Monday, November 23, 2015

Premier League Match 13 - Southampton 0 Stoke 1

Graziano Celebrates Having a Week Off

The time since the last Saints game had been dominated by the terrorist attacks in Paris.  England played France in a friendly which was a played in a really good atmosphere of support for our near neighbours which was very good to see and it was good that out normal way of life was not disrupted.  People carried on and people went to football matches.

This all happened during what was an international week and once the average supporter got their head around reading about the terrorism, it was a case of scanning the internet for news of whether any of our players had come back injured from their playoff games or their friendlies.  Shane Long had played 35 minutes for Ireland in their successful Euro 16 playoff game against Bosnia and the media had tries to turn Ronald Koeman’s ‘surprise’ at this into a huge ‘Club v Country’ issue and had failed.  Our only issue seemed to be around Virgil van Dijk who had a knee problem, causing a precautionary half time removal but Ronald revealed that we had another issue which had nothing to do with internationals as J-Rod’s problem with his foot was probably going to result in more surgery.  He doesn’t have much luck does he?

Today we play Stoke who are traditionally horrible opposition.  The style of rugby that they used to play under Tony Pulis has been replaced with a style of rugby which does at least have some flair with the inclusion of Xherdan Shaquiri, Bojan Krkic and Marco Arnautovic.  They still have Ryan Shawcross playing at centre mountaineer and Charlie Adam at centre thug.  In goal they have Jack Butland who has been superb this season and cemented his spot as 2nd choice England keeper with Fraser Forster being injured.  Virgil is fit so Saints have just the one surprise in the line up with Sadio Mané being on the bench and Shane Long starting.  It annoys me slightly that Sadio manages to arrive back late from every international break and I’m pondering why Gaston Ramirez is not on the bench.  Also, why is Long starting when he’s on just got fit again and Juanmi is on the bench again.  If ever there was an indicator that Juanmi is not impressing the management then this is it.  Personally, I’d have started Gaston.

Anyhow, my opinion does not matter - It’s Stoke, it’s fucking cold, let’s do this.... but first, let’s listen to La Marseillaise. OK.  Away we go.

Right.  As it’s Stoke and Shawcross – do we have a decent referee?  Hmm, it appears not as the mountaineering starts and no free kick given.  We don’t look too bad though and have the first real effort as the ball drops to Tadic on the left of the penalty area and he finds space to fire one across goal and wide of the far post.  Stoke create a chance which Bojan scuffs at the keeper but that’s not the issue – the issue is how east it was for them to build up and get into the position to have a shot.

We then do that horrible ‘standing off’ thing which has made a few appearances this season. Tadic gives it away on the left wing and we  allow Stoke to pass it about at will with Arnautovic and Pieters combining whilst under no pressure and the latter firing over a low cross and Bojan makes a run in front of Fonte and superbly flicks it past Stekelenburg and inside the post.  Oh shit, 1-0.  I’m forseeing a horrible afternoon ahead as the gameplan Stoke clearly have of defending deep and hitting on the break is now going to be even more difficult to combat because they have a lead to hold on to.

It has to be said though that their forward play is really dangerous, in complete contrast to ours.  Whereas we go pass-pass-sideways-pass-backwards-pass-pass-lump-to Pellè–lose it, Stoke go pass forwards-pass forwards-pass forwards-shoot with Shaqiri firing over and then bringing another good save out of Stekelenburg.

We do have a few chances but nothing that you’d call a good chance and we don’t get any on target.  Firstly José Fonte gets up to meet an inswinging free kick from Davis but gets too much on the header and headed it over.  Our next free kick is rubbish but is dropped by Butland under no pressure and Big Vic can only stab it wide.  I would have been interesting if Vic had tried to take it round Butland as the keeper just threw himself at the ball and would have trashed him.  Then, a Stoke attack broke down and we broke through Tadic but with Long failing to make a good enough angle for a pass, he took it on himself and lashed it high and wide of the near post.

I think that Cédric must have a second job as a crash test dummy.  Never does a game go by without him getting smacked in the face and needing some sort of bandage stuck on his head.  Perhaps the club could sell a patented Cédric crash helmet for kids who keep running into things.  He’s down for about 3 minutes but the ref decides that he’s cold so spot on 45 minutes, we’re straight off for half time without any time being added.

The half time break is a time for pondering what has gone on in the preceding 45 minutes and wondering what is going to change in the second half. That's what it usually for anyway. Today it was a time for thinking back over my 40 years of watching Saints and wondering if there had ever been a less enjoyable 45 minutes of football. I’m sure there has been but this one is right down there.  This general state of misery was not helped by the fact that it was fucking freezing cold.

The second half starts with some half arsed shambles from us and loads of space for them with Arnautovic finding Shaqiri who again fired over.  Arnautovic is an odd player.  His body language infers that he’s in a permanent sulk and he has a stupid little pony tail which makes him look like a twat but underneath all that, he’s a good player who most of the time, puts in a good shift defensively.

Finally some pressure as we start to ping it about with a bit more purpose but it’s all still in front of Stoke with no sustained pace in the attacks.  There’s some decent football but it always breaks down on the edge of the box or it goes to Tadic who get s a cross in which in either shin height or floated straight to Butland. We look like we’re trying to walk it in and sheer weight of number in the Stoke defence makes this impossible.  There’s on bit of play where Virgil brings it out of defence and plays a 1-2.  He picks it up again and tries to play another 1-2 but we check out and knock in backwards again.  He’s made a run and Charlie Adam is not going to track him but we turn around and come out again and Virgil’s left on the edge of the area, thirty yards ahead of the ball and waving his arms about because he didn’t get it back.  Vic sidefoots just wide from the edge of the box and Ronald decides that 65 minute sis enough and Sadio Mané comes on but it’s strange that Clasie is coming off as he’s been decent and easily our best passer of the ball.

No sooner has the change been made then Long runs across the top of the box and has a crap dive over an Arnautovic challenge.  I can’t even be bothered to appeal as it’s that obvious.  Lee Mason again shows he’s shit by not booking him.  With Davis having dropped back into Clasie’s position we are just about holding our own in midfield but then he’s taken off and replaced with JWP.  Our midfield has now disappeared and it’s just a case of waiting for Stoke to score and with that, Arnautovic strolls through and smashes one over the bar.

The only way we’re going to get anything is from a set piece (unlikely as we’re wafting them all straight to the keeper) or a penalty and we should have one as Wollscheid hacks Pellè over but the twat with the whistle is not having any of it.  To confirm that nothing is going to happen, Juanmi comes on for Cédric and his crash helmet, so we now have five strikers on.  All that happens is more Stoke chances as Afellay gets one on target which is past the keeper but cleared off the line by Bertrand.  We are resorting to pumping it long and from one of these bombs, Graziano clearly controls it with his arm, the referee blows and Pellè just smashes the ball into the crowd and has a yellow card waved at him before it’s even landed.  Great. 5 bookings and out of the Man City game next week.  End.

What a miserable game that was and thank Christ it's over. It is very easy to dismiss it as just one of those days and I guess it was but you have to look at why. A lot of it was down to stoke been Stoke and all the niggly fouls and climbing and all that sort of stuff. You of course need a good referee to stop all that and we didn't have one today as we had big fat bald guy Lee Mason who was terrible. How he missed the foul on Pellé defies belief.  Despite not giving us a penalty, Mason is not the reason we played so badly though as that lies a lot closer to home.

Whether it was the cold weather or the French issue I don't know but for whatever reason, a number of our players just didn't seem up for it today including the whole forward line which kind of means you’re going to struggle to score. The worst offender was Graziano who despite not getting much of the ball still managed to not fight for it or hold it up once and I don't think he held Shawcross or Wollscheid off once. They would have been expecting a really hard game but it must have resembled a training game for them.  Most of our good moments came through to Tadic but he in the main was dreadful and then we had Shane Long being Shane Long with no first touch, no composure and throwing himself around looking for free kicks and penalties that were never going to be given and just resulted in us losing the ball again. So that's the whole forward line who were terrible and then we had Sadio Mane coming on, on the right wing where he was pretty ineffective and the last throw of the dice was to bring Juanmi on who added another 10 minutes to his tally of minutes for Saints when he hasn't touched the ball. We may as well have put Steven Caulker on upfront and just launched it as it would've been more effective. Again, why is Juanmi on the bench when Gaston Ramirez is not? I know he's going in January or at the end of the season but for now, he's our player, we are paying him, and on merit he deserves to be on the bench. In fact, you could make a strong case for him being in the team today instead of Shane Long.

On the positive side, it was another good performance by Jordy Clasie who was always looking to pass the ball quickly and pass it forwards. It was strange to take him off because he was our best player and we just got worse once he went off.  Changing the formation never seems to work for us so in hindsight we should have taken either Long or Tadic off when Mané came on and kept the same formation. We hear lots of talk about impact subs but all our subs did today was make it worse. JWP did less than Davis as it just meant we were more open in midfield and it was only down to their shite finishing that Stoke didn't win two or three nil. As mentioned earlier, bringing Juanmi on is a waste of time.

A win today would have put us fifth but of course we have now dropped down to 8th and a lot of teams have closed in including bloody Liverpool who managed a quite ridiculous 4-1 win at Manchester City who will be keen to put that right when they play us at the Etihad next week. We will be without Pelle, thanks to his moronic booking today, though this may work out in our favour as we will have Long and Mane up against Di Michaelis and Mangala who are both as slow as you like.

I know it's a day for keeping the faith but as I froze my bollocks off, trudging back across the Itchen Bridge, I didn't really feel like it. We were fucking rubbish today and all we can hope for is that when we look back in May, that this is our worst performance of the season…. Apart from Midtjylland away perhaps... ok, our worst league performance of the season.... apart from Everton.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

England Euro 16 Squad Prediction

Oi You... Out... You Don't Play for Spurs or United

(Writtem before the Spain friendly)

Having had the easiest qualification group in the history of modern civilisation, England have organized some high profile friendlies against decent countries… the kind of opposition that Wayne Rooney never scores against if it’s a competitive game.  The idea is probably to get us into some sort of shape for the tournament itself but this of course will be offset by England’s traditional half arsed 6-subs-at-half-time-keep-the-big-clubs-managers-happy approach.  We all know that if the big names like Rooney play badly in these games then it won’t make any difference to their chances of selection for the tournament but if Jamie Vardy has a poor game in one of his cameo appearances on the wing then he’ll be discarded and replaced in the squad by Daniel Sturridge, even if he doesn’t play a single one of these friendlies, which he won’t because he’ll be in a full body cast.

I thought it would be fun to try and predict what Uncle Roy’s squad will be for Euro 2016. I have made the assumption that everyone will be fit which of course they won’t be.  Excuse the cynicism that will no doubt pervade the rest of this article.

Goalkeepers – These will be Joe Hart and Jack Butland.  The third one will be Fraser Forster if he’s back playing by then.  Once you’re past these three then the cupboard is pretty bare as you’re down to the horrific John Ruddy.

Right Back – Nathaniel Clyne will be first choice as he’s now a much better player than last year because he plays for Liverpool.  There won’t be a second right back on the plane because one of the centre backs will play there, probably John Stones who will in fact probably start because the media will demand his inclusion somewhere in much the same way as they demanded Raheem Sterling in the starting line up for the World Cup.  Other right backs who get in the squad occasionally include Kyle Walker who gets in because he plays for Spurs and no other reason.  He can’t defend and has no positional sense – other than that he’s great.

Left Back – It’ll be Shaw and Baines if Shaw is fit.  He’ll probably be half fit so Baines will start and it’ll be proven yet again that he cannot defend for shit.  Ryan Bertrand will be left out no matter how well he plays for the rest of the season and will be behind Kieran Gibbs in the pecking order because not playing for Arsenal will be ranked above playing every game for Southampton.  Spurs have an English left back as well so Bertrand will probably be 5th choice.

Centre Backs – Cahill and Smalling will start no matter how bad Cahill is in Chelsea’s defence this season.  It’s scary how Smalling has suddenly become our best centre back but he has improved so fair play.  You would think that the other two in the squad will be Phil Jagielka and John Stones.  However, here is always the chance of Phil Jones sneaking in there because 5 years ago, someone said he was the new Duncan Edwards when he’s in fact, the new Phil Neville as he can play badly in a number of positions.  This does not make him versatile.  In his main position of centre back he’s like a cross between Dejan Lovren (out of position and desperately trying to recover) and Steven Caulker (ball watcher).  He’s a Roy favourite though and apparently, according to Roy, “the country will ask questions if Phil Jones isn’t selected.”

Defensive Midfield – This will be interesting because Eric Dier may well make a late run because a) he plays for Spurs, b) he plays for Tottenham, c) Come on you Spurs and d) When the Spurs go Marching In.  Then you have my two favourites in Milner and Henderson who are both symptomatic of the problem that we’ve had in the England team for 40 years – an inability to keep the ball.  They run around a lot but have little actual ability with the ball.  This apparently makes them reliable (in the same way that Phil Jones is versatile). They will both certainly be in the squad and one if not both of them will be in the starting XI.  Roy seems to love Michael Carrick despite pulling out of about 10 England internationals in a row.  Opposition midfielders will be gagging for the chance to put him under the slightest pressure so he’ll be useless.  However, Roy rates the non-tackling, non-running central midfielder.  If fit, Jack Wilshere will be selected and probably stuffed into defensive midfield where he’s not very good.  Fabian Delph will probably fit into this category as well and he should be fresh after playing about 5 games for Manchester City this season.  Then we have Deli Alli who Hodgson said would be straight back into the Under 21s after the last game but of course, he isn’t.  Billed as a defensive midfielder, he came on as sub at Number 10 so who knows?  He might have a chance because of who he plays for as opposed to Jonjo Shelvey who will fall by the wayside as the season goes on as Swansea struggle.  He’s not a big name and not at a big club so will be easy to leave out as no one in the media will give a shit.

Attacking Midfield – Ross Barkley has been the best player in England’s last few internationals but isn’t trusted by Hodgson so he’ll be in the squad but probably not in the team as Rooney will have to play somewhere won’t he.  Adam Lallana will get in the squad as there’s always room for a player who clearly has fitness issues and you need them when you have potentially 6 games in a month.  I wonder if they still give out physical England caps and if they do, does Lallana get 60% of one, without the peak or something.  Raheem Sterling will start on the left despite not having anything resembling a left foot but he cost a lot of money so he’ll be in.  On the right will probably be Theo Walcott whose best position is down the middle but Rooney plays there.  Alex Chamberlain will be in the squad as well as he always is as he’s used to playing 1 game in 5 for his club and it might affect his confidence if he’s not selected.  Another who is probably better played centrally but he’ll be out on the wing because he can run.  I’d better include Jamie Vardy on here as if he makes the cut, he’ll be in the squad as an unused reserve left winger, even if he scores in every game he plays from now to the end of the season.  Mind you, to even get in the squad he’ll have to withstand the challenge of Danny Welbeck who will probably get one goal in the last game of the season and get in.

Strikers – We all know that Rooney will play and we all know that he should not be a starting player for England any more.  He’ll start, probably as the number 10.  He would be the main striker but for the emergence of Harry Kane who will start because a) he deserves to and b) Tottenham Tottenham, no one can stop them.  Actually, the one thing that will stop Kane starting will be Daniel Sturridge who will play if he can get a shirt on over his full body cast and some socks on over his two protective boots.  As I said, Rooney will start even though the world can see that he’s gone as a top level footballer.  The English disease of keeping a player past his sell by date as a reward for his past achievements.  It’s one of the reasons we do nothing in these tournaments and will continue to do that.  Top level sport is about being ruthless and decisive and we are just not that.  We took Frank Lampard to the last World Cup for Christ’s sake.

So, My (depressing) Prediction for Roy Hodgson’s England Squad for Euro 2016 is:

Hart, Butland, Forster
Clyne, Baines, Shaw, Cahill, Smalling, Stones, Jones
Wilshere, Henderson, Milner, Carrick, Lallana, Sterling, Chamberlain, Barkley, Walcott, Rooney, Kane, Sturridge, Welbeck

Gibbs, Bertrand, Jagielka, Alli, Dier, Delph, Shelvey & Vardy will all miss out.

The starting XI will be:

Hart; Stones, Cahill, Smalling, Baines; Henderson, Wilshere, Carrick; Rooney, Kane, Sterling

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Premier League Match 12 - Sunderland 0 Southampton 1

Ronald laughs at those who Question the Starting XI

A few weeks ago, our list of upcoming fixtures included matches against the managerial might of Bellend Sherwood , Cock Rodgers and Dick Advocaat.  By the time the games had come round and the opposition were faced with the proposition of playing Southampton, they sacked the said managers and replaced them.  For Bellend, Cock and Dick, read Caretaker, Klopp and Fat Sam.  The result of these changes is of course us having to contend with new manager bounce.  It didn’t do much for Villa or Liverpool and now it’s Sunderland’s turn to have a go.

Sunderland are one of those Premier League clubs, like Villa who appear to have been collecting incredibly average players.  Sunderland’s specialty has been players from Big Clubs who were never that good anyway and are either too old and on the way down like Wes Brown, John O’Shea, Younes Kaboul and Jermain Defoe… or they were brought into Big Clubs and because they weren’t the finished article, said big clubs couldn’t be arsed to develop them.  Players like DeAndre Yedlin (Spurs), Fabio Borini & Sebastian Coates (Liverpool), Adam Johnson & Jack Rodwell (Man City) and Patrick van Aanholt (Chelsea). They have a couple of decent ones in Yann M’vila and Jeremain Lens but for every one of those there’s a shithouse like Lee Cattermole and Seb Larsson.  Every time we play Sunderland I make some reference to Larsson’s ‘confront the referee’ face, looking like he’s licking piss off a stinging nettle and whoops, I did it again.  And now they have Fat Sam who has started with a 1-0 defeat at West Brom, a referee assisted 3-0 win at home to Newcastle when they got played off the park and last week, a 6-2 dicking at Everton.  After that result, I’m guessing we’ll get park the bus, long ball performance today.

All is more or less well in Saints world.  Today we have to deal with Big Vic being suspended and we still have injuries to the back up strikers but Shane Long is back in training so it shouldn’t be too long before he returns though I’m sure he’s aiming at the Ireland play-off game next week.  Despite the lack of new injury concerns, I was still a bit alearmed witht eh team selection with Maya being preferred to Cédric at right back but the real shock was JWP being preferred in midfield to Romeu which means a midfield three of JWP, Clasie and Steve Davis – lightweight or what.  The bench looks horrific too… we have a very old man in a goalkeeper kit with his helper, we have a centre back in Caulker, a right back in Cédric and a defensive midfielder in Romeu.  The attacking options are Juanmi who you know will come on and do nothing and Ryan Seager who you know will not come on.  The one remaining place which should have been filled by Gaston, instead has gone to Martina, giving us two specialist right backs – well, you can never have too many right backs.  For Sunderland, surprisingly, Lens and Defoe are on the bench, Cattermole is injured which means he’s given up before the game instead of giving up after half an hour like he usually does.  Larsson is nowhere, I assume licking piss of a stinging nettle or chewing a wasp.

Sunderland kick off, knock it back to centre back and hoooooooof up to Fletcher, who loses it against Virgil and there’s no one with 30 yards to help him out.  Wonderful stuff.  We settle down and play some decent possession stuff but don’t really create a chance until 15 minutes in when Clasie swings a ball out towards Tadic whose header puts Pellè in on the left nad his superb back heel is right into Tadic path.  He tries to pass it into the corner but the giant Pantillimon stops it with his foot.  A decent chance gone.

Clasie is controlling things, just picking the ball up front the defenders and spreading it wide again to Tadic.  His cross takes a deflection and eventually falls to Mané whose half volley is beaten out again by the keeper.

Sunderland really are bad up front.  Fletcher is getting no change out of Virgil and José and the players supporting him, Watmore and Toivanen and not getting involved.  Toivanen eventually gets on the ball and in a real ‘what the fuck was that’ moment, slices a shot at the corner flag.  Utter filth.  A Saints break is halted y a cynical pull back from Johnson and he gets cautioned – not for the first time in his life though usually it’s by the Police rather than a referee.

Half time arrives and it’s been both a good and frustrating half.  We’ve been the better side by a mile and the only one playing any football but it’s still 0-0 and we haven’t really looked like scoring.  The longer it stays 0-0, the more likely I think it is that they’ll sneak a goal like they always do when we play up here and nick it.

Borini is on for the hopeless Toivanen but it does little to change the pattern of the game with Mané having our first effort of the second half with a drive from 25 yards being beaten out by Lurch in goal for Sunderland.  If anything we’re more dominant in midfield with the three midgets running the game.  There’s no pressure being put on them and they can just free Mané and Tadic at will.  Tadic is always getting his cross in and we win corner after corner.  At every corner, Virgil is being wrestled by Billy Jones and it’s ridiculous.  He’s almost got both arms round him and both his feet off the ground like a small child hanging onto their Dad.  In the book of Mike Jones this is ok though.  Virgil’s too nice – he should be moaning like a bastard at the referee so that next time at least he’ll have a fair chance of getting to the ball.

Another great chance as JWP, again under no pressure, finds Tadic who crosses.  Mané gets onto the end of it, beats a defender in the box and sees his shot blocked before Graziano has another shot blocked for a corner.  Another corner, José flicks it goalwards and Yedlin clears off the line as Sadio steamed in. Sunderland have a rare break which ends with Watmore passing the ball straight to Stekelenburg but then it’s business as usual.  The usual like up between the unpressured JWP and Tadic, a cross, a clearance by Kaboul and Steve Lampard Davis shoots past the Lurch, only for Coates to get back on the line and clear it.  Bastard.

You feel it has to happen soon and another good build up involving Fonte and all the midfielders sees Tadic play Bertrand in on the ‘underlap’ and M’Vila makes one of those decisions which makes you wonder if there’s any judgment at all in his head and launches in at Bertrand who knocks it past him and gets carted over. Penalty – even in the book of Mike Jones.  I’m a little more confident in Tadic these days from the spot and he doesn’t disappoint with a perfect well struck penalty into the inside of the net giving the Lurch no chance even though he went the right way.

Mysteriously, Fat Sam replaces Fletcher with Rodwell and straight from kick off we appear to have switched off and are taken aback by Sunderland passing the ball on the ground.  They create an opening for Johnson and his cross eventually finds Borini who hits it first time but Stekelenburg is alert and claws it away from the near post top corner. The resulting corner is headed backwards and hits Maya on the back/shoulder as he challenges.  Half arsed penalty shouts, piss off.  Defoe is on for Sunderland, replacing Gomez who has done nothing and Saints bring on Romeu for Clasie and Juanmi for Mané..

We have just one more moment to worry about as Virgil commits an unnecessary foul on Borini on the edge of the box and up steps Noncin’ Johnson and curls it just over the bar.  The rest of the game is played out in relative comfort and there appear to be no belief from Sunderland that they can back into it.  Caulker puts in an appearance in the 90th minute, replacing Tadic and that’s just about it.  Comfortable.

Well we got there in the end and that's just fine and dandy, even though we needed a penalty to do it. As a Saints fan for 40 years, I have never once moaned about the nature of a victory and I am not about to start now. I remember a series of one nil wins under Ian Branfoot, achieved with terrible football but the bottom line was that they were 1-0 wins and we got three points and we didn't get relegated that year. We really should have won a lot more comfortably today but bearing in mind our usual result at Sunderland, I'll take it.

We played pretty well today until the final third where there seemed to be a certain something lacking. Sunderland barely troubled us in defence at all. I remember one save from Stekelenburg which came straight after we scored but other than that, Sunderland did absolutely nothing and were basically, as the chant goes, fucking shit.

There's nothing quite like watching a Fat Sam team launching the ball up to a centre forward from 70 yards away and the centre forward has no one within 30 yards of him. I'm not a great fan of Stephen Fletcher and I don't think he's a particularly good player but he had absolutely no chance today and he must've been really pleased when he got substituted. The funny thing is, Fat Sam will probably turn it round as he always seems to. Ask any Sunderland fan whether they'd take a few 1-0 wins now.  Just when you think that the dinosaur managers are going out of the game, Fat Sam gets another job, Neil Warnock finds employment again and you just know that Redknapp is sitting there hoping Bournemouth keep losing.  There must be some sort of managerial Jurassic Park lab out there somewhere which brainwashes club owners into continually employing these fossils.

I was really concerned when I saw that JWP was replacing Big Vic and I couldn't understand Yoshida's selection either. I guess it's a lesson to me that Ronald knows best. JWP's inclusion enabled us to dominate possession of the ball in midfield and even when we lost it we soon got it back as Sunderland just launched it and Maya at right back was the right choice because he is good in the air. Sure, we lost a bit going forward without Cedric and Mané seemed to struggle a bit due to no full back overlapping and giving him a bit more space and another option for a pass. You wouldn't expect a midget lightweight midfield of JWP, Clasie and Davis to be effective against a Fat Sam team but as today proved, you need your height and strength at the back to deal with the air raids. There’s no need to be trying too much to win the ball in midfield because Sunderland are going to be launching it and your centre backs can just pick the ball up so why not put your best 3 passers in midfield.  At the back, Jose and particularly Virgil, were superb. It was just a battle for them against Fletcher but they held strong when Defoe came on. Now, I hate Defoe, as he is a horrible little shit, he used to play for Pompey, he used to play for Spurs and I feared the worst when he came on but the worst was what he came up with as I don't remember him even touching the ball in the 20 or so minutes he was on for.

Big Ron was rightly pleased with the performance and the ‘total domination’ of the game whilst acknowledging that we should have won by more.  Fat Sam had a go at clutching at straws with the Yoshida penalty incident but he didn’t even sound very convincing at that and he did acknowledge that we were by miles the better side.  Looks like the Fat One has his work cut out this year.

So, another international break and we sit seventh in the league which we would certainly have settled for at the start of the season. We are above Liverpool and miles above Chelsea so life is pretty good. Next up we have Stoke at home and then the fixtures get interesting with a visit to Manchester City and Arsenal and Tottenham coming to St.Marys... all coming in the next six games. Yes it’s tough games and we may conceivably might lose a couple but look at it this way, we could be top of the league after that little lot.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Premier League Match 11 - Southampton 2 Bournemouth 0

Graziano's Haka - Can you Imagine Him with Cauliflower Ears?

Bournemouth at home.  The question has been asked all over both the mainstream media and social media- is this a derby? Of course it totally depends on what your definition of a Derby is. Southampton and Bournemouth are obviously close geographically. If that's your only criteria then it's a derby. However, the two cities are not in the same county, the two cities have no historical rivalry based on anything outside of football.  So, in those regards it's like Portsmouth v Brighton – close geographically, different counties, no history etc.   For me it’s not a Derby.  When we were in the same division as Pompey, from the second the fixtures were released, the dates of the two games were etched in my mind and I was thinking about the games against them pretty much every day.  Bournemouth is just not like that and it never will be. Today is a home game for us against a team that is really struggling near the bottom of the league and we should get three points. If we don't get three points then I'll be pissed off but I won't be any more pissed off than if we dropped points at home to Sunderland or Aston Villa or anyone else down near the bottom. When we lose to Pompey it's the worst feeling in the world and the fact that we've dropped points or been knocked out of the cup or whatever it is, really doesn't matter as much as the fact that we've lost to 'them'.  Sure, if we lose today there’ll be some Bournemouth abuse coming in our direction but no more than we’d get from anyone else.  So, for me… not a Derby.  More Bournemouth fans seem to want to make this a proper Derby – maybe they will be in the same division as Poole Town in a few years.

Following the Villa win, there were no alarms over player fitness so we all kind of knew how the team was going to line up. The first choice back 4, Big Vic, Little Jordy and Steve Davis in midfield and the usual 3 up front.  With Shane and J-Rod still ont he injury list, there’s room on the bench for Gaston Ramirez but not for Cuco Martina, probably because he’s shit. 

Bournemouth’s notable players include Andrew Surman in midfield, a player who I never thought would be good enough to play in the Premier League but here he is and fair play to him.  Another thing pointing as this being a non-Derby was his pre-match interview where he said he’d always be a Saints fan at heart.  Can you imagine the reaction if a Pompey player said that?  Glenn Murray is their spearhead in the absence of the injured Callum Wilson and he’s got ‘Championship Standard’ written all over him.  The most interesting is Matt Ritchie who was a product of Pompey’s youth academy and was then released for not being good enough when Pompey were trying to cheat the squad restrictions they were under at the time for financial irregularities and basically being skint – their logic being, release the youngster so we can get in another expensive player but keep to the squad number restrictions.  Anyhow, Ritchie went off to Swindon and became a very good player, eventually earning a move to Bournemouth and promotion to the Premier League scoring about 20 goals from midfield and a call up to the full Scotland squad.  Well played Skates.

Away we go and both teams look fairly confident in the opening exchanges.  Murray not being able to run is the first thing I notice and Bournemouth are fairly deep which allows us to build up unhindered.  Davis is making some good runs into space in midfield and Fonte picks him out.  Onto Cédric and a first time ball to Graziano which he hits first time and sees it loop onto the roof of the net from a deflection.

Bournemouth can’t seem to get the ball clear and we camp in the final third for a bit before Cédric and Tadic combine to put Mané in but once again, a last ditch block takes it over the bar.  We are wasting some good crossing positions with Cédric hitting one of those shite ones that you hold up and apologise for cos no one’s near it and it’s landing on top of the keeper.  Federici, who has always been shite, just flaps it out into the middle of the penalty area.  If you were throwing a ball at a kid and trying to teach him how to play in goal, you’d expect them to catch that one.  We nearly make him pay as Bertrand slings a cross in, Graziano heads down expertly and Mané volleys it into the ground and watches it bounce just over the bar.

Our first mistake is Davis getting his feet in a mess and losing the ball in midfield and Bournemouth get Smith away down the right.  As he cust in he’s trashed by Big Vic which is a deserved yellow card and a free kick about 25 yards out and central.  We all know Ritchie can shoot but they make a complete bollocks of the routine and he doesn’t even get a shot away as he’s closed down.

We have a shout for a penalty as Clasie fires one in from the edge of the box and it hits Francis as he turns away from it.  Would have been very harsh if given but the next time Clasie picks the ball up, he threads a ball along the ground to Pellè, a first time layoff inside the full back and Bertrand fires over a cross and goalscoring midfielder Steve Davis arrives to crash it into the net on the volley.  Great goal.  He’s just like Frank Lampard with his goalscoring prowess, he really is.

Five minutes of possession later and it gets even better.  Mané picks it up in midfield and scoops a pass over the defence to Tadic out on the left.  He lines up Smith, buys a yard and swings over a superb cross and in comes Graziano, getting the jump on the ex-Skate pensioner Distin and burying the header into the top corner.  Fabulous goal again and the big man continues his rugby themed celebrations by going over to the bench and pulling out a kind of crap short version of the Haka with a member of our backroom team who is apparently a New Zealander.

Bournmeouth do create a little opening before half time as the ball is slipped behind Fnte to Murray but whilst he dithers, across comes Virgil to save the day with a superbly timed challenge to make sure we go in at half time, still leading 2-0.

With Fonte limping a bit at the end of the first half, it was no surprise to see him go off and Yoshida take his place.  Eddie Howe has decided that he’s seen enough of Murray trying to be a striker and replaced him with Josh King with Junior Stanislas replacing Marc Pugh who was once linked with us back in League 1 days.  Instantly, it’s much better from Bournemouth who look like they have a bit of pace and zip about them all of a sudden.

We’re suddenly not getting close to them at all and Gosling has a shot but he’s off balance and smashes it over the bar by miles.  Tadic is looking the only spark for us as he sends a speculative volley wide and is then on the end of a really crude lunge from behind from Francis which gets the Bournemouth carthorse a deserved yellow card.

Harry Arter is a Bournemouth player with a decent reputation who has been out injured but he’s back today and running at the defence with good effect until Virgil carts him over.  They don’t trust Ritchie with another free kick after his first half shambles but they might as well have as Stanislas curls it comfortably wide.  They do nearly catch us out with a short corner routine where Smith suddenly appears with the ball on the by line with all kinds of space to pick out a cross but there’s no quality on the smash across goal and it misses everybody and there’s no chance of getting a penalty after a rather desperate appeal by Arter after the ball hits Cédric full in the chest.

Despite them still not managing a shot on target, Ronald is clearly irritated and Clasie is off to be replaced by Romeu.  Five minutes later and the ticking time bomb of Big Vic does off as he cuts down little fat shit Tomlin and gets a deserved second yellow and off he goes, promting another change with JWP coming on for Tadic.  I am a bit nervous that if the resulting free kick hits the net then we could be struggling but it hits the wall and happy days.  They aren’t going to score, even with us only having 10 men.

Ex-Skate Ritchie takes aim and is blocked by Virgil before it eventually finds its way back to him and he fires over. It takes until 84 minutes for Bournemouth to have a shot on target as Tomlin again defies his body shape and cuts into the box but his shot at the near post is easily beaten out by Stekelenburg.  Two minutes later he has to pick up a daisy cutter from King which was on target even though it would have barely reached.  We manage one half break out of defence and Mané knocks the ball round Francis who crashes into him in clumsy fashion but despite losing the ball, Sadio stays on his feet which saved the Bournemouth carthorse from a second yellow card.  It doesn’t matter but referees should give a foul even if the fouled player doesn;lt hit the deck.

Thank Christ that's over. Not because we were ever going to lose or even draw but because the second half was an excruciatingly bad performance in terms of putting any passes together and actually threatening to have a shot. It must have been really boring to watch for any neutrals watching on Sky as Bournemouth passed it around and kept the ball but didn't actually manage their first shot on target until the 86th minute. It's debatable if they even have managed one shot if we'd kept 11 players on the pitch.  Whilst we're on that subject, Big Vic was bloody awful today and really should've been substituted before he got sent off.

So why were we so bad in the second half, having dominated the first? Was it that when Jose Fonte went off, we just lost our leadership? Bournemouth undoubtedly played better but we should have been good enough to be a threat on the break but we hardly did anything. Saints have this worrying tendency to not play for large portions of games. Manchester United at home, Leicester at home and is now Bournemouth at home have all seen that 'half hour and nothing' thing that we do where we just stand off and let the opposition dictate the game.

It’s great to read that José Fonte has been saying the same thing about us slacking off and not putting teams to the sword.  That’s the single best thing about Saints under Koeman – everyone seems to be honest and not hiding away from the truth.  It’d be nice if everyone in the Chapel End got a refund as the ball was never up that end of the pitch for the entire game.

All the positives came in the first half when we were excellent and it really looked like men against boys.  It took half an hour for us to score and it was as soon as we got some quality into our crosses.  Two great crosses from Bertrand and Tadic and two very good finishes from Davis and Pellè.  Before the goals, there was almost total control of the game as Bournemouth were made to look incredibly ordinary and were rattled to the extent that they were almost frightened to commit anyone forward which is what we were like tin the second half.  We never appeared rattled though, even when down to 10 men.

Cédric had a good game aside from his crosses frequently flying miles over everyone and Virgil van Dijk was again immense.  The tackle he executed when it looked like Murray had a tap-in in the first half was worth the entrance fee alone.  Graziano bossed the rather agricultural Bournemouth centre backs in the first half before finding it more difficult in the second due to a lack of support.  A word too for Sadio Mané who was very disciplined in his defensive work but did spend too much of the game away from the goal we should have been attacking.  I was also encouraged by the display of Jordy Clasie who used the ball well.  He needs to man up a bit in the tackle so opposition players don’t just run through him but he’s getting better each game and adapting well.

In the car on the way home I managed to catch a bit of the Radio Solent dissection of the game and the question was asked about would Bournemouth stay up.  The panel of Jimmy Case, flannelled around it but in my opinion they basically have to get through to January and not be cut adrift and buy a striker or else they’ve got no chance.  They went into the season with Callum Wilson and they gambled that he’d score goals in this league and not be another striker who scored loads in the Championship before dieing on his arse in the Premier League.  Wilson made a promising start but his injury leaves them screwed.  I bet we get to Christmas and Wilson will still be their top scorer with 4 goals or whatever.  Glen Murray will be lucky to score 5 all season, Ritchie will get 5 or 6 from midfield but other than that they’re in the shit.  You cannot survive without goals and their current squad doesn’t have enough.

Onwards we go and it’s Sunderland away next.  They were somewhat fortunate to win their last home game against Newcastle due to a dodgy red card but normal service was resumed when they got smashed 6-2 by Everton today.  Fat Sam is in charge up there now, bringing with him his Total Football philosophy so Ronald will no doubt expect to be confronted with slick passing moves and possession football.  It’s a ground we never seem to win at no matter how bad Sunderland are but as long as we play for the whole game next week, there is absolutely no reason why not.