Saints at Wembley - Good Wasn't It!
Saints players and staff have been on a two day holiday in the frozen Northern wastelands in preparation for the Capital One Cup Quarter Final at Bramall Lane against Sheffield United. When I think of Sheffield United I think of horrible games in the 90s with Brian Deane involved. Dave Bassett was their manager and the football was not what you could ever call pretty. Waft it up to Deans who is 6 foot 5 and all elbows and aggression. Relegated from the Premier League when Hans Segers may or may not have let goals deliberately which saved Everton and relegated again when West Ham were allowed to break every rule going and basically play ineligible players. I can understand supporters with longer memories feeling a bit hard done by and they have my sympathy for that. Then you have the recent Ched Evans where the club decided they would test out fan reaction by letting the convicted unapologetic rapist train with them, no doubt hoping that no one would care too much and they could sign him on the cheap. Fortunately for the decent fans of the club, the outrage was such that it became impossible. Today of course, I hope they get stuffed.
The target for Saints this season is probably to get into Europe and whilst the Champions League dream has been shown to be a bit optimistic in recent weeks, the Europa League is obtainable and this is the easiest route into it. Personally I don’t give a shit about European competition – I want to get to Wembley and win a Cup. Mind you, even if we win today then it won’t be easy as the other Quarter Finals could easily see Chelsea, Liverpool and Tottenham in the semi-finals or more favourably, Derby, Bournemouth and Newcastle.
The team news saw us put out a fairly strong looking side as you’d expect. Shane Long leads the line, flanked by Mané and Bertrand (what?) with the midfield 3 being the returning Morgan Schneiderlin, Big Vic and JWP. The back 4 had Matty Targett at left back and Florin Gardos instead of Toby Alderweireld but it looks decent on paper though I’m really not sure about Bertrand on the wing. Sheffield United are these days managed by Nigel Clough who I hated as a player because he always used to score against us.
In a marvellous start for us, the referee gives the Blades a free kick for fuck all and they lob it into the box. Fraser is underneath it but McEverly whacks him with an arm and he spills it. It’s hooked goalwards and eventually bounces on top of the bar and over. It’s all gone a bit Dave Bassett and Neil Warnock. However there’s nothing long ball about their next move as they build up through midfield and a shot comes in from Reed which is always going over but it’s a decent effort.
Our first effort is a break down the left as Bertrand turns the defence. Long hassles the defender into a mistake and his cross is well defended before Mané can make contact and hoof it over the bar probably. The ref gives a goal kick of course.
At half time there’s an admission that Bertrand on the wing isn’t working and Lloyd Isgrove is on for the unfortunate Matt Targett. The change has done nothing for the way we are playing though and it’s all Sheffield. They our down the left and the cross misses everyone except Murphy who is at the back post all alone and luckily for us he shats it over the bar.
Isgrove has been deployed on the right where he is clearly not comfortable but he gets involved picking up a ball from Morgan before sliging in a right footed cross which is flicked on and JWP ghosts in at the back and tries to head for the far corner but it drops just wide. JWP is up next also, picking up a ball in midfield before driving forward and taking aim from 35 yards but unfortunately he was aiming at Row Z.
In reality there’s only one team who looks like scoring and it’s not us. A Murphy cross from the right wing is flicked on and Frase has to get down extremely sharply to turn it away before Clyney blocks the follow up. Fraser is at it again straight afterwards as a United striker tees up an incoming midfielder and his shot is confidently blocked by the big man and turned over the bar. From the corner, Fraser slaps it clear to Mané on the edge of the box and he allows himself to be dispossessed and then brings him down. The Blades players are of course all howling for a penalty and for Mané to be sent off but as it is, they get a free kick right on the line. A shambolic looking wall does nothing as he absolutely smashes it at Fraser who makes the save but can’t hold it and it squirts free. Of course you need defenders to react but none do and McNulty bundles it into the net. It had been coming.
In the aftermath of the goal, Chris Morgan, Clough’s assistant is sent to the stands for reasons unknown but bearing in mind what a massive thug he was as a player then he probably deserved it. When we eventually restart, Morgan pings a beautiful ball out to Mané on the left and he just runs straight into Flynn who launches a counter attack and Big Vic just hoiks him over for an obvious booking meaning he’s out of the Everton game on Saturday. Morgan is clearly not impressed with Mané’s effort.
He was probably not very impressed when his ball to Isgrove was picked up and slotted through for Mané to produce a low weak shot at the near post that the keeper easily kicked away for a corner. There was more easy work for the keeper as JWP’s corner landed on top of him with no one near.
Mané has not been great but he’s probably been the most likely to score and Ronald replaces him with Mayuka. We’ve given up. I remember when 4-4-2 Magazine said he was the 85th best player in the world or whatever. I was 84th and Stephen Hawking was 83rd, so ridiculous is that claim. He. Is. Shite.
So now we’re playing with 10 and a Bertrand mistake allows McNulty to be put through against Fraser but the big man stands up well and blocks the shot. Probably too save him from being sent off, Big Vic is replaced with Toby Alderweireld when it really would have been better to take Morgan off and make sure he didn’t get booked and suspended for Saturday as well…. Which he duly did with a stupid tackle born out of frustration. He’ll probably do a French magazine interview over Christmas and blame it on his move not going through in the summer.
It’s all shit now and Forster is performing more heroics to keep another shot out with Gardos blocking the rebound. Another foul and Morgan is now trying to get himself sent off by kicking the ball away. He has to go really but possibly because he’s got fed up with the relentless badgering from the Sheffield United bench, the referee doesn’t do it.
What else can go wrong? Oh yes, big boot forward and Gardos allows McNulty to push him about and he lets the ball bounce past him and McNulty is after it until Florin pulls him down. Off you go. Amateur hour. The resulting free kick is shite but it doesn’t matter. They’ve battered us to be honest and totally deserved their win. Ronald is off without shaking Nigel Clough’s hand and what a great day.
So where do we start with that? Let’s do a Good Bad and Ugly. One of these categories might not take long.
Fraser Forster made some great saves to keep us in it and give us a flattering scoreline which we didn’t deserve. If we’d lost 3 or 4-0 we couldn’t have complained. I’m going to forgive him for the goal as it was a free kick from right on the edge of the box and was absolutely smashed at him. Where were the defenders to bail him out?
JWP joined the ranks of players who’ve hit consistently shite dead ball deliveries this season. Having said that, he is considerably better than many others this season. Mitigating circumstances in that he’s only in his second game in 3 months and he will improve. Will Lloyd Isgrove improve? He came on and did next to nothing. He was put on the right wing and he’s totally left footed but someone had to play out there as Mané was still on the pitch. He didn’t look comfortable out there at all though and there’s no excuse for doing that little. The one time I saw him beat the left back he tried to cut it back onto his left foot
and lost it. He isn’t gong to get many chances so he needs to do more when he does. He’s not 18 and is running out of time to prove he has what it takes.
The Ugly (and in some cases, the Fucking Horrendously Ugly):
By refusing to shake hands with Nigel Clough, Koeman achieved nothing expect making himself look like the bad guy in the eyes of the casual observer. I understand where he’s coming from as it appears the Sheffield United bench was behaving pretty unpleasantly but you should shake hands even if you don’t want to and take up the issue later. No one will care about the underlying issues and will just focus on the non-handshake.
The fact that we are a Premier League side with a vaunted academy and our talk about pathways to the first team and all that, makes it inexcusable and tinpot that we didn’t have a full bench. It makes it look like we were taking the game lightly. Ok, an extra sub probably wouldn’t have made a difference to the result but Ryan Seager or Sam McQueen would have got something out of it even if they’d only watched. Also, they couldn’t have been worse than many out there today. It’s worrying that Tadic and Davis weren’t even fit enough to sit on the bench.
Sadio Mane was appalling in his decision making and general contribution. He tried hard but is completely out of form and his contribution to the winning goal sums it up. When the ball went to him it had disaster written all over it and he was always going to bring the guy down. Up front he looked more dangerous than anyone but ultimately ruined everything with taking the wrong option or miscontrolling the ball or mis-hitting a pass etc. He has taken over from Guly as the team scapegoat which is predictable and somewhat pathetic. Shane Long for me had a totally ineffective game. “He works hard” is what’s always said in his defence and yes he does but that’s a bare minimum requirement. His hold up play was non-existent and when he got the ball he’d invariably knock it past the centre back and then not get to it before the covering defender. He had no shots again in 90 minutes against a league 1 side, didn’t look like a threat in their box once.
The experiment of Bertrand on the wing was a waste of time and no surprise to me. People were saying it was a good idea before the start pointing to him playing there for Chelsea in a Champions League Final. Slight difference – in said Champions League Final, Chelsea were parking the bus against Bayern Munich and Bertrand was deployed as an extra left back in front of Ashley Cole to cope with the threat of Arjen Robben. Sheffield United don’t have Arjen Robben the last time I checked so in our formation, Ryan was a forward and it was never going to work.
We all know that bookings happen and consequently, so do suspensions. We also know that referees screw up and book players when they don’t deserve it. With that in mind, you can’t afford to get booked for stupid stuff. Big Vic and Morgan today, deliberately fouled Sheffield United players when they had no chance of getting the ball so the only outcome was that they’d be suspended for Saturday against Everton. Morgan in particular then tried to get himself sent off by kicking the ball away after he’d already been booked. He should have gone, no question and was very lucky that the ref decided to not apply the rules and ignore the rantings of Nigel Clough and his bench. Pelle’s booking against Burnley was similarly stupid as have been some of his other bookings and his absence today meant we never even looked like scoring and there was no one holding the ball up to allow midfielders to get forward.
The pre-season exodus is beginning to hurt us now. We replaced like for like and plugged the holes in the First XI but we haven’t really increased the depth of the squad which we would have needed to do even if no one had left. Lambert would have been an ideal man to have in the squad to replace Pellè when needed and though I hate to say it, the same applied for Lallana with Tadic. The young players we have now just look a little too young so we could have done with Calum Chambers as well if he hadn’t chosen to fuck off.
Back to “The Ugly”. Florin Gardos needs to man up. He’s 6 foot 4 and allegedly a tough tackling no nonsense defender. Well, I didn’t see that on Tuesday. I saw a player getting bullied and shoved around and a player who let the ball bounce and both of these failings contributed to his red card when he didn’t get to the bounce of the ball and then allowed the striker to roll round him before hauling him down.
And at risk of repeating myself from every blog I’ve ever written when he’s made an appearance, Mayuka was truly horrific again. The bloke hasn’t got a clue and I’m struggling to think of a worse Saints player ever who has got on the pitch. Even Ali Dia had a fucking shot. Mayuka never seems to even touch the ball suggesting that he has no awareness or football brain whatsoever. What is the point of him being on the bench? We loan out Gaston Ramirez and keep this fucking idiot? I know he’s probably not on big wages but what the actual fuck is he doing on the bench when Ryan Seager or Sam McQueen cannot possibly be worse. Mayuka was not the reason we lost today and he came on in the middle of a horrific team performance but he’s dreadful in whatever situation he comes on. He was shit when he came on in the 8-0 game against Sunderland when they’d given up.
The biggest problem is that we were outfought and outplayed by a League 1 side. At 1-0 there was only one team creating chances and looking like scoring and there was only one team winning the second balls and making life difficult and it wasn’t us. 4500 Saints fans paid to watch that game and paid to travel up with the hope of cup semi-final. If you play well and fight hard and get beat then no one minds but there’s a feeling that we didn’t give it 100%. However, flooding Twitter with demands for refunds is moronic. Sometimes in away game your team will be shite. It’s part of the gamble when you decide to go. Christ, during the Branfoot days people would have been asking for refunds after an away win because the performances were so bad.
Moving on as that’s all we can do and Everton at home awaits on Saturday. The midfield options look very thin as Morgan and Big Vic are banned and Corky and Steve Davis are injured. Davis might make it but even so, Toby Alderweireld will have to play in midfield with Maya at the back. Tadic is injured so I guess it will be the returning Pellè up front with Long and Mané who are desperately out of form. I expect to see a lot of Academy kids on the bench and whatever team is out there will be trying to arrest a run of 5 defeats in a row. This sure isn’t going to be easy.
Keep the faith… again.