fucking’ industry, it's ironic that in chasing this move to the Taxpayer Bowl, they may have completely fucked what was a good traditional football club. The whole move was wrong and it completely stinks and for that reason alone I hope it completely finishes on their face and it would be fucking hilarious if they got relegated. If memory serves correctly then I believe they pay even less to rent the stadium if they go down.  It’s enough to make Russell Brand choke on his jellied eels.  Wanker.

Anyway, West Ham’s problems are theirs alone as we have a nice little trip to Israel on Thursday for a Europa League game against Hapoel Be’er Sheva. Expect the team to be rotated but expect the same style of football. After their win in Milan then a point would be a very good result before we return to play champions Leicester City on the Sunday afterwards.  Get in!

Friday, September 23, 2016

League Cup 3rd Round - Southampton 2 Crystal Palace 0

Saints Academy Scores. Skate Looks to Heavens

As we are officially one of the big clubs now, we don't have to play in round two of the League Cup but around three is here and now we have a home game against Crystal Palace. The usual guessing games have been going on as to how seriously each manager is it going to take the competition so on the face of it, based on the team sheets, it appears that the Palace are taking it a lot more seriously than we are. They have one young player in their side and everyone else is an experienced pro.  Sure, some of them are not in their Premier League side like Mutch and Sako but they have players like Cabaye and Zaha so it's certainly going to be tough for a Saints side containing both of the midfield circus midgets in Reed and Clasie and also Jake Hesketh who now looks like he's beefed up to about eight stone from the six stone that he weighed when he made his debut two years ago. We have our reserve fullbacks in the team and Maya gets a chance ahead of the rested Virgil. Charlie Austin is given a start up front with Shane Long, with Redmond and Tadic the forward options on the bench.
The ground looks less than half full as we kick off but we start well as José brings it forward unchallenged a threads a pass inside the huge wardrobe that is Sako and into Martina’s path.  His low cross finds Austin but the flag has gone up before he makes a bollocks of it and pokes it wide.

The aftermath of the attack is that Scott Dann is on the floor and he has to go off to be replaced with Kelly who is a full back by trade.  Their defence was looking susceptible against the pace of Long anyway and now it was only more so.  Another ball in from Martina was intercepted by Kelly but with the proverbial first touch further than most people can kick it.  His idea of atoning for his error was to lunge after the ball only to find that Shane had got inbetween him and the ball so he carted through Long in order to get to the ball.  Penalty.  To be honest, there weren’t too many complaints from Palace and with Dusan on the bench, Charlie Austin had no one to fight with for the penalty.  Up he stepped to roll it into the left bottom corner as Hennessy went the other way.  I don’t like penalties like this cos if he goes the right way then he saves it easily but no matter, we are 1-0 up and Charlie’s on the mark for the third game in a row.

There isn’t a response from Palace and instead we go close again with Targett firing over a ball and Hesketh getting up well to flick a header wide but Hennessy makes a sprawling save anyway.  Palace show up for the first time and it’s created (sort of) by Zaha who takes time off from arguing with Skate Ward and shagging the Sunderland manager’s daughter and sees his shot blocked out as far as Cabaye who shoots wide first time.

We are popping the ball about very nicely and the two players standing out are Reed and Hesketh with Reed winning every tackle aside from the one where he ran into the Wardrobe Sako and bounced off him.  Hesketh slides a perfect ball through to Austin and he tries to lift it over Hennessy but he gets a hand up to make a really good save.  Having got away with that one, Fryers and Sako combine too give us the ball again and Martina gets played through once more by Hesketh but when he needed to pull out the ‘outside of the boot’ finish, Cucucao Cuco lashed it across and narrowly missed the far post.

We have yet another chance to increase the lead before half time and once again Hesketh is the architect, playing Long in behind Kelly and he skips round Hennessy on the edge of the box and with his left foot, rolls it towards the open goal but even the snail paced Delaney is going to et back before that reaches the goal and he duly does.  Hlaf time and it’s hard to believe that Palace won’t do more in the 2nd half and maybe throw on Benteke and either Townshend or Puncheon.  I look forward to Benteke going up for a header against Reedor Clasie.

There’s quarter of an hour of nothing at the start of the second half before Charlie Austin is replaced with Redmond which is going to give us even more pace against their slow defence.  Targett has a shot blocked before we build again from the back.  There’s good work by Clasie and he finds JWP.  A quick exchamnge with Long and JWP puts his through behind Kelly and Skate Ward but Hennessy is out to stop him again but the ball falls free to Hesketh who sweeps it first time left footed into the net.  Get in.  It’s fucking great when one of the youngsters scores.

Palace bring on Benteke and Punch for the Wardrobe and Mutch who have both been complete turd and start going long up towards the big man.  If he’s on the edge of our penalty area then José and Maya compete with him and usually win it and if he’s further out then they let him win it unchallenged and just take the ball off of Wickham who is shite and couldn’t be less interested if he tried.  There is one moment of almost danger as benteke wins a header by the penalty spot and José’s header to McCarthy is a bit short.  Wickham should get there but he sees the keeper coming and takes his eye off it and the ball just plops into McCarthy’s lap.

Hojbjerg is on for Hesketh who gets a standing ovation for his trouble and Redmond, who has again played well since he’s been on, cut in from the left and brought a good save out of Hennessy with a curled effort.

The referee put Palace out of their misery and so ended a very satisfactory night’s work. It wasn't just the win that was good but the manner with which it was achieved and the players who were used to achieve it.  For the first time that I have seen the style of play seemed to really click with short snappy passing into the feet of strikers who simply laid the ball back into midfield before spinning in behind the defenders. It seemed to work really well and the lack of panic when playing out of defence was also a feature. With Tadic not even on the pitch until the last couple of minutes and Boufal waiting in the wings, there certainly could be exciting times ahead. Right now though we need a striker other than Austin to be hitting the net as well.
Jake Hesketh will take all the headlines because he scored and he will probably make Garth Crooks team of the week purely because he scored. He had a really good game in other areas as well but in my opinion, the best player on the pitch for Saints was Harrison Reed who was absolutely outstanding and proved in one game that he is more than capable of playing in the Premier League. Sure he got knocked out by that big fat oaf Sako but that guy could run into a fucking rhinoceros and knock it over. There were good performances all over the pitch. Martina was his usual entertaining self and Targett did very well against Wilfried Zaha on our left. The two centre backs were commanding throughout and Yoshida manage to have a good game without his usual catastrophe somewhere along the line. I was particularly impressed with the way Jose and Maya handled Benteke when he came on.
Whilst the midfield was quite possibly the smallest and lightest midfield ever, they competed well and it was nice to see Clasie actually play 90 minutes though he did somewhat disappear for the last 20. JWP was putting himself about strongly and it was a superbly weighted ball through to Shane Long which resulted in the second goal. Upfront, Charlie Austin looked dangerous though he did miss a couple of chances and Shane long did everything but score, running the Palace defence ragged.

Palace were abysmally shit, really, really uninspired and dull. Considering the starting 11 that they had out which contained just one young player, they were terrible, showing both a lack of application and a lack of ability. We saw better players at the bottom of League 1 than Jordan Mutch who just ambled about and got beaten in every challenge he went for, even by the midgets.  Connor Wickham was similar as well and I thought he was supposed to be this big rough bully of a centre forward but he played like an eight-year-old getting totally bullied out of absolutely everything. Because we had a very little height in the team I was expecting us to get absolutely battered at set pieces and the like but Palace never really got close enough to our goal to cause us any problems. Pardew of course  managed to deflect attention away from the fact of the Palace were shocking by moaning about the penalty award which he apparently didn't see and TV replays weren't conclusive for him but 'Shane has a reputation'.  What the fuck has that got to do with what you saw in front of you today Alan? You didn’t see it but he probably dived.  Ok then.  I am reliably informed by a Palace fan who was closer to the incident that Kelly got the ball but he trashed through the back of the player first.

"Didn't See It, TV Inconclusive, Therefore He Dived"

In the aftermath of the game, a picture emerged which should make every Saints fan smile of Hesketh celebrating his goal in a huddle with JWP, Target and Reed. four Academy boys playing for the first time together in the first team. That's positive, however you look at it. It'll be interesting to see if the national press pick up on that rather than focusing on Manchester United actually winning a game against Northampton and Michael Carrick being their saviour and the man to bring the best out of Carlton Pogba because he's managed 90 minutes against a League 1 team.  I also wonder what Ronald Koeman and will think when he sees the picture as these players are part of the academy that he unilaterally deemed not good enough to be in the first team squad. I know that JWP and Targett played a bit but Reed and Hesketh were nowhere near.  It was also interesting to see Koeman's Everton get knocked out of the League Cup at home by Norwich last night. He doesn't like the cups does he?  A higher position in the Premier League will look better on his CV for when he is looking for a better job in a year or so, so that’s all he cares about.  Young players - if you give them a chance, they might just deliver.

The final news of the night was the draw for the next round and the only surprise was that we didn't get fucking Palace again. However, if we don't get Palace then we get Sunderland and that's what's happened this time but luckily it’s at home.  Elsewhere in the drawer it appears to have fallen in our favour because City have got United, Tottenham have got Liverpool and Chelsea have got West Ham so some good teams are going out.
So, three home games in three competitions and three wins with three clean sheets and you can't complain about that at all. The only caveat is that the three teams we have played have really not been great opposition but it's cliche time and you can only beat what's in front of you. What these wins do achieve is to put more confidence into every single player and this can only help. 
West Ham at the Taxpayer Bowl are at next and they've been having a bit of a shocker of late, managing to scrape through last night against Accrington courtesy of a 96th minute free kick goal. We will certainly be more confident then they will be heading into the game and we should really be looking for another three points and our first result away from home this season.  Rumour that Gold and Sullivan are getting rid of some bankrupt stock and strapping a free dildo to the underside of each seat are yet to be confirmed but it is true that many away fans have been leaving the stadium with a big smile on their face recently.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Premier League Match 5 - Southampton 1 Swansea 0

Fuckin' Pick That Out

After the win against Sparta Prague, the message was simple – now win a bastard League game.  When the fixtures came out, the first three aways at Man United, Arsenal and West Ham looked pretty tricky but the first three homes against Watford, Sunderland and Swansea had ‘9 points’ written all over them.  So far we had 2 with just one to go and so today really was a must win.

The media loves a good Meltdown story as we know with Saints of course being the subject they all love to talk about.  A club that sells their best players every year.  The key is that we replace them but Swansea sell the players as well but do they replace them?  For example - they had Michu who did well, sold him, got Bony who did well, sold him, got Gomis who did well for a bit, sold him.  This year they lost Ashley Williams to Everton but have they replaced him?  Losing him would be like us losing Jose Fonte which of course we didn’t do.  The manager is Francesco Guidolin who seems a pretty uninspiring bloke but he did well for them last season to keep them up when they looked in trouble at one point.  Has he got another decent season in him or is it going to be like the Dick Advocaat situation at Sunderland where he ends up getting fired or quitting after a few weeks of the following season after keeping them up. 

We were positive going into this match and most were expecting a cross between the line-up that started at Arsenal and the one that dispatched Sparta but there were groans a-plenty when the ‘Arsenal’ line-up was announced with the exception of Long being in for J-Rod.  Our one, in-form striker was on the bench and Hojbjerg was strangely omitted for Clasie to return.  Despite having a great game on Thursday, JWP was nowhere to be seen with Isgrove and Reed making their first bench appearances of the season.  Swansea had Jack Cork as skipper and Sigurdsson, a player I’ve always rated in midfield.  Up front was Fernando Llorente who was a great player.  The emphasis is on ‘was’ as it was about ten years ago.  I was pleased to see Jefferson Montero on the bench and not in the starting line-up as he’s the sort of flying winger that I feel would give us huge problems.  Swansea also have Leroy Fer in their team which means that they are going to get relegated like Norwich and QPR before them.

Swansea have Modou Barrow on the right wing and he’s the player that Ryan Bertrand got sent off against a couple of seasons ago for launching him up in the air and teaching him to fly.  He has a run and is halted in unfair fashion by Davo.  Having a load of defenders back is pretty pointless if no one attacks the ball and we’re lucky that the delivery goes right across and ends up with Fraser.

Our first attack is started by Fer who is obviously trying to complete his relegation hat-trick and Tadic puts Redmond away who finds Long in acres on the edge of the box and he tries a side footer which should be an easy save for Fabianski but he drops it and Davo and Clasie get in eachothers way going for the follow up and they were offside anyway.  Shane just looks like someone who doesn’t want the ball in front of goal and Fabianski looks like what he is – a dodgy keeper.

A worrying theme of our defending is allowing crosses to come into the box and we do so again as Barrow has all the time to put in a cross and Llorente goes in with Fonte and they both hit the deck.  I’m expecting a penalty again but Bobby Madley isn’t refereeing.  In fact he’s been ‘left out’ this week and I’m sure that’s a massive coincidence after the shit house performance he put in last week.
Virgil doesn’t get quite enough on a Davo corner and Fabianski saves easily and then controversy of sorts as Shane chases back well and disposseses Naughton, plays a 1-2 with Davo and is off into the penalty area.  He takes a heavy touch around Fernandez who slides in and takes him out.  It looks like a clear penalty but Shane gets booked for diving.  Fuck.  Like when he was raked by Monreal at the end of the game last week, it looks like Shane’s reputation has gone against him here.  On the first few replays I saw it looked like a clear pen and then there was one angle which shows Shane treading on Fernandez so I guess there’s an element of doubt.  I’m not sure if he could have avoided the defenders lunge though.

Glorious chance ahoy as Fonte strides forward a Redmond and Tadic 1-2 and Nathan is in on the right but instead of squaring for the unmarked Long, he shows no composure and skies it.  Fucking hell.  Shane is going nuts but he’d have probably missed anyway.  Everything is going through Tadic who is having a great game and he inspires another move which ends with Clasie taking aim from 25 yards and hitting the keeper and then the moment which sums us up as Redmond gets down the right, plays Tadic in and he beats the defender before finding Redmond with just one defender to beat.  He steps inside him and just has the keeper to beat.  It’s easy and he has the whole goal to aim at but instead of hitting the net, he hits some poor fucker in the face in Row Z.  Shit the bed.  To be fair to Shane he’s over and picking up the distraught Redmond, probably with the words “I’d have feckin missed it too”.

Half time and we should of course be winning but we are not, again.

The clamour for Austin to come on is not heeded at half time but it is soon after and he’s on for Long on 53.  Austin immediately seems to energise the attack and he throws himself at a Bertrand cross which misses everyone and floats just wide of the far post.  Redmond, who is definitely a winger, finds himself out on the left and runs directly at the defenders and they do not know how to deal with him.  In that instance there is an obvious solution to our attacking woes – Austin through the middle with Redmond and Tadic on the wings.  You can have that one for free Claude.

Clasie has played an hour so of course it’s time for him to come off with Hojbjerg coming on.  With the midfield bolstered it’s looking good but then there’s Austin chasing back to left back and it become apparent that Redmond is still the central striker nominally and Austin and Tadic are covering right and left.  Two more great chances to score come and go as first, Romeu bounces a header down and over the bar from a corner and then a ridiculous miss as Tadic wins the ball off Jack Cork and Davo puts Redmond away on the right wing.  A great cross and Austin meets it 10 yards out.  The whole ground goes ‘goooaaaaaaaaaaa..fuck’ as he somehow hits the bar with the rebound flying out and hitting Fabianski on the back of the head and away.  Jesus H Christ.

It’s quite fucking mad how we are not in front.  We’re all over them and there’s pinball in the goal mouth and a Swansea boot gets to it but then it happens.  Once again Tadic is the provider and his cross loops up off a Swansea boot and falls to Austin who takes a touch on his chest to control and swivels and lashes it past Fabianski in one movement.  At fucking last.

We of course need a second goal to make sure but this is Saints 2016/17 and we aren’t going to get one.  Austin has a flash at the near post which is saved and Romeu flicks a header wide from a good Davo cross.  Swansea have sent on Montero to give us something to think about and Claude responds by taking off Tadic and putting Cuco Martina on at right midfield to double up on the winger.

Typically there’s a shit yourself moment as Swansea get near our goal for the first time since the opening 10 minutes and Llorente lays a ball off to Sigurdsson and his low stabbed effort is pawed away by the sprawling Fraser.  That one would have been hard to take.

Final whistle and get in there and thank fuck for that.  The main emotion is certainly relief.  We should have won much more comfortably than we did and been well out of sight before Sigurdsson had that shot at the end but we got there.  There was still some confusing stuff tactically out there (Austin on left, Redmond in middle) but the overall pattern of play was much better in the second half,  We played higher up the pitch and delivered balls into the box which caused problems.

Claude must be feeling rather pleased with himself as everything worked out fine in the end.  I understand the need to manage Austin and his fitness.  It’s apparent that he requires the forwards to do a lot of running wide and back and that has to be balanced against Charlie’s fitness record and the need to have your best goalscorer on the pitch.  After trying the break the crossbar with that absolute sitter, it was a great finish for the goal.  We can’t mention finishing without mentioning Nathan Redmond.  That kind of summed up our season in that one moment – nice approach work and great skill to create the opening and when all seemed good, smashing it at the passing Flybe plane.  He had a great game other than that though, injecting much needed pace into the forward play but he appears to be the new target for the idiots.  These will be the same idiots who used to slaughter Mané when he was shite (and he was, quite often) and the same idiots who have now promoted Mané to the level of Messi and Ronaldo now that he’s left.  Tadic had a great game, mainly on the right and side and yet another assist for the goal.

Back to Claude and though the Austin selection issue sorted out at the end, I’m not so sure about the Clasie one.  Again he was replaced before the hour and again Hojbjerg made us much better.  It was good to see some tactical flexibility as well as he recognized the threat of Montero when he came on and putting on Cuco as a defensive right midfielder was a smart move.  It’s sign that when we do play teams with lots of pace out wide (Palace for example) that he will adapt to it. After all, we got a clean sheet and there haven’t been too many of those recently.

Swansea were bang average and there’s no way the manager is going to last until Christmas.  Last week he subbed a player in the first half and there was much teddy throwing and disrespect and today there was the same.  Once you’ve lost the players, you’ve had it.

Next up is the League Cup 3rd Round on Wednesday.  As I write I have absolutely no idea what it’s called these days but we have the boring draw against Palace.  This has got to be 4th in the list of priorities for the season so I fully expect to see a much changed side with the likes of Reed and Isgrove featuring, McCarthy in goal and the only certainty is that Clasie won’t play 90 minutes.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Europa League Match 1 - Southampton 3 Sparta Prague 0

Two 8-Year Olds Have to be Separated by Their Dad

It’s time for the rewards for last seasons efforts to be delivered and here we are, Europa League Night 1 – it’s been a journey from the Liebherr takeover in 2009 to now.  The Europa League branding around the ground looks good and there is an undoubtedly different feel about his as opposed to a normal League game.  Sparta Prague were pretty well known in European Football terms when Czechoslovakia was still a country and in the early 90s when the Czech Republic was formed, they were the dominant side domestically but they’ve not been as great recently, hence their appearance in the Europa League whereas teams such as Slovan Liberec are in the big competition.

Not that this is a small competition (well maybe it is for Mourinho and those patronising Man United bastards) and certainly not for Saints and Claude.  We need a win and we need some positive signs that the way we are playing is going to work.  However, I was expecting a different style of game tonight, one that would suit us more.  We’re seen as the 2nd seeds in this group, behind Inter and ahead of Sparta and Hapoel so in the context of the group, it’s important to get a result against the team who on paper at least, should be challenging us for a qualifying place.

The team selected by Claude is kind of strange but not strange.  Three changes in the back four is a bit of a change with Cuco, Maya and Matty Targett in and only Virgil retained from the Arsenal game.  Elsewhere there are 4 other changes but nothing that you’d deem earth-shattering with Austin, Long, Hojbjerg and JWP coming in for J-Rod, Redmond, Davis and Clasie.

Oh look we’ve got one of those behind the goal officials that does nothing, right in front of us.  The first action of the game is after 5 minutes when Austin gets down the right and tries to cross only for it to be blocked by the sliding Costa at left back for a corner.  The ref gives a corner and everyone seems happy and then out of nowhere he points to the spot and it’s a penalty.  What the fuck is that for says I, with not the same venom as I said it at The Emirates a few days ago... and how did he arrive at that decision as he didn’t consult the traditionally placed linesman who didn’t have a flag across his chest.  It must have been a word in the radio earpiece from the official behind the goal.  Later replays proved this to be harsh beyond belief.

Before the penalty is taken we have a scene as Austin has the ball and is clearly wanting to take it and he and Tadic are having a bit of a row like a couple of 8 year olds.  It takes the head boy Virgil to go up and pull Tadic away and he’s still not having it but eventually he walks away.  Fucking embarrassing.  Anyway, after the comedy award and the comedy double act, up steps Charlie and drills it into the corner to give us a great start and hopefully give him some confidence.

We’re all over them now and Cuco is getting involved down the right, putting over a good cross which Charlie meets and nods into the net but as is often the case with Charlie, he’s offside.  We then settle into a rhythm of playing possession football but it’s all a bit slow paced for me as we work it up to the half way line and then knock it back again. 

It takes until the 20 minute mark for us to create another chance and it’s that man Cuco Martina again.  Thirty seconds after me moaning at him because he was so slow at getting out that he allowed his winger all the time in the world to get a cross in, he gets down the wing and has a great position to cross it in but he scuffs it into the defender and it bounces back to him and out of nowhere, he pulls out this wonderful cross with the outside of his right boot, right onto Charlie’s head, back across the keeper and 2-0 as easy as you like.

Back to the holding pattern for the rest of the first half, not really giving them a sniff and then Maya (as usual) has a go at ruining an exceptional first half for him by blindly knocking a shite short back pass to Fraser who has to dribble past a forward before clearing.

My prediction at half time was that it would be a dull second half and we’d just try and play it out and as we restarted, this looked like coming true.  We got a free kick for a foul on JWP on the half way line and we took it, passed it about a bit on halfway and then worked it back to Fraser.  Fraser then wellied it back to half way, where JWP lost a header and Sparta had the ball.  My question is this – what was the point of that?  Far from advocating ‘putting it in the mixer’ a-la Allardyce, there has to be more value in passing it forwards. Why not stick Charlie Austin on the penalty spot and toss it in there?  What’s the worst that can happen?  We lose the ball in their penalty area.  We are at times too patient and need to commit to a few more forward passes slightly earlier than what we are doing.

Anyway, nothing much is happening and it’s time to bring on some subs and Redmond is up first, coming on for Tadic.  Dusan has again looked superb in places but went out of the game when a Sparta player whacked him in the back in the first half.  After being bollocks and static against Arsenal, Redmond was a revelation here and was exactly what the game needed with his willingness to run at people and inject a bit of pace into the play.  Charlie Austin was beginning to look knackered as he was doing lots of tracking back on the left wing and so he came off without a hat-trick and was replaced with J-Rod.

The game was won to be honest and this was illustrated when Hojbjerg played a superb ball inside the full back for Cuco to run onto and whilst he looked up for someone to knock it back to for a tap-in, there was absolutely no one busting a gut to get into the box so he dithered and got tackled.  Not Cuco’s fault and I bet he wished he’d just smashed it at the goal.

Oriel Romeu had been having a mixed match to say the least but the tackle he put in to get booked was so late that the ball was in another post code.  Hilarious but Claude thought better of leaving him on for entertainment value and on came Davo for the last 10 minutes.

Whilst Austin had rebuilt his confidence with his goals and a decent performance, Shane Long had not and was having what is usually described as a ‘mare’.  He’d been so bad that it was somewhat surprising a) that he was still on the pitch and b) that when he got put into space on the left that he didn’t fuck it up and he got his head up and fed the onrushing J-Rod who sorted his feet out well and passed it across the keeper and into the corner for 3-0 and make the final score more representative of the match.

There had been a bit of a niggly undercurrent in the game and Sparta had clearly had enough as JWP copped a bad one on half way which made him kick off and as the final whistle blew, the left back decided to take a chunk out of Redmond and they had to be kept apart at the final whistle. 3-0, a decent if not perfect performance and happy days.

On the one hand, it’s great to get a win and it’s great to make a good start in the Europa League group.  It’s a welcome boost for Claude and there were a lot of positives with the biggest potentially, being the goals for Charlie Austin and the confidence it will bring him.  Christ knows we need a goal scorer.  Elsewhere, Virgil just strolled through the game looking like a Rolls Royce in a garage full of Trabants and Maya had a very good game aside from the one massive balls up.  Romeu was hilarious in midfield, going through a cycle of win ball, give ball away, win ball, give ball away, break someone.  He is part Schneiderlin, part Wanyama, part Wotton.  I was impressed by JWP for the whole game and by Hojbjerg for most of it.  Pierre seems to have ten minutes off here and there but when’s he’s switched on he’s a great player.  JWP is obviously working hard to adapt his game to what’s required in this system and is notably being more aggressive and passing the ball quicker.  He should really now be getting as much game time as Davo and Clasie. 

And then there was Cuco, swinging from bloody crap to bloody brilliant within seconds.  Miles away from the man he’s supposed to be marking one minute and then putting over a superb cross the next.  He’s totally unpredictable, which is not necessarily what you want in a defender.  Nothing sums him up more than the goal he set up for Charlie – a horrible shanked cross which hit the first defender and bounced back to him, followed by a perfect cross with the outside of his foot to give the striker a goal on a plate.

Elsewhere, Man United lost to Feyenoord which is funny but they don;t give a shit so we shouldn't be surprised.  They too chose a few squad players like Depay (£30m), Schneiderlin (£25m), Herrera (£28m) and other big money players like Rojo and Martial.  Pogba was shit again and Zlatan came on as a sub so it was hardly a team of untried kids.  Tossers.  More importantly, there was a shock in our group as Inter lost at home 2-0 to Hapoel Be'er Sheva which I guess is not a good result for us.  I guess we'll find out in a couple of weeks when we travel to Israel.

Bigger picture… Are we getting there?  I don’t know really.  The wide areas of the pitch still concern me.  I have a feeling that against teams that play with real width we’ll really struggle.  Our strikers chase back into the traditional right and left midfield positions and then aren’t up front if we break.  To me it looks like they don’t really get back far enough to be part of the defensive effort but they’re back far enough to not get involved up front too much.  J-Rod’s performance was interesting in that he had 15 minutes on the pitch and in that time he only managed to get forward once, when he scored.  The rest of the time he was playing just in front of Targett.

Sparta – they were pretty shite to be honest.  Some tidy stuff in midfield but nothing up front and some strange players at the back and in goal.  However, the penalty that we were given was complete bollocks which put them up against it right from the start.  Would it have been given at The Emirates?

Next up we have Swansea in the League and another ‘must win’.  Claude has a few decisions to make regarding the 11 that start but I would imagine the defence will be re-installed with Cuco being the most likely to be given a chance out of today’s line-up.  In midfield I think Romeu is set in stone and I thought Tadic was until today but Redmond coming on and playing in the hole behind the strikers really made a difference so maybe Redmond there and Tadic on the left, up front with Austin.  Personally I’d persevere with Hojbjerg and JWP in midfield but I think that Davis will come back into the side, probably at JWP’s expense.

Anyhow, that’s for another day.  For now, let’s just bask in that winning feeling again.  It seems like it’s been a while.