Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Did Someone Say 'Group Stages'

The FA Cup Wining One, The Europa League Qualifying One and The Imploding One

The Monday after the last game of the season saw the England squad announcement for Euro 2016 and Hodgson named 26 players, 3 of whom will be omitted at the deadline.  From a Saints point of view, both Ryan Bertrand and Fraser Forster are in and as there are only 3 keepers and 7 defenders named, they will be in the final 23.  Assuming there are no injuries, you would assume the three to be left out would be three from Henderson, Delph, Drinkwater and Rashford.  Out of the midfielders in the 26, I’d say Wilshere, Alli, Dier, Milner, Townsend, Lallana, Sterling and Barkley are nailed on, along with Kane, Vardy, Sturridge and Shrek up front.  If Roy doesn’t have Drinkwater in the squad somewhere then he needs his head testing.

Tuesday night saw Kelvin Davis’s Testimonial and it ticked all the boxes that it needed to tick with approximately 20,000 people turning up to pay respects to the man and to the players who did so much to make Southampton the success it’s been over the past 7 years.  Every player who was there has contributed something to the story and it was great to see them all out there enjoying themselves.  The managers were there too with the ridiculously popular Nigel Adkins in charge of the Promotions XI and even Pochettino turned up which (gritted teeth) was a nice touch by him and a very good photo emerged of the last three Saints managers along with Katharina Liebherr.

The first half was between the ‘best’ teams available and though played at the traditional testimonial walking pace, it was fun trying to see who ‘still had it’ out of the old boys.  I enjoyed seeing Radhi Jaidi thumping the ball half the length of the pitch with his head and Dean Hammond trying desperately hard not to kick people.  It was good of Punch to turn up given that he had the FA Cup Final to play in on Saturday and it was amusing when he went off after 10 minutes, accompanied by a toilet roll.  Sir Rickie was desperately trying to score but Stekelenburg was having none of it and pulled off a string of really good saves.

The penalty competition at half time was the predictable win for Sir Rickie that I thought it would be but I didn’t expect Matty to miss the target.  One of the few advantages of being 47 is that I’m the same age as Matt and so I saw practically his whole career.  Back in the day, you never ever felt that he was going to miss but even though that’s years ago, it was still a shock when he did.  It was a nice touch to wear the old shirt though.  I’ve got that one and it doesn’t fit me either.

The second half was a bit flat but some highlights were Kelvin’s boy coming on, scoring a penalty and Sadio Mané and Shane Long taking turns in running at Francis Benali on the wing.  All in all it was a great evening with a very emotional Kelvin addressing the crowd at the end.  You could tell he was emotional even though the PA was so shite you couldn’t hear anything if you were in the Kingsland like I was.  It was strange being back there – I’ve been 3 years in the family section of the Chapel Stand and all that was missing was the Chuckle Brothers who used to sit directly behind me.

What kept occurring to me throughout the game was that the players in the Promotions XI were such good characters.  No prima donnas who thought they were too good for the club.  It’s often forgotten that clubs give players contracts and then sells them on if they feel like it.  We only get the hump about it when it happens the other way round but a quick look round today and you see Frazer Richardson, Danny Butterfield, Dan Harding, Richard Chaplow, Dean Hammond, Billy Sharp and Lee Barnard – all players who contributed massively and all had time left on their contracts when we moved them on.  That team that got us promoted had no shitheads, though Lallana turned into a shithead later on.

Some of the pictures and videos that emerged afterwards were interesting.  One who turned up was Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain who Saints have been linked with and José Fonte has openly admitted to tapping up.  Seeing him in a video shaking hands with the players he had as team mates when he was 17 made me think how cool it would be if he came back.  With Chambers and Schneiderlin seeing their careers stall, how good would it be for a player who left to come back to relaunch his career to really hammer home that the grass isn’t always greener.

The serious football of the evening was being played at Old Trafford following the postponement on Saturday and Bournemouth totally failed to help out and got stuffed 3-1, so we finished 6th in the end, meaning that we have to want United to win the FA Cup so we can go straight into the Group Stages of the Europa League.  There was more serious football on Wednesday when Liverpool managed to surrender a half time lead and lost 3-1 to Sevilla in the Europa League Final which means no Europe for Liverpool next year which is a nice poke in the eye for Lovren, Lallana and Clyne who I assume will all be looking for a move to a team that plays in Europe.  Wankers.  The only downside is that they’ll do better in the league next season as a result or it may be that they’ll have absolutely no excuses next year.  I appear to be one of the view who has not bought all the hype about Klopp.  As Pochettino has learned, you have to have something other than pressing like a bunch of lunatics for 90 minutes and 50+ games.

Bournemouth’s capitulation left us in the uncomfortable position of needing Manchester United to win the FA Cup.  It was so hard watching the game because a) it was shite and b) wanting that bunch of wankers to win.  The first half was fucking dreadful, only serving to highlight what a shite referee Twattenburg is as he twice stopped a Palace break when they had a clear advantage, to give Palace the free kick and book a United player.  The second half was equally shite and then ex-Saint Punch came on and smashed in a superb goal as de Gea seemed to forget to cover his near post.  So, 1-0 to Palace with 10 minutes to go and Pardew is dad dancing at the side and within 3 minutes he’s sat down again as Mata equalizes.  Extra time and Smalling gets sent off a rugby tackle having already been booked but Palace seem to lack a bit of belief that they can win it and fair play, Lingard smashes in a superb volley to win the cup for United, send Saints into the Europa League group stages, send West Ham into the Europa League qualifying rounds.  Within two hours of him lifting the cup, the news was breaking that Mourinho was replacing Louis van Gaal at Old Trafford next season.  The very definition of classless, both from the media and from United themselves in that they couldn’t even reward the manager who has won them their first trophy in 3 years, with one night of celebration.  Absolute scumbags.  We can only hope that LVG won’t have a non-disclosure agreement in his severance package because he’s a gobshite so some interviews might get very interesting.  Now we can all get back to hating United again – the most detestable club, now with one of the most detestable managers. 

Talking of detestable managers, Brendan Rodgers has got another job in the non-League of Scotland as Celtic manager. True to form he said it’s not a step down from the Premier League.  I wonder if he listens to his own interviews and realises what a fuckwit he is.  I hope we sign whoever their highest rated player is and loan him to Rangers just for the irony.  I gather Brendan had ambitions to be a manager in a big league but clearly that has changed etc.

So, Europa League Group Stages for Saints and we’ll be much better prepared this time.  Last year, the qualifiers were pre-Virgil. Maya and Caulker were in the team and Bertrand, Forster and J-Rod were injured.  Now we have the media rumour-mongering to put up with.  Guess what… I’m not going to read it and I certainly won’t be commenting on it on here, certainly not on outgoing runours… incoming perhaps.  We’re the 6th best team in the country and players might want to join us.  It’s Euro 2016 time and that’ll no doubt give us all a lot to get angry about as Hodgson gets the least out of a good collection of England players.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

The League One Minus 10 Player Review of the Season 2015/16.

Juanmi Divides the Judges Opinions

Spoiler Alert: Fans of Juanmi may be better off elsewhere.

Fraser Forster 8 - Came back from 10 months of injury problems and kept six clean sheets in a row. His return coincided with our upsurge in form and he's been as good as he ever was.  His presence makes the whole back four play better. He is still prone to making the odd mistake regarding when to come off his line (Bournemouth away, Spurs away) but overall, his comeback couldn't really have gone any better.  Him signing a new contract to take him up to 2021 is a huge deal for the club as well and it tells the sniffing Chelsea to go look somewhere else.  It all starts with the goalkeeper (as Brian Clough used to say) and we’re lucky to have an excellent one.  As Koeman said, “Maarten did well but Fraser Forster is Fraser Forster”.

Maarten Stekelenburg 6.5 – I was really pleased when we managed to sign this guy at the start of the season. After all, he is played in a World Cup Final. He was competent enough, not letting in any crappy goals and his kicking and distribution was first class. However, he never seemed to make any game changing saves at all. If the shot was straight at him then he save it but if it was a decent shot then it went in. There was never a moment when I’d given up as the opposition shot as a goal and he appeared out of nowhere and to filling up an arm and tip it over the bar.  In fact, he pulled off more good saves in Kelvin’s testimonial than he did in the half a season he played.  I can't imagine he'd want to stick around next year and be second choice but he gave us a better alternative than we would've had without him at the start of the season and I imagine he could find a decent club to be first choice at.

Kevin Davis. As everyone knows, he's a great guy and a great presence and influence around the first team squad. He thoroughly deserved his testimonial and I hope he had a great night because he deserved that. From a ’playing for the first team’ point of view - thank fuck that's over as it has been about 4 years overdue. Leicester only lost three matches all season but it should have been four and then who knows what would have happened if they'd got the early loss they should've got at St. Mary's. We are to one up in the 95th minute and Kelvin has the ball in his hands. All he has to do is whack it miles and we’ve won but instead, he scuffed one out into midfield, headed forward and Vardy was clean through, goal, final whistle. However, it's not a time to think about what he isn't good at that, it's a time to remember his contribution in the two promotions seasons and the JPT final and of course, the away game at Leeds when for 90 minutes, he was the best goalkeeper on the planet.

Paolo Gazzaniga.  Finally it looks like he's improving into a goalkeeper who may possibly, one day, whisper it softly, be competent enough to be second choice. His performance in the one league game he started this year at Crystal Palace was actually very very good and kept us in the game even though we were completely shit and deserved to lose by many more than the one goal that we did lose by. With Gazza being basically fourth choice this season, I feel we missed a trick in not loaning him out to get a full season of football so we would be in a better position to judge whether he's ever going to be good enough.

Cedric Soares 6 - Has played at just over half of the Premier League games and in most of them has acquitted himself pretty well. It's a bit of a mystery why he's not been in the team the last month or so but I would expect him to better next season. In an ideal world, he would have been the back up to a more experienced right back this season. Good going forward with a decent cross on him. Defensively he could look a bit ropey at times but in the main did a decent job.  Needs to convince the manager that he’s going to improve significantly otherwise it’s one area of the team we need to strengthen.

Cuco Martina 6 - There are two Martina’s, pre-Arsenal wonder goal and post-Arsenal wonder goal.  Before the said goal, he would've been struggling to score more than one as he looked completely hopeless and he couldn’t have been more out of his depth if he was nailed to the bottom of the Channel.  Post-goal and much to my surprise, he has improved and now seems to be confident that he can play at this level and has not been bad at all. His crossing need to work as more often than not there’s not enough pace on the delivery and it just floats over and sometimes he just doesn't seem to react to danger when defending but for a player who was bought in solely to be cover, he's done okay.

Ryan Bertrand 9 - Mr Consistency which is what you want from a fallback. He is probably the best argument ever for leaving a big club where you are struggling to get a game and playing for a decent Premier League side. He's gone from nowhere to having a place in the Euro 2016 England squad and this is thoroughly deserved. He is the best English left back when you look at a combination of defence and attack. He's got it all and if Danny Rose gets picked ahead of him to start for England then it’s a fucking travesty. Also did well as a centre back when we switched to 3 at the back.

Matt Targett 6 - Looked a bit like a fish up a tree when he played at the start of the season when Bertrand was injured. Disappeared for a while but came back when we switched to 3 at the back and we needed a left wing back. Much to my surprise, he did very well in that position (I didn’t think he had the pace to play there) so overall and I think he will be pleased with his contribution this season.

José Fonte 8 – José has had another solid season. Struggled against pace a couple of times this season, particularly in the Leicester away game. Mind you, that was against Vardy who gave everyone nightmares. Even at 32 he is still a hugely influential player for us and I think he's got at least three years left in him at this level. A solid season for the captain and I hope he gets some game time for Portugal in the Euros.

Virgil van Dijk 9.5 - Apparently, some of the big boys didn't sign him because they thought he had flaws in his game. Let's see: he is virtually unbeatable in the air, very quick across the ground, isn't afraid of going in for a tackle, passes a ball 70 yards with either foot and is a big goal threat in the oppositions penalty area. Even better news is that we signed him and he's signed a six year contract with us. Player of the season by a mile and deservedly so.

Maya Yoshida 5 - A poor season to be honest. I'm not saying that because it seems like it's fashionable to have a go at Maya. I'm saying it because he's been worse this season than last, seemingly coughing up a goal per game whenever he's got on the pitch. An indication of how poor he's been is that Bertrand was used as a centre back instead of him when Fonte was suspended. His form this season means that we need better cover in the central defence. It has been a relief that he hasn't had to play too much.

Steven Caulker 2 – Came in before we signed Virgil and after the Alderweireld shambles and on the face of it, it looked a solid loan signing but he quickly showed everyone why he’d been relegated two years running.  Rumour has it that he had the largest turning circle ever seen in Southampton until that massive cruise ship was in town last week.  A decent half against Man City was followed but being ripped apart by Liverpool who then signed him on loan as we were more than happy to tear up our option.  Rumours of off the pitch issues as well and what should have been a great opportunity for him just died and his career will do the same.

Florin Gardos. Injured all season and only made it back to the under 21s about two weeks before the season finished. Next year he needs to prove that he is worth a place in the squad. Last year I thought that there was potential there but he needs to prove it all again and get ahead of your Yoshida in the pecking order.

Victor Wanyama 7 - How do you grade big Vic’s season? When he's at it he is one of the best players in the league but too often this season, especially in the first half of the season, he couldn't be bothered and missed loads of games through suspension due to some particularly brainless red cards. Had his head turned by Underhand Hotspur at the start of the season which directly affected our Europa League campaign (such as it was). With just the one year left on his contract, I assume he'll be gone but you never know, with other players signing long term deals he may just change his mind. It would be a very good thing for us if he did. Come on Big Vic, you know you want to.

Oriol Romeu 7 - One of the very few criticisms I have of the manager this season is that Romeu didn't play as much as he should have. Seemed to get dropped after putting in a really good performance a couple of times but it doesn't seem to affect him too much. Always at 100% and offers a lots more going forward than most people seem to realise. A very good player and soon to be a cult hero.

Jordy Clasie 6.5 - Does a lot of good work in the closing down and harrying and hassling the opposition. When he gets the ball, he invariably uses it well. Occasionally though it seems that half an hour goes by without him touching the ball. Has struggled to adapt to the pace of the English game and needs to get fitter. Hopefully, with next year being his second season, he'll be able to sort this out. Picking up a injury which kept him out for two months when he first arrived didn't help either.

Steve Davis 8 - Three goals in the last two games have a somewhat masked the problem with Davis. He is too good a footballer to leave out of the team but his contribution in terms of goals and assists for the advanced position and that he plays in usually, is a bit of a problem. Still, he scored two goals at White Hart Lane so all forgive him every other shanked effort that ended up in the crowd. I really hope he has a brilliant Euro 2016 tournament with Northern Ireland as he really deserves it. A massively important player for us who links everything together.

James Ward-Prowse 6.5 - Has not been playing as often as he would like in the last half of the season but there are signs that he is improving on some of his weaknesses. Highlight of the season was the way he smashed Martin Skrtel out of the way against Liverpool in the build up to the winning goal. The more physical approach has made him a more effective player and the free kicks and corners are all present and correct. It’s easy to forget how young he is and another who has committed to the club on a six year contract.

Harrison Reed. I think he's played 10 minutes all season which is not enough for a player of his age. He really needs to go out on loan for a season or move on permanently as I can't see this lack of game time changing any time soon.  The signing of Clasie has done for him really as there’s no way that two midgets are going to be picked in midfield.

Dusan Tadic 7 - Didn't starting the season too well and seemed to give the ball away 90% of the time when he had it. Fell out of the team mid-season and almost disappeared for a month or two on his mid-season break. For the past three months of the season he's been brilliant, racking up goals and assists with great regularity. When he is on his game there are few better creative players in the league.  Tadic is our Riyad Mahrez and if he’s been on top form the whole season then who knows where that would have taken us.  However, he was responsible for one of the moments of the season when he had an open goal at Stoke and decided to beat two more players.

Sadio Mané 7 - Another, like Tadic, who had a mid-season break for the second year running.  He has absolutely been on fire at the business end of the season. Unsettled by Manchester United transfer rumours at the start of the season, his form in the middle of the season was so bad that I suggested the only available move to Manchester might be if Salford were looking for players. Now he looks like the player that attracted all the attention in the first place and so yet another summer of rumours is on the cards. With two years left on his contract there is no need to sell but if we do, Raheem Sterling went for £50 million and Mané is a better player.

Jay Rodriguez 6 - After the knee injury came a few games and then the foot injury which ruled Jay out until March. When he returned he understandably looked off the pace but he appears to have bulked up. A full pre-season will help him and next year will tell us whether he's going to reach the level he was at before.  Potentially a great asset to the team.

Charlie Austin 6 - It was a surprise when we signed him in January as he would have been out of contract in the summer but Manchester United goal aside we've basically signed him for next season anyway. £4 million quid to secure the signature was definitely a bargain though and he is showing flashes of his undoubted ability. Again, next season will be the time to judge.  I initially saw him as the long term replacement for Pellè but he’s not really a ‘back to goal’ striker so we’ll have to see.

Shane Long 9 - If you asked any Saints fan to list the strikers in order of preference at the start of the season, then Shane would have been fifth or sixth on most people's list. Ask them now and he'd be first which tells you all you need to know. He's always been a nuisance to defenders but he's taken at up to a whole new level this season. I've never seen a player sprint around the pitch as much as showing does and he absolutely never leaves anything out on the pitch at the end of the game when he often looks like he needs to be carried off.  Has scored and created enough goals to put to bed the criticism that there is not enough and product and in any other season would have won the player of the year award.  Could be one of the stars of Euro 2016 if Ireland can use him correctly and not just launch it up to him from a different post code.

Juanmi 0.5 - Useless little twat. A complete waste of space since the minute we signed him.  Looked good against Vitesse who were League 1 standard at best but the key is that they were a typical European slow-tempo side.  Obviously not suited to English football and is never seemed to make any effort to change that.  An absolute liability when ever he was on the pitch and nearly got me thrown out of The Emirates for swearing at him in front of a steward. Even if he goes back to Spain, does well and gets back into the international side, I won't regret getting rid of him for one second. Even worse than Mayuka and I didn’t think that was possible.

Graziano Pellè 7
- A player that divides opinion and I warn you now, I'm a big fan so if you are in the other camp then I suggest you stop reading now.  Playing up front as a target man with two defenders trying to kick lumps out of it is not easy and he's been excellent at it for Saints. A criticism would be that he is another who needs a mid-season break and he takes one without meaning to but he has immense value to the side. We are less reliant on him now as not all our play goes through him but if he does leave to head back to Italy or anywhere else this summer then he should go with our thanks ringing in his ears.  A player who adapted to the English game because he was willing to adapt and has in the main, been superb.  I really hope he stays and gets another two years added to his contract.  My mum thinks the same as she’s in love.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Premier League Match 38 - Southampton 4 Crystal Palace 1

Right Lads! Are Your Passport's Up to Date?

One week before the FA cup final which they are participating in, we welcome Crystal Palace to St Mary's for the final league game of the season. If we win it then we finish above Liverpool and if we win and West Ham doesn’t match our result away at Stoke, we finish above them as well. West Ham have had an eventful week with the last game at Upton Park and it seemed that the media wanted to make it a full week of celebration but stopped just short of demanding a national holiday for it. Why ‘club moves ground’ was such an incredibly big story is beyond me.  /the story is in the fact they’re being virtually gifted a stadium.  I guess it shows how London centric the sports media is. West Ham fans celebrated the only way they know how by smashing the shit out of a coach which contained the Manchester United players. All the shoppers at the very nice Westfield Centre in Stratford are really going to look forward to match days next season. I am sure though that the happy taxpayer will foot the bill for any damage and not West Ham because they don't pay for anything.

Anyway a lot of focus this week has been on which players Palace would rest for the game against us. Alan Pardew has been making the right noises of course but we all know that getting through the game without losing any players is going to be his prime concern.

This week, Saints have had to deal with media shite. As expected, Roberto Martinez lost his job at Everton and an article appeared in the Liverpool Echo with the headline of that Koeman was interested in the Everton job. The rest of the article had nothing to do with Koeman and was all about Frank DeBoer, who has a brother called Ronald so that might explain it. Anyway, this tenuous reporting meant that every single sports media outlet covered the Koeman to Everton story for the next couple of days and Ronald himself was forced to just laugh at the question when it was posed as a question one in his weekly press conference.   After the Virgil deal, further great news was forthcoming in that Fraser Forster has signed a contract to take him up to 2021 and James Ward- Prowse has signed one until 2022. More senior players signing on the dotted line can only be a good thing and demonstrates the clubs determination to hang on to its better players. Come on Big Vic, you know you want to..

Saints had Jordy Clasie missing, so Oriol Romeu took his place in an otherwise unchanged side.  Harrison Reed made it onto the bench and J-Rod failed to make the cut, with Austin preferred.

We start pretty tamely with Palace having the first chance.  Adebayor teed up Gayle who hit it first time but straight at the wall who reacted well.  Following that we do start confidently popping it about.  Palace are defending deep and we’re passing it around the edge of the area until Big Vic gets bored and tries to curl one into the top corner from 25 yards with his left foot, like he’s got Messi’s left foot on the end of his left leg… but it’s high, wide and shit.  The next decent effort is on 20 minutes when Virgil pings a crossfield ball to Mané and via Martina and Romeu, the ball ends up with Tadic on the right who turns Souare inside out before whipping in a left footed effort which eludes everyone and flashes about a foot wide of the far post.  Tadic is playing well again and he slides Mané through and he gets to it first but pokes the chance wide as Speroni comes out.  Another chance goes begging as Bertrand lines up the ex-Skate Ward and beats him with ease and curls over a superb cross which Long meets and he should do better than see it slide off his head and wide.  We do eventually make Speroni do something as good play from Davis tees up Romeu but his daisy cutter from 20 yards is never gong to beat any keeper.

The Skate is having a tough time with Tadic and wrestles him down about 30 yards out and Virgil fancies it.  It’s a decent effort which beats the wall and flicks the top of the net as it goes over.

Despite these chances, it’s not been a particularly good first half and we haven’t played particularly well but just as I was settling for 0-0 at half time, we get a break out of nowhere as Tadic gets a yard on the Skate and hoists in a cross and Delaney heads it straight up in the air.  It’s coming down on the penalty spot so the last thing the keeper should be doing is trying to get over a pile of bodies to punch it but that’s what Speroni does, crashing into Delaney and managing to slap the ball about 5 yards to Mané who simply lifts it over the ruck of players and into the empty net.  Speroni is their Kelvin Davis – great servant and been there years but really not good enough any more.

Fitting in nicely with our display so far, we can’t get to half time without a scare and Puncheon is heavily involved as a chance is fashioned once more for Gayle who again tries to smash it through the wall and that isn’t happening.

Half time and time to check up on the other scores that are relevant to us.  As it stands with us winning, Liverpool are irrelevant and so it’s all about West Ham and they’re winning 1-0 at Stoke.  Balls.  Ronald has clearly enjoyed the first half about the same amount as me and Graziano is on at the start of the second half to replace the unlucky Romeu in a tactical switch.  We certainly need to be holding the ball up better up front as Shane is not having a great game in that regard today.  Palace have brought on the wonderfully named Sunny KaiKai who my Palace supporting mate at work assures me is decent.  He’s replaced Jordon Mutch who is anything but.

Virgil heads over from a very good Davis free kick delivery before Palace are causing trouble again, building down the left before Gayle’s cross is met by Kaikai who hits it into the ground but it’s heading in until Fraser takes off and turns it wide.

With us basically having sacrificed a midfielder, it’s very open now and Palace look at least as likely to score as we do.  Having obviously heard me slagging him off at half time for not being able to cross a ball, Davis slides a ball inside Souare and Martina finds himself in the corner with a bit of time and floats in a great cross for Pellè to attack and the big man does, thumping a header back across and over Speroni to make it 2-0.  It was only on the TV replay afterwards that you could see that he’s given Mariappa an almighty shove in the back before he headed it so it really should have been disallowed but we’ll take it, thanks very much.  There’s a nice touch and Graziano goes and fetches Superkelv out of the crowd the celebrate the goal.

Rather than piss and moan about it, Palace go straight up our end and win a corner.  The delivery is good and Fraser gets a punch on it but it doesn’t clear the box and goes to Puncheon who turns inside a half arsed Long challenge before smashing it left footed like a rocket into the far top corner.  That’s Townsend, Iheanacho and Punch who have all smashed a ball into that top corner in the last three home games.

Tadic if off to take pity on the Skate and JWP is on and you sense the game is put to bed a few minutes later as Pellè puts Mané away, running at Mariappa.  Souare gets back to help and Sadio attempts to go in between them and goes over, bumped to the ground by Mariappa.  The ref consults the lino who says it was inside, or more likely says he didn’t have a clue and the ref gives the penalty.  JWP has the ball and everyone assumes he’s going to take it but Pellè’s having a word and then José has a word and the ball is given to Ryan Bertrand who off a short run, top left, 3-1, get in.

Palace have had enough now and are in FA Cup Final preservation mode.  Pardew takes off the two players who’ve been booked (McArthur and Skate Ward who has probably played himself out of the Final team) and the others are not really busting a gut to get back when we break forward.

Good play again by Davis and Martina tees up Mané on the edge of the box and he curls inches wide before a minute later, pinching the ball off the lumbering Jedinak and showing extreme greed by lashing over the bar when the ball should have gone to the big beautiful moaning Italian bloke.

With five minutes to go, Martina again proves me wrong and knocks in a cross which Pellè expertly chests down and even Davo can’t miss as he smashes it past the unprotected Speroni from about 8 yards out.  Before the players are back to the middle to kick off, there are whispers going round.  I can hear ‘Stoke’, ‘West Ham’, ‘goal’ etc and then finally, ‘Stoke are winning 2-1’.  Brilliant.  European Tour?  You’d think in these days of smartphones it would be easy to keep up with the scores but the St Mary’s phone reception on a match day is shite.

Long (who has not had his best game) is off and Austin is on for a cameo and we have a few more opportunities to score before the end but the move usually ends with a butchered final ball and it peters out with neither team really trying that hard and 4-1 it finishes.  Not a great performance but good enough.

When you win 4-1, it's never anything but a good day but a good day got even better with the news that Stoke, a team who have been on the beach for the past two months, found it within themselves to overturn a 1-0 halftime deficit and beat West Ham 2-1. This is the same West Ham who the media have been cracking one off over since the season began. We've finished above them.

There was also disturbing news of a controlled explosion being carried out at Old Trafford meaning that the other relevant game between United and Bournemouth was called off.   It really didn't sound very good. I was hoping it was Artur Boruc having a party with some vodka and cigarette lighter but clearly not.  That was a joke (just about) but not as big a joke as the real reason. Turns out there was a security test during the week and someone left a fake bomb behind.  Absolute farce as surely all it would have taken is one phone call for someone to confirm that a security test took place and before long it could have been all sorted.  Absolute joke from United who with their habit of turning up late to away games, have really been taking the piss recently.  They should be punished but of course they won’t be.  Anyway, as it stands we're above them.

Today's win made Liverpool irrelevant and they could only draw anyway so suck on that..... You know who you are. Let me say it again, Liverpool are irrelevant.

The great news is that now we are confirmed in the Europa league, we don't have to give too much of a shit about the finals of the FA Cup and the Europa league. If Palace beat United in the group stages, then the worst case scenario is that we have to do the Europa Qualifiers again. It would be fantastic if Bournemouth beat United in the week which would put us straight in the Group Stages, so we don't have to support United in the FA Cup Final, feel dirty and have to have a bath afterwards. Indisputably, we can hope Sevilla smash Liverpool in the Europa League Final because as we discussed earlier, Liverpool are irrelevant.  A Bournemouth win, a Palace win and a Sevilla win would mean that both West Ham and Liverpool will miss out on Europe altogether which would be something else to celebrate.

In truth, we were bloody dreadful in the first half today and Palace were probably the better side despite having the cup final next week. It was only really once we got to the last 20 minutes and the penalty went in that Palace decided that they’d had enough for the day with Pardew sensibly substituting Macarthur and Ward who had both been booked.  Pardew had a bit of a moan about the penalty being outside the box (unclear) and Pelle's header being a blatant push (Pardew 100% correct) but thought we deserved to win.

I would have thought that there was no way at all that we would have bettered last seasons finishing position and points total as we were pretty average up until Christmas but since then, you have to say we have been outstanding and deserve to be where we are. With the three players signing long term deals, there is obviously an ambition to keep pushing on and this is obviously essential for Ronald Koeman and personally and the chances of him signing a new contract himself. Both Ronald and Jose front made it clear in the post match interview is that investment is needed in the squad with us being in the Europa league group stages and we of course need to give it a better go then we gave it this year. I'd say that the signs are pretty good and they have to be as sure as shit, every other Premier League club will be throwing money around. We need to throw money around too but as usual, we need to be smarter than them and given the recent recruitment records at the big clubs, that really shouldn't be too difficult.

It's fucking great being a Saints fan at the moment. All we need to make this an absolutely hundred percent perfect day is for the Skates to lose the play-off semi-final in the last minute.... Oh look.... that happened as well.

The lap of appreciation was a relatively sedate affair. Qualifying for Europe is not in the same league as getting promoted so it doesn't require a full pitch invasion. It has been a brilliant season overall and the players deserve every bit of adulation that comes their way.

Next up is Super Kelvin Davis testimonial on Tuesday night which should now be even more of a celebratory affair. I can't imagine any of our Euros bound players will be playing but it should be a brilliant day anyway. The United Bournemouth game is now being played on the same night so we will find out if we've finished fifth or as expected six. All we need now to make the week even better is an announcement that Ronald, Graziano, Vic and Sadio have signed new contracts. Make it happen Les... it's not too much to ask.

Monday, May 9, 2016

Premier League Match 37 - Tottenham 1 Southampton 2

Ronald Pisses Himself as Pochettino Tells Him His Plan B

Spurs. No one likes Spurs do they? The list of reasons why is absolutely huge so I'm not going to do all of it, I'll just do the bits that apply to me personally. Currently, the two main ones are Alderweireld and Pochettino. In fact, it's mainly Pochettino. He strung us along after Cortese had left, making everyone think that he'd honour his contract and probably sign the new one that was on the table. Of course he didn't sign the new contract and fucked off to Spurs but not before a concerted attempt to destabilise the club that was paying him and wanting him to stay, advising all the players to leave and find other clubs (allegedly). The only reason for this is probably his love of Cortese and willingness to do the hatchet job that was required when Cortese had been kicked out. So, an undisputedly talented manager but also a complete wanker.

This is why it's stuck in my throat a bit to see Les Reed giving an interview to the London Evening Standard where he basically blew smoke up Pochettino’s arse.  He was probably trying to point out how clever Saints were to have scouted him as a relative unknown in the first place but the interview read like he was just cracking one off over the ex-manager when we have a current manager who needs a new contract sorting out and who at the end of the day has done a lot better.  Talking of contracts, Pochettino has a new 5 years one ‘on the table’ at Spurs, which he’s verbally agreed to sign but hasn’t actually signed yet.  Sounds familiar doesn’t it?

The perception seems to be that Spurs will be even better next year and they might be but this year, they don't seem to have had many injuries and their backup players (the like of Wimmer, Mason and N’Jie) don't look that great to me.   He has some decent reserve full backs in Davies and Trippier but in true Pochettino fashion, there’s only a Plan A so the others barely get to play.  We will be seeing some of those squad players today with Alli and Dembele suspended. We should be seeing a few more as both Dier and Lamela should have been sent off in their ‘fucking up the league’ match at Stamford Bridge last Monday but that's Twattenburg for you.

Saints had had a very quiet week until Saturday when out of nothing came the news that Virgil van Dijk had signed a six year contract. This is two years younger than his current deal but I assume he's doubled his money as a result. Whatever way you look at it, it's incredibly good news and with six years left on his contract, in all likelihood, even if you were incredibly cynical, he is here for the next four years. It's a big ‘hands off’ to any vultures who may be circling and you never know, a player as good as him committing may just see other players, not to mention the manager commit as well.  Maybe I'm being too hopeful but I can't imagine he would have signed for six more years if the current manager was only going to be here for another one.

On Saturday we had some more good news.  Last week, Swansea had beaten Liverpool and on Saturday they travelled to West Ham and stuffed them 4-1, meaning that West Ham are very much in reach if we could win today.  Also, Sunderland beat Chelsea which meant Chelsea could no longer finish above us and it guaranteed us a minimum of eighth place which means three consecutive years of top eight finishes. Not bad at all.

We named the same starting XI that stuffed Manchester City last week with Graziano returning to the bench after I assume, putting a bit of effort been in training during the week. Spurs replaced the suspended pair of Dembele and Alli with England international Ryan Mason and £22 million signing Son Hueng Min, so not exactly the weak line up that any Spurs fan you spoke to, said they were going to put out this week.  By the way, I'm using the term ‘England International’ to describe Ryan Mason because that's what he is due to Roy Hodgson who picks anyone who is English in a Spurs shirt, no matter how bang average they are.

The start of the game is horrible as Spurs are all over us and we’re barely hanging in there.  Martina is looking particularly shaky at right back and Alderweireld pings a great diagonal ball from right to left and Rose chests it past Martina who has sold himself like a cheap whore.  Rose fires it across and it’s met by Eriksen on the stretch and Fraser gets down well to claw away the point blank effort.

From our first attack we really should take the lead as Mané carries it forward, gets it back off Bertrand before sending Tadic in behind the non-defending Walker at full back.  If he gets his head up then Davo has a tap in, unmarked in the middle of the goal but he brainlessly fizzes it across and wide of the far post whilst we all shout ‘oooh’ or ‘fuck’ or some other expletive.

That's nothing compared to later though as Spurs play it out from the back and it ends up with Lamela in midfield and his pass is for Kane who is clearly offside but he cleverly leaves it and Son races after it from an onside position.  There is hesitation from Fraser as he comes out and Son is in and he walks it round the keeper and round two desperate sliding tackles from Virgil and José and walks it into the net.  Bollocks.

Chalk that one up to the offside rule.  The pass was aimed at Kane and he was offside and he did take a step towards it before stopping and Son ran through.  As a defender though, you instinctively think ‘offside’ for a second and that’s all it takes to concede a goal.  You’re in the lap of the gods as to whether a ref blows or a linesman flags and we didn’t get lucky. 1-0 down, shit and ‘oh when the Spurs’ is ringing out from the fucking retards who don’t know the words.

Saints react to the setback well and are soon putting Spurs under pressure in their own box.  Rose initially looks to have sorted it out but he dicks around and Mané gets a foot in and there’s a big scramble with Vertonghen falling on Mané’s leg and bringing him down.  To be brutally honest, we’d have stood more chance of getting it without the swandive.

I’m quite encouraged that Spurs seem over anxious in attack.  We have settled defensively and are closing them down well and Kane seems to be wanting to get his shots away very quickly and drags one well wide from 25 yards.  Straight after that, Bertrand wins an aerial challenge with Walker and he’s left on the ground.  Spurs fans seem to want us to put the ball out but fuck that.  We attack down the other side and Martina lofts a great ball over Rose and Tadic latches onto it, a great first touch and a first time right footed cross and Davo arrives to poke it goalwards and under the dive of Lloris who gets something on it which makes it sweeter as it trickles into the net.  Spurs fans in the ground are having a right old bleat about the injured player but he’s fine to carry on a few minutes later and his absence had absolutely no bearing on the goal.

The rest of the first half is comfortable for us and then we press the big red button marked ‘entirely preventable fucking calamity’.  Another Rose ball forward catches Martina out and Fonte arrives in plenty of time to see off the threat of Kane.  Every Saints fan in the world was thinking, ‘48 minutes gone in the first half, Row Z’ but the captain tried to let it run out and Kane bundled past him and bore down on goal.  I think Kane’s a great player but I’m delighted that he’s greedy and he tries to smash a ball through Fraser, which is never going to happen and we eventually scramble it away for a corner.  Half time.

I think we’re good for a point as long as we cut out the big fuck ups.  Martina needs to be a bit more solid but other than that we look pretty sound.  Kane hasn’t done much for them and of their other attacking players, Eriksen has been peripheral and Son has done nothing since his goal… and then there’s Lamela.  He’s a prick, always throwing himself about and appealing to the referee and he seems to have a very over inflated opinion of how good he is, strutting around like he’s Maradona instead of accepting what he actually is, a player who cost £30 million, about three times what his actually contribution is worth.  No wonder Dani Osvaldo twatted him one in Italy.  Ah Dani – funny how Pochettino didn’t want to take him to Spurs after saddling us with the bell end pirate rock n’ roll twat.

We start the second half well, sitting deep and attempting to hit Spurs on the break and Mané streaks away but his attempted crossfield chip to Tadic is headed away by Alderwanker but Bertrand receives it and feeds Tadic who is in the big space where Walker should be.  The Serb bends in a perfect cross and Long gets up between Vertonghen and Rose and it looks for all the world like a goal but it slides off his head and wide.  Fuck – glorious chance missed.

Clasie, who has done much harrying of the opposition but not much with the ball is off to be replaced with Romeu and we have a scare as Vertonghen meets a Lamela corner and heads goalwards, only for Virgil to head it over his own bar.  More subs as Pellè comes on for Mané who has had the shit kicked out of him all game and N’Jie comes on for Son who I forgot was playing. Ronald has changed it to a 4-4-2 with the Big Beautiful Italian going up front with Shane whereas Plan A Pochettino has gone for a straight swap.

There are 20 minutes to go and Romeu is getting stuck right in and decides to run like a bastard to chase down a lost cause and hurry Vertonghen up and he plays it to Lloris who slices it out of play for a throw to us.  In it comes to Pellè who holds it up well and it ends up with Davis on the left and he cuts in, plays a 1-2 with Tadic and from the edge of the area, digs out a shot which goes through a sea of legs and past Lloris’ dive and nestles in the corner.  Bedlam and 2-1 to us.

Spurs have another weapon up their sleeve and that’s playing with 12 as John Moss dons a white shirt and starts giving everything to them.  Mind you, I can’t argue with the booking Romeu picks up for trashing Eriksen when he was about to break away on our left.  Lamela has a run through the middle and collapses like the sack of shit that he is - ok, it was probably a foul.  It looks the ideal range for Eriksen but I’m guessing that Lamela decided he was taking it as he’d been fouled and he shat it over the wall and comfortably over the bar.

Moss decides that Danny Rose twatting Romeu with his elbow is fine but the Saints man is away and feeds Long who beats Alderwanker who gets lucky as it bounces off of Shane and runs through to the keeper.  Chadli is on for Mason as a last throw of the dice for Plan A Pochettino and a bit of Spurs pressure results in two goal kicks given instead of two corners by a lino who is clearly balancing up the referee.  It’s funny to see them not happy.

As we approach the 90, the board goes up and it's 5 minutes with a couple of those being for the drinks break we had so Pochettino could try and come up with a Plan B.  JWP comes on for Tadic as we try and see it out and we look like the more likely to score as Pellè is winning everything and one flick on finds Long who lashes it over the bar as it drops.  The tireless Long is at it again next as he breaks and this time squares it to JWP who smashes it high, wide and into the crowd.

There is time for one more attempt by Moss to even it up as Fonte breathes on Kane who collapses for a free kick about 40 yards out on the left in the 95th minute.  In it comes from Eriksen and it bounces down for Chadli who is 6 yards out with the goal at his mercy but he’s reckoned without the fucking massive goalkeeper who builds the wall and deflects it away.  We don’t clear the resulting corner decisively and it ends up with Kane on his left foot and from the edge of the box he has a wild ridiculous swing and well wide.  Goal kick, bang… final whistle.

You never quite know what your first words are going to be at the final whistle but today, mine were ‘fucking have it you cunts’.  Absolutely fucking brilliant and a deserved win against that bunch of twats who we have been trying and failing to beat for the last four seasons. The only way it could have been sweeter is if Spurs still had a chance of winning the league before today.  As it is, what we've done is given Arsenal chance to finish above them which would stick in the throat of every Spurs supporter as that's where they always finish. Explain that one away in your interview, Mauricio.  It's a shame no journalist will have the balls to ask him what it's like to lose to the club that you tried to fuck over, who are doing quite well without you.   It's nice to have a manager with more than just a Plan A but I’m sure Pochettino is pondering how he got ‘out managed’ on his lap of appreciation.

Ronald got it spot on today, starting with Clasie to hassle everybody and then bringing on Romeu when we needed to mix it a bit more in the second half to stop Spurs getting back into it.  I never really felt like they were going to score in the second half until the last seconds which I was convinced was going to be a goal.  As the players tired in the heat, it was also a good call to bring Graziano on, not least because the substituted Mané was getting the shit kicked out of him with no protection from the referee John Moss who really should fuck off back to being the drummer in Culture Club.

Today it was the combination of Tadic and Davis that was dominant throughout, not only on the two goals but also the great chance in the first half when Tadic should have squared it for Davo to tap in. It's amusing that Davo scored twice when his finishing is usually shocking and even today, he's managed to score from two scuffers.  He won't care and no do we.  Once again, Shane was a complete fucking nightmare for Alderweireld and Vertonghen, neither of whom really fancied running back towards their own goal into the space behind them.  At the back, Cuco Martina still takes years off my life every time he plays but the other three were all superb aside from that horrible moment when Fonte tried to shield the ball out of play with Harry Kane right up his arse. The six-year contract man was just a massive presence all game and Big Vic, Clasie and Romeu totally plugged any gaps are in front of the centre backs.  Finally, there was the big man in goal. Sure, he fucked up on the Spurs goal but the save from Chadli in the last minute certainly made up for it.

This win, coupled with West Ham's defeat has moved us up to 6th in the league.  We are three points behind Manchester United, a point ahead of West Ham and two points ahead of Liverpool but all these teams have a game in hand.  However, West Ham and United are playing each other during the week so there's going to be points dropped somewhere and Liverpool are going to have one eye on the Europa league final which if they win of course, qualifies them for next season's Champions League so all their eggs are going to be firmly in that basket. If we finish where we are now however, then we will be in the Europa League again next year but we have to beat a Crystal Palace side next week, who have already beaten us twice this season. Hopefully, the fact that they have an FA Cup Final at a week later will mean that they won't give a shit.

Anyway, that’s next week.  For now I’m going to enjoy being a smug bastard at work and I intend to be a bit of a bell end.  Brighton, where I work, tends to have a lot of London club fans living there and there are a few I need to have a word with tomorrow.