Thursday, December 18, 2014

Capital One Cup 5th Round - Sheffield United 1 Southampton 0

Saints at Wembley - Good Wasn't It!

Saints players and staff have been on a two day holiday in the frozen Northern wastelands in preparation for the Capital One Cup Quarter Final at Bramall Lane against Sheffield United.  When I think of Sheffield United I think of horrible games in the 90s with Brian Deane involved.  Dave Bassett was their manager and the football was not what you could ever call pretty.  Waft it up to Deans who is 6 foot 5 and all elbows and aggression.  Relegated from the Premier League when Hans Segers may or may not have let goals deliberately which saved Everton and relegated again when West Ham were allowed to break every rule going and basically play ineligible players.  I can understand supporters with longer memories feeling a bit hard done by and they have my sympathy for that.  Then you have the recent Ched Evans where the club decided they would test out fan reaction by letting the convicted unapologetic rapist train with them, no doubt hoping that no one would care too much and they could sign him on the cheap.  Fortunately for the decent fans of the club, the outrage was such that it became impossible.  Today of course, I hope they get stuffed.

The target for Saints this season is probably to get into Europe and whilst the Champions League dream has been shown to be a bit optimistic in recent weeks, the Europa League is obtainable and this is the easiest route into it.  Personally I don’t give a shit about European competition – I want to get to Wembley and win a Cup.  Mind you, even if we win today then it won’t be easy as the other Quarter Finals could easily see Chelsea, Liverpool and Tottenham in the semi-finals or more favourably, Derby, Bournemouth and Newcastle.

The team news saw us put out a fairly strong looking side as you’d expect. Shane Long leads the line, flanked by Mané and Bertrand (what?) with the midfield 3 being the returning Morgan Schneiderlin, Big Vic and JWP.  The back 4 had Matty Targett at left back and Florin Gardos instead of Toby Alderweireld but it looks decent on paper though I’m really not sure about Bertrand on the wing.  Sheffield United are these days managed by Nigel Clough who I hated as a player because he always used to score against us.

In a marvellous start for us, the referee gives the Blades a free kick for fuck all and they lob it into the box. Fraser is underneath it but McEverly whacks him with an arm and he spills it.  It’s hooked goalwards and eventually bounces on top of the bar and over.  It’s all gone a bit Dave Bassett and Neil Warnock.  However there’s nothing long ball about their next move as they build up through midfield and a shot comes in from Reed which is always going over but it’s a decent effort.

Our first effort is a break down the left as Bertrand turns the defence.  Long hassles the defender into a mistake and his cross is well defended before Mané can make contact and hoof it over the bar probably.  The ref gives a goal kick of course.

At half time there’s an admission that Bertrand on the wing isn’t working and Lloyd Isgrove is on for the unfortunate Matt Targett.  The change has done nothing for the way we are playing though and it’s all Sheffield.  They our down the left and the cross misses everyone except Murphy who is at the back post all alone and luckily for us he shats it over the bar.

Isgrove has been deployed on the right where he is clearly not comfortable but he gets involved picking up a ball from Morgan before sliging in a right footed cross which is flicked on and JWP ghosts in at the back and tries to head for the far corner but it drops just wide.  JWP is up next also, picking up a ball in midfield before driving forward and taking aim from 35 yards but unfortunately he was aiming at Row Z.

In reality there’s only one team who looks like scoring and it’s not us.  A Murphy cross from the right wing is flicked on and Frase has to get down extremely sharply to turn it away before Clyney blocks the follow up.  Fraser is at it again straight afterwards as a United striker tees up an incoming midfielder and his shot is confidently blocked by the big man and turned over the bar.  From the corner, Fraser slaps it clear to Mané on the edge of the box and he allows himself to be dispossessed and then brings him down.  The Blades players are of course all howling for a penalty and for Mané to be sent off but as it is, they get a free kick right on the line.  A shambolic looking wall does nothing as he absolutely smashes it at Fraser who makes the save but can’t hold it and it squirts free.  Of course you need defenders to react but none do and McNulty bundles it into the net.  It had been coming.

In the aftermath of the goal, Chris Morgan, Clough’s assistant is sent to the stands for reasons unknown but bearing in mind what a massive thug he was as a player then he probably deserved it.  When we eventually restart, Morgan pings a beautiful ball out to Mané on the left and he just runs straight into Flynn who launches a counter attack and Big Vic just hoiks him over for an obvious booking meaning he’s out of the Everton game on Saturday.  Morgan is clearly not impressed with Mané’s effort.

He was probably not very impressed when his ball to Isgrove was picked up and slotted through for Mané to produce a low weak shot at the near post that the keeper easily kicked away for a corner.  There was more easy work for the keeper as JWP’s corner landed on top of him with no one near.

Mané has not been great but he’s probably been the most likely to score and Ronald replaces him with Mayuka.  We’ve given up.  I remember when 4-4-2 Magazine said he was the 85th best player in the world or whatever.  I was 84th and Stephen Hawking was 83rd, so ridiculous is that claim.  He. Is. Shite.

So now we’re playing with 10 and a Bertrand mistake allows McNulty to be put through against Fraser but the big man stands up well and blocks the shot.  Probably too save him from being sent off, Big Vic is replaced with Toby Alderweireld when it really would have been better to take Morgan off and make sure he didn’t get booked and suspended for Saturday as well…. Which he duly did with a stupid tackle born out of frustration.  He’ll probably do a French magazine interview over Christmas and blame it on his move not going through in the summer.

It’s all shit now and Forster is performing more heroics to keep another shot out with Gardos blocking the rebound.  Another foul and Morgan is now trying to get himself sent off by kicking the ball away.  He has to go really but possibly because he’s got fed up with the relentless badgering from the Sheffield United bench, the referee doesn’t do it.

What else can go wrong? Oh yes, big boot forward and Gardos allows McNulty to push him about and he lets the ball bounce past him and McNulty is after it until Florin pulls him down.  Off you go.  Amateur hour.  The resulting free kick is shite but it doesn’t matter.  They’ve battered us to be honest and totally deserved their win.  Ronald is off without shaking Nigel Clough’s hand and what a great day.

So where do we start with that?  Let’s do a Good Bad and Ugly.  One of these categories might not take long.

The Good:
Fraser Forster made some great saves to keep us in it and give us a flattering scoreline which we didn’t deserve. If we’d lost 3 or 4-0 we couldn’t have complained.  I’m going to forgive him for the goal as it was a free kick from right on the edge of the box and was absolutely smashed at him.  Where were the defenders to bail him out?

The Bad:

JWP joined the ranks of players who’ve hit consistently shite dead ball deliveries this season.  Having said that, he is considerably better than many others this season.  Mitigating circumstances in that he’s only in his second game in 3 months and he will improve.  Will Lloyd Isgrove improve?  He came on and did next to nothing.  He was put on the right wing and he’s totally left footed but someone had to play out there as Mané was still on the pitch.  He didn’t look comfortable out there at all though and there’s no excuse for doing that little.  The one time I saw him beat the left back he tried to cut it back onto his left foot
and lost it. He isn’t gong to get many chances so he needs to do more when he does.  He’s not 18 and is running out of time to prove he has what it takes.

The Ugly (and in some cases, the Fucking Horrendously Ugly):

By refusing to shake hands with Nigel Clough, Koeman achieved nothing expect making himself look like the bad guy in the eyes of the casual observer.   I understand where he’s coming from as it appears the Sheffield United bench was behaving pretty unpleasantly but you should shake hands even if you don’t want to and take up the issue later.  No one will care about the underlying issues and will just focus on the non-handshake.

The fact that we are a Premier League side with a vaunted academy and our talk about pathways to the first team and all that, makes it inexcusable and tinpot that we didn’t have a full bench.  It makes it look like we were taking the game lightly.  Ok, an extra sub probably wouldn’t have made a difference to the result but Ryan Seager or Sam McQueen would have got something out of it even if they’d only watched.  Also, they couldn’t have been worse than many out there today.  It’s worrying that Tadic and Davis weren’t even fit enough to sit on the bench.

Sadio Mane was appalling in his decision making and general contribution.  He tried hard but is completely out of form and his contribution to the winning goal sums it up.  When the ball went to him it had disaster written all over it and he was always going to bring the guy down.  Up front he looked more dangerous than anyone but ultimately ruined everything with taking the wrong option or miscontrolling the ball or mis-hitting a pass etc.  He has taken over from Guly as the team scapegoat which is predictable and somewhat pathetic.   Shane Long for me had a totally ineffective game. “He works hard” is what’s always said in his defence and yes he does but that’s a bare minimum requirement.  His hold up play was non-existent and when he got the ball he’d invariably knock it past the centre back and then not get to it before the covering defender.  He had no shots again in 90 minutes against a league 1 side, didn’t look like a threat in their box once.

The experiment of Bertrand on the wing was a waste of time and no surprise to me.  People were saying it was a good idea before the start pointing to him playing there for Chelsea in a Champions League Final.  Slight difference – in said Champions League Final, Chelsea were parking the bus against Bayern Munich and Bertrand was deployed as an extra left back in front of Ashley Cole to cope with the threat of Arjen Robben.  Sheffield United don’t have Arjen Robben the last time I checked so in our formation, Ryan was a forward and it was never going to work.

We all know that bookings happen and consequently, so do suspensions.  We also know that referees screw up and book players when they don’t deserve it.  With that in mind, you can’t afford to get booked for stupid stuff.  Big Vic and Morgan today, deliberately fouled Sheffield United players when they had no chance of getting the ball so the only outcome was that they’d be suspended for Saturday against Everton.  Morgan in particular then tried to get himself sent off by kicking the ball away after he’d already been booked.  He should have gone, no question and was very lucky that the ref decided to not apply the rules and ignore the rantings of Nigel Clough and his bench.  Pelle’s booking against Burnley was similarly stupid as have been some of his other bookings and his absence today meant we never even looked like scoring and there was no one holding the ball up to allow midfielders to get forward.

The pre-season exodus is beginning to hurt us now.  We replaced like for like and plugged the holes in the First XI but we haven’t really increased the depth of the squad which we would have needed to do even if no one had left.  Lambert would have been an ideal man to have in the squad to replace Pellè when needed and though I hate to say it, the same applied for Lallana with Tadic.  The young players we have now just look a little too young so we could have done with Calum Chambers as well if he hadn’t chosen to fuck off.

Back to “The Ugly”.  Florin Gardos needs to man up.  He’s 6 foot 4 and allegedly a tough tackling no nonsense defender.  Well, I didn’t see that on Tuesday.  I saw a player getting bullied and shoved around and a player who let the ball bounce and both of these failings contributed to his red card when he didn’t get to the bounce of the ball and then allowed the striker to roll round him before hauling him down. 

And at risk of repeating myself from every blog I’ve ever written when he’s made an appearance, Mayuka was truly horrific again.  The bloke hasn’t got a clue and I’m struggling to think of a worse Saints player ever who has got on the pitch.  Even Ali Dia had a fucking shot.  Mayuka never seems to even touch the ball suggesting that he has no awareness or football brain whatsoever. What is the point of him being on the bench?  We loan out Gaston Ramirez and keep this fucking idiot?  I know he’s probably not on big wages but what the actual fuck is he doing on the bench when Ryan Seager or Sam McQueen cannot possibly be worse.  Mayuka was not the reason we lost today and he came on in the middle of a horrific team performance but he’s dreadful in whatever situation he comes on.  He was shit when he came on in the 8-0 game against Sunderland when they’d given up.

The biggest problem is that we were outfought and outplayed by a League 1 side.  At 1-0 there was only one team creating chances and looking like scoring and there was only one team winning the second balls and making life difficult and it wasn’t us.  4500 Saints fans paid to watch that game and paid to travel up with the hope of cup semi-final.  If you play well and fight hard and get beat then no one minds but there’s a feeling that we didn’t give it 100%.  However, flooding Twitter with demands for refunds is moronic.  Sometimes in away game your team will be shite.  It’s part of the gamble when you decide to go.  Christ, during the Branfoot days people would have been asking for refunds after an away win because the performances were so bad.

Moving on as that’s all we can do and Everton at home awaits on Saturday.  The midfield options look very thin as Morgan and Big Vic are banned and Corky and Steve Davis are injured.  Davis might make it but even so, Toby Alderweireld will have to play in midfield with Maya at the back.  Tadic is injured so I guess it will be the returning Pellè up front with Long and Mané who are desperately out of form. I expect to see a lot of Academy kids on the bench and whatever team is out there will be trying to arrest a run of 5 defeats in a row.  This sure isn’t going to be easy.

Keep the faith… again.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Premier League Match 16 - Burnley 1 Southampton 0

Keane Smashes Hesketh. Note ball in different Post Code. Twattenburg didn't see it.

So, 3 defeats out of 3 – What have we got?  For starters we’ve got Toby Alderweireld and James Ward-Prowse back in the squad which is most welcome as we embark on two games in the frozen wastelands of the North in 4 days.  The first of these is against Burnley in the league who are attempting to not be a yo-yo club by avoiding disappearing straight back down to the Championship from whence they came.  They had a little run of picking up points and are not bottom of the league but the run came to an end last week with a defeat at QPR.  We need to be winning this one.

Since the Manchester United game there has been a bit of a readjustment of expectations from everyone including Ronald Koeman but I don’t know about you but I’m still pissed off about the United game.  

Still, 5th we are, going into this game so maybe the spotlight will be off us a bit and it should fall on West Ham and it should be all their decent players getting linked with other clubs all over the place.  It’s not of course – it’s still Morgan to Arsenal and Spurs, Clyne to Liverpool etc etc.

Talking of Liverpool, which I like to do… wasn’t it sad to see their Champions League campaign come to a halt when they only managed a draw against Basle at home.  Adam and Dejan cited Champions League football as their reason for going, along with challenging for the Premier League title.  Never mind chaps, you’ve still got the money, which is the one reason for joining that you didn’t talk about.  Do I have much sympathy for Brendan Rodgers now everyone realises that he’s shit and got lucky last season.  No, he had a choice…

There is a surprise iin the team news in that Jake Hesketh has got a start ahead of Shane Long.  That’s not as big a mystery as why Sadio Mané has got a start again but another Academy boy plays in the Premier League.  Toby is back in place of Maya and JWP is on the bench.  Burnley have Saints fan Danny Ings in attack and other notables include George Boyd who I remember playing against in League 1 days when he was at Peterborough.  Boyd was their big signing of the summer, costing £3million so they’re trying to survive using the players who got them up in the main and should be applauded for that. Sean Dyche is highly regarded as a manager and so hopefully they’ll persevere with him even if it goes pear shaped.  Oh, and Twattenburg is the referee.  He might have been right about Lallana but he’s still a shit ref.

Saints launch a ball forwards to Pellè and when he doesn’t win it, Burnley attack and Boyd slings in a good cross from the right and Ings heads it straight up in the air for an easy take for Fraser.  Buoyed by this effort, Burnley come again and this time Ings finds a yard of space in front of the defence and pings in a shot which is always going wide but needed a dive from Big Fraser to make sure.

Saints first decent move is to build up down the right and for Tadic to switch left to Mané who runs at the defender and sort of squirts it across the goal, neither passing or shooting. The keeper gather and Hesketh slides in and catches him in the head.  It’s a clear fould and Heaton makes a meal of it and we get the predictable over-reaction from the defenders and Hesketh marks his first start with an inevitable booking which was deserved.

After a decent cross from Tadic was headed over the bar, we try a new short corner routine to cover for the fact that no one can hit them long and Davis works the ball for Bertrand to fire over.  It looked nice but in line with all of our set pieces of late – it’s shite and produces nothing.

After the Burnley over-reaction to Hesketh’s challenge on the keeper, it’s no surprise that the next Burnley player who gets the chance, Michael Keane clatters into the youngster.  The ball has gone and Keane has just smashed into him.  If I didnlt know better I’d say it was a ‘revenge’ tackle and ends Hesketh’s involvement on the half hour.  Like at Arsenal recently with Jack Cork, a bad tackle that forces one of our players to be substituted, is not even deemed a foul by the referee.  Well played Twattenburg you helmet.  Burnley play on and Trippier’s cross causes panic and the ball hits Clyne as he faced the goal, comes off his chest and forces Fraser into a sprawling save.  No one wants to grab it or clear it for a second and eventually it gets wellied clear and Twattenburg blows his whistle.

JWP is on for his first game in 10 weeks and is quickly involved as Graziano nods down a bomb forwards and JWP brings it forward before hitting a shot that was comfortably enough saved by Heaton and with that, a pretty boring first half comes to a close.  Burnley aren’t good and nor are we.

We start the second half well and Burnley are chasing shadows as we pass it about.  There’s a lovely move with incisive passing and a neat backheel set up by Davis and it ends with Mané showing his usual lack of composure and basic technique by leaning back and lofting an effort over the bar.  Not only that, he took it off of Pellè’s toe as he was about to lash it left footed.

Saints domination of the proceedings brings its reward on the hour mark as Bertrand runs at Boyd and the scruffy twat sticks a leg out and chops him down just inside the corner of the box.  Even Twattenburg has to give that one and he does.  I know that Tadic is going to take it – I don’t want him to and he’s not playing particularly well.  I want Pellè or Davis to take it but up steps Tadic and tries to slide it into the bottom right corner but Heaton guesses right and gets down to comfortably push it past the post.  Shit.  Tadic compounds the error by jogging across and taking a shit corner which we eventually win back and the move ends with Davis feeding Tadic and him scuffing a left footed shot wide.

We carry on playing decent stuff and another move switches from left to right before Tadic finds Pellè, perhaps accidentally in the box but he turns like an oil tanker and lashes on the wrong side of the near post and another chance goes begging.  Burnley are trying to play though and work an opening for Ings which he doesn’t quite get hold of but it still needs a save from Forster.  Then JWP gets the set piece blues and after we win a corner as Bertrand tried to hit a ball that wouldn’t come down, Prowsey lofts it miles over everyone and out for a goal kick.

Burnley’s keeper Heaton clears his lines as he creams it crossfield right to left and and out for a throw-in in our half in the right back position.  Heaton didnlt even mean to do it and is apologising too everyone.  Clyne takes it to Davis who cushions it back to him.  Clyney goes to smash it but is closed down by Ings and the ball hits the striker and bounces perfectly for Barnes.  He just hits it straight at Fraser but Alderweireld does a Yoshida and deflects it with his heel in at the near post past Fraser’s feet. Fucking hell.  We’ve dominated the second half, missed a penalty and they’ve scored courtesy of a big boot forward and a couple of deflections and it’s Ashley Bloody Barnes who is a fucking carthorse, bred with a  donkey.  He celebrates by cupping both ears to his own fans in the universally understood signal for “I’m an arsehole”.

Saints get a free kick straight from the restart as Mané gets taken out and JWP gets it right and puts in a lovely ball which Fonte heads straight at Heaton.  On 77 minutes and about 32 minutes too late, Shane Long is on for Mané in an attempt to rescue things.

People are getting frustrated now and having found themselves in front, Burnley are now wasting time, especially that scruffy little rat faced twat Boyd who is feigning some sort of cramp about three yards in from the touchline.  Get off the fucking pitch you wanker.  Twattenburg should of course make him get off the pitch if he needs treatment, which he of course doesn’t. Graziano decides to come over and help him off the pitch by coming over and shoving him in the back as Boyd does what looks like a Monty Python silly walk.  Twattenburg decides that he’s better actually do something and books Pellè first, then realises that he’d better book Boyd as well.  Well refereed you moron.

Once we restart we win another corner which we again overhit but we rescur it and teee up Clyney who fizzes in a shot at the far post which flicks off the post and wide.  Bollocks.  A big boom forward from Fraser and Burnley panic in defence and JWP curls it over a cross from outside the box and Big Vic gets his timing completely wrong and puts a free header into the crowd.  It’s not happening.

As Big Vic’s header disappears into the crowd, our chances of getting a point go with it.  Bloody hell – this is a bad one and once again we’ve thrown it away.  More possession, more chances, a missed penalty, a couple of lucky bounces of the ball and they score with a deflection and win.  Bollocks.  The turning point is of course the penalty miss and we as Saints fans are not used to missing them.  Le Tissier, Beattie, Lambert.  OK, we had a year of McGoldrick passing penalties straight to the keeper but in the main, a penalty has meant a goal.  I have never been less confident that we’d score since the McGoldrick days, as I was as Tadic stepped up.  I didn’t like his penalty at Arsenal in the cup which was tapped down the middle and whilst this one was better than that, if the keeper goes the right way he saves it which is what happened.  With the three penalty maestros we have had in the recent past, if the keeper went the right way they just got their fingers burnt as it sped past them into the net.  1-0 against this lot and they’d never have scored and we’d probably have won by 2 or 3.  As it was, we let in another shit goal and were then playing catch up like we have been in the last 4 games.

Having said that – we were unlucky with the goal.  Clyne’s clearance could have gone anywhere but it bounced perfectly for Barnes and the shot was going straight for Fraser until it deflected.  There’s no need to panic but the season begins to unravel if we fail to progress against Sheffield United in the Capital One Quarter Finals on Tuesday.  This of course is a game when we have to find some goals without Graziano Pellè.  The booking he got today was his 5th of the season so he misses the Cup game.  His booking today was another dumb one, getting involved when that scruffy little rat bastard was time wasting.  Graziano shouldn’t have got involved and Twattenburg might have prevented this if he’d booked Boyd for time wasting which he only decided to do after he’d booked Graziano for shoving him.  Shit ref.

Ronald Koeman’s post-match press conference was the same story as for the Man United game – should have won, sloppy up front, gift goal.  Sean Dyche was decent in his appraisal, saying that we were a good side but Burnley earned their lucky today.  Fair enough – I don’t begrudge him that but it doesn’t sit well with me that we’ve lost to a Championship side.  Make no mistake about it – that’s what they are. However, they work hard and what’s not to like – I hope they stay up and shit like Villa get relegated. 

So, Sheffield United away at Bramall Lane.  Three weeks ago this game would have been a walk in the park but it isn’t now.  Make no mistake that we have to be up for it from the first minute and the first goal will be key.  No one apart from Graziano has looked like scoring recently and if we go one down, there will be a number of us wondering who the hell is going to score for us.  I wonder though if we are prioritising the Cup game ahead of the League game we’ve just played?  Morgan is rumoured to be back for this game but it’s Sadio Mané, Dusan Tadic and Shane Long who have to step up to the plate.  Maybe it will be Emmanuel Mayuka’s turn to shine. Nah – don’t be fucking stupid.

Keep the faith…

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Premier League Match 15 - Southampton 1 Manchester United 2

Everything is Shit because we lost and so is this Jumper.

The big guns just keep on coming as we face Man United at home.  They are of course a club in crisis and turmoil, being as they are, 5th in the League and having spent about £200 million on new players this season.  Crisis.  Yep.  Supporters of the big boys who started following post-1992 really have no idea of what a crisis is.  Try League 1 with minus 10 points chaps.  Maybe it’s a crisis that the striker they signed and are paying about a quarter of a million a week to, is only fit for 20 minutes, according to Louis Van Gaal.  Perhaps that money could have been better spent on defenders to replace Vidic and Ferdinand.  Just a thought – sign the players you need rather than signing them because you can.

Van Gaal of course is Dutch and Ronald Koeman is Dutch and they don’t like eachother.  Basically, Van Gaal got installed as a Director of Football figure when Koeman was manager at Ajax and undermined him.  On Van Gaal’s autobiography, Koeman is described as weak and condescendingly called “little boy”.  Koeman doesn’t seem bothered that much but I bet he wants to win this game above all others.

To that end we are of course struggling with injuries with Morgan, Corky and JWP definitely out and Toby Alderweireld touch and go.  I can see us dropping Steve Davis further back and giving Harrison Reed a full debut.  United have injuries too, to Shaw and di Maria but the difference of course is that their resources are massive and playing a game every 3 days is not really an issue for them whereas we happen to be playing all the Champions League sized clubs in December, when the fixture list gets most congested and the bigger squads are most useful.  I think I’m making excuses before the game actually starts.

Monday night 8pm kick off and as things stand we’ve dropped to 4th in the league behind West Ham.  Let that sink in for a bit. Sam Allardyce. West Ham.  Fair play to them but we could really do with a win today.  A win against United is good at any time and we haven’t had one for a while.  In our first season back in the Premier League we had 2 defeats, last year we had 2 draws so this year of course, 2 wins is a formality.

Our team news confirms that everyone expected is out but Reed is still ont h bench with Tadic dropped into a deeper position and both Long and Mané starting.  Maya Yoshida is preferred to Florin Gardos in the centre of defence.  United have both Rooney and RvP up front, supported by Mata and a central midfield of Fellaini and Carrick which surely we can get at.  Both can only play if he’s given time and Fellaini is just crap.  There should be joy down the flanks against Valencia and Young as well and that’s before we get to a back 3 containing the youth of McNair and the lack of ability of Smalling.

There is a first when I reach the corner of the ground where the megastore is and some utter wanker is selling Saints/United half and half scarf.  That’s one reason why people hate United right there… the kind of people they attract.

To the game and away we go with the ball being passed to Fellaini and Big Vic is straight in and nicking the ball off him.  Get in.  With their 3 at the back, United look completely unconvincing and we’re having the better of the opening 10 minutes without looking threatening.  There are decent signs as Long easily beats Young to a Bertrand cross but loops the header over.  More good news is that Tadic and Pellè look like they’re up for it and getting on the ball and winning headers respectively.  Out of nowhere it all goes wrong and José turns blind and knocks a ball back towards Fraser but RvP has seen it all the way and nicked in.  Fraser comes and thinks better of it and gets back and we were all hoping for an Aguero where he saved it but no, van Persie squeezes it through his legs and it dribbles into the net.  Utter, utter shit.  They haven’t had a kick but are 1-0 up.  My son, aged 10, says “that’s what you always tell us not to do”, referring to my role as coach of his football team. Fuck.  Throw in, Row Z, corner, thump it 70 yards – anything but that. Fuck.

Stunned.  Anyway, on with the game and a bonus for United as Smalling is injured and has to goo off to be replaced by Jonny Evans.  After the usual period of nothing after letting in a shit goal, we have a couple of chances.  First we nick the ball off McNair in midfield and Mané drives forward. Tadic is on his left shoulder but he’s greedy and tried to bundle through and loses it.  Pass it or fucking hit it!  Pellè gets in a shot that de Gea catches comfortably and we have a glorious chance on 28 minutes to level as Tadic finds space and all he has to do is roll it in front of Long so he can smash it but he overhits it straight to de Gea.  United’s defending is shambolic though and we get another chance a few minutes later as Fellaini farts around with the ball and loses it to Steve Davis who drives forward and in a mass of tackles and deflections the ball eventually falls free to Graziano who lashes it left footed into the top corner of the net to make it 1-1.

Clyne and Tadic build down the right and when the cross eventually comes in, Mané competes for it and it drops to Shane Long in all sort of space.  He takes his time and lashes it on the volley over the bar. It’s shite, it has to be said.

We dominate the rest of the first half without making it pay and van Gaal, known as a tactical genious, removes McNair who has had a shocker with giving the ball away and puts on Herrera.  Carrick is obviously supposed to drop into the back 3 but no one has told him and he’s stood there with his arms out in the universally understood pose for ‘what the fuck am I supposed to be doing?’.  He fins himself initially in the right back position and Sadio Mané burns past him in a hare versus tortoise moment, only for the hare to fall flat on his arse.
Half time and the feeling is generally positive.  Aside from the stupid goal we’ve been decent and they’ve been shite.  Rooney and RvP have been quiet and Fellaini is up against Big Vic and is losing, massively.  With Carrick in defence there has to be something in this game for us.

The second half starts and the first chance is for an unexpected source as it’s Maya Yoshida who following a corner finds himself weaving into the box. He somehow, possibly by accident, slaloms past two players and it all opens up.  From a tight angle he needs to just put his foot through it but he freezes and does nothing, allowing a defender to knock the ball out and the twat with the whistle and the linesman looking right at it give a goal kick.

De Gea is called upon in anger five minutes later as Tadic finds space on the left and curls in a lovely cross straight onto Long’s forehead but the Irishman thumps his header straight at the keeper and a glorious chance is gone.  That has to be headed down and there’s no way he’s getting to it.  Another chance comes and goes on the hour mark as Rojo tries to dribble out of defence and loses it, the ball via Tadic finding its way to Pellè who connects well but lashes it over the bar.  United are shocking but they do win a corner and Rooney goes over to take it. It’s hilariously bad as he balloons it over everyone and out for the throw in on the other side.

We have a sub warming up and it looks like it’s Jake Hesketh who has never played before.  It’s a few minutes before he gets to come on and United get a free kick wide on the left.  On he comes for Tadic which is a bit of shock as Reed has not been used.  Rooney hoofs over the free kick from the left and it travels miles over everyone and Fraser is rooted to his line as RvP connects with the outside of his left boot from about 4 yards out and pokes it through his legs for 2-1. Oh fuck right off. How can a 6 foot 7 goalkeeper not deal with that – punch it, catch it, do something.  Having said that, no fucker has gone with him and it’s a free shot but it has to be a big shout from the keeper. Like at the Arsenal game, I take a big kick at the empty seat in front of me. Not happy.

We gamely go back on the attack and create a chance thought Clyne, Hesketh and Davis who gets into the box and from 15 yards decides not to shoot and passes it too far ahead of Long who is offside anyway.  Just fucking hit it!!!  Our next chance starts with Long losing the ball and hammering back into his own half to dispossess Squirrel Head who does the predictable beting of the fist on the turf when he doesn’t get a free kick.  Mané brings it forward and feeds Graziano and his snap shot from the left is superbly pushed aside by de Gea low down to his left.

There are 10 minutes to go and it’s time for some impact from the bench, only we haven’t got any as Mayuka comes on for Shane Long. He’s not had the best of games but I’m questioning Ronald on this one.  If Shane can still walk he’s more likely to contribute than Mayuka.  I’m done with this game, slumped back in my chair.  He’s shit, we’ve given it to them, their fans are twats, I hate everything.

85 minutes and the shit one pressures Evans into giving us a corner.  Eventually after it’s cleared we recycle it back to Clyne on the edge of the box and his effort fizzes about a two feet wide of the post.
Once the Clyne chance had been and gone there was a realisation that it wasn’t going to happen.  United took off Mata which served as a reminder to me that he was actually playing and Mané tried to make a contribution by launching a scissor tackle at van Persie which should really have resulted in him being sent off.  United got angry about a challenge by Fonte in which he clattered someone in the head with a raised arm and Squirrel Head managed to get himself booked by chasing the referee around and flapping his arms.   The End.

I think I must have been more pissed off at the end of a football match before but I’m struggling to think of it right now.  I was pissed off at The Emirates last week but nothing on this.  Fuck it.  A golden chance to beat United and we totally threw it away.  United created the square root of fuck all and we give them two goals from a stupid backpass and some dodgy goalkeeping.  United created nothing else and didn’t have another shot.

We were the better side by a mile but that didn’t take much to be honest and there were still major deficiencies in our play.  Our finishing is not clinical enough and there were times when we seemed to back off and allow Fellaini time to not look like the totally abysmal footballer that he is.  He still failed though.  Of course, our strength in depth and lack thereof bit us in the arse again.

I know I go on about him but Mayuka is complete shit.  He’s not a Premier League player in a million years and I doubt he’s even Championship standard.  I’d take Papa Waigo ahead of him and I’d certainly take Guly do Prado ahead of him. There is absolutely no debate – he is woeful.  There’s something wrong when Gaston Ramirez is warming the bench at Hull and not on our bench and we’re having to use shite like Mayuka and we have no alternative to Mané when he’s having a shocker.  Obviously J-Rod can’t get fit quickly enough but in the meantime, to me, Ramirez covers both wings positions and the No 10 position – I know he’s never really done it but he’s better than what we have on the bench.  I’m also a bit bemused by Jake Hesketh coming on.  Whilst it’s great to have another academy kid making his debut – what has Harrison Reed done wrong?  Seems that he’s not trusted to play the defensive midfield positions so where is he going to play if someone is promoted over him to play in an attacking midfield position.

An honest appraisal of United would be that they were awful.  Some nice passing in front of our defence when we stood off them but no threat and not much control.  Carrick and Fellaini are shite if you get in their faces and Fellaini in particular plays like he has callipers on his legs,  Just remember Scholes and Keane in midfield for them and then look at Carrick and Fellaini.  I thought Young and Valencia did well on the wings but the defence was all over the shop and bailed out by de Gea who was excellent.  Van Persie took his goals well of course after we’d presented them to him but otherwise, he and Squirrel Head huffed and puffed and created very little.

The line to remember from Koeman’s post match press conference was “everything is shit because we lost”. That’s a brilliant appraisal of things.  We played ok and were the better side but it’s all going to be for nothing if we throw the opposition a couple of goals.  In the last 4 games we’ve conceded 7 goals and only the one up at Arsenal has not been a glaring error by us.  Van Gaal acknowledged that United were lucky and we were the better side.  Is that any consolation? No it fucking isn’t.

Positives for us were that Pellè looked himself again and Tadic had a decent game.  Apart from the backpass, Fonte did a good job and Yoshida did what you expect a cover centre back to do – solid enough and no big mistakes.  Big Vic and Steve Davis were excellent in midfield in breaking up play but then there were still problems.   Mané and Long were generally poor with Mané either choosing the wrong option or falling on his arse and Long being at his unclinical worst.  He had two great chances  - a header straight at de Gea and the chance he lashed over the bar when he had loads of time.

So frustrating.  United were there for the taking and we threw it away.  One final point is that I feel that there has been a lack of belief that we could win our last 3 games.  We really should have got 4 points from the Arsenal and United games but we’ve got 0 which is fucking annoying. 

Next up we have Burnley away which is a great chance to repair the confidence and get things sorted.  They’ll be up for it and will test us but as long as we don’t throw any stupid goals in, we should be coming back from Turf Moor with 3 points.

I hate United.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Premier League Match 14 - Arsenal 1 Southampton 0

Thou Shalt Not Pass.... Nearly.

The second of our run of dodgy fixtures is an away trip to The Emirates to play Arsenal who are having a dodgy season themselves.  A couple of seasons ago I predicted that their run of finishing in the top 4 would come to an end but it hasn’t as yet and you can see them doing it again this season.  Arsenal’s seasons are all much the same: Top 4 in the League, play kids in the Carling Cup, get knocked out, come 2nd in group stage of Champions League, draw a big gun in knockout round, lose.  Usually in the FA Cup they look like they might win it but never do but last year they bucked that particular trend by winning Arsene’s first silverwear since Calum Chambers was 8. 

Ah Calum, the latest Saints youth product who has been stolen away by the master Child Catcher.  Every time he’s interviewed, Chambers make a great play of thanking Saints and the fans and he “wouldn’t be the player he was without us” etc. Fucking save it mate.  You played half a season, finished 8th in the Premier League and fucked off as soon as you could.  Yes we got £16million quid but even so.   Calum’s new team mates Theo and Alex left when a) we were in the Championship and totally skint and b) we were in the Championship so they’re given a bit of slack.

I don’t usually do away matches but I’m here today and via the M25 and a tube from Cockfosters, I arrive at the ground which looks impressive from the outside.  Has the game been called off or put back an hour though as there’s no bugger here.  Inside is impressive as well but he same applied regarding people.  Kick off is in 5 minutes and it’s about a third full.

Morgan Schneiderlin is missing for us but Corky is back and Shane Long has been preferred to Mané on the wing.  This will enable Tadic to play on his natural left side and hopefully shake him out of the dip in form that he’s in.  Arsenal have had injury problems in defence but typically they’re all fit now with Chambers at right back.  The front 6 of Arsenal all look decent with Flamini and Ramsey deeper and Chamberlain, Welbeck, Cazorla and Sanchez providing the goal threat.  Sanchez is of course the player Liverpool should have signed to replace Suarez.  They could have done with the 14 goals he’s already scored more than Balotelli.

A quiet start to the game is interrupted as Cazorla threads a great ball inbetween Fonte and Clyne to Welbeck.  Will we get United Welbeck or Arsenal Welbeck tonight?  1-0 to United as Welbeck tries to knock it first time past Forster which he does, but also well wide of the post.  Saints are getting it down with Corky and Big Vic looking good until Ramsey tried to tackle Cork on the edge of the box and looks like he’s caught him high on the inside of the knee.  Corky collapses in a heap and everyone stops for a second.  Ramsey is almost apologising but Andre Marriner, who couldn’t have been better placed, waves play on. Fuck off.

Corky’s hobbling but we’re playing well and we should take the lead on 20 minutes as following a move down the right which originated from Chambers arguing about a throw in rather than defending it, Pellè ships a ball into Steve Davis who cushions a lovely return header into the Italian’s path.  He should score but it sits up a bit and he tries to rip the net off with a left footed volley and smashes it into the crowd.

With the Arsenal fans waking up a bit, their team tries to quicken the tempo with all their good stuff coming through Chamberlain.  Every time one of our players but particularly Big Vic, sticks a foot in or uses a bit of strength, it’s a foul as a lightweight Arsenal midfielder goes tumbling.  Chamberlain works an opening for himself on the edge of the box but drags his shot a bit and Forster gets down well to save.

The non-foul on Corky finally means he has to go off and Koeman goes for the same substitution as last week with Yoshida coming on and Alderweireld moving into midfield.  I’m not sure about this and Maya immediately makes me worry by doing an impression of that tap dancing penguin and treading on the ball right in front of the goal.  The chaos ends as United Welbeck tries a backheel and puts it wide.

For once, Marriner lets it go as Big Vic ran over Sanchez and took the ball away before feeding Graziano and his long range effort deflected off of a Gooner defender and flew at a comfortable height for Martinez to grab.  We have one scare ourselves before half time as Big Vic does this time trash someone and the free kick is flicked goalwards by Welbeck but Forster takes off to palm it over the bar.  It looked good but he’d have been disappointed if it had gone in.  Half time.

Arsenal have changed tactics at the start of the second half with Welbeck moved left and Sanchez up the middle.  They’re pinning us back a bit but most of their moves are failing with misplaced passes and the Man United Version of Welbeck to the fore.  This is the Welbeck we like – the one that plays a ball into space where there’s no Arsenal player within 30 yards.  We win a corner and Tadic has given up on trying to cross one in and plays it short to Clyne.  His cross is chested down by Graziano beyond the back post and his volley is travelling but immediately blocked by Koscielny.  We’re on the attack the next time we’ve got the ball as Big Vic sends Long sprinting away behind Monreal but instead of looking up and picking out Pellè at the back stick, he lashes horribly into the crowd.

As we approach the hour mark, Tadic is off to be replaced by Mané but this makes no difference to the increased pressure we’re coming under. Giroud has come on for Chamberlain (whose removal is greeted with a chorus of boos from the Arsenal fans who aren’t clinically dead) and he’s having an impact straight away, hitting a volley goalwards from a Sanchez pass which Forster parried away.  Fraser is at it again a few minutes later as Giroud flicks on a Sanchez cross and Welbeck hooks goalwards only to see the big man claw it away one handed.

As we reach 80 minutes we’re looking comfortable and a couple of substitutions are made which tell you all you need to know about Arsenal’s resources compared to ours.  They take off Welbeck and bring on Podolski who has won the World Cup and 100 caps and 60 goals for Germany.  We take off Shane Long who has worked his nuts off and bring on Mayuka who has won a game of keepy uppy with a passing man and his dog on the Veracity Ground.   It’s worrying anyway but three minutes later it’s a disaster as the Magnificent Alderweireld pulls up holding his hamstring.  Shiiiiit!  He’s done and gone, 7 minutes to go with 10 men.

Arsenal, roared on by the 3000 or so fans who aren’t in a coma, throw a cross into the box and up goes Giroud.  It’s a perfect header over the keeper and it looks for all the world like a goal but Fraser arches backwards and claws it out for a quite brilliant save.  There is still a feeling that we’re not going to get away with this.  Mayuka does not have a clue how to defend on the right wing (not his fault) and there is all sorts of space out there.  Interestingly, Podolski wants to leave Arsenal in January... we'll have him please Ronald!

Anyway... with 3 minutes to go, the problem comes on the other side of the pitch as Chambers finds space.  His cross into the mixer is hit by Jose Fonte onto his own arm and he fails to clear.  The loose ball drops to the one player who isn’t going to miss and Sanchez knocks it into the net. Fuck off!   The only consolation was that a lot of the casual Gooner twats had missed the goal either through being in a coma or on their way home. Bollocks.

We play spot on the allotted injury time and Andre Marriner can’t wait to end the game. Wanker.  I’m not blaming the ref for us losing but he sure as hell didn’t make our job any easier.  From the moment he didn’t give the foul when Corky got injured then you knew he was going to be a typical one eyed, big team at home, bag of shit.  The most annoying thing about him was the way he totally fails to appreciate that Big Vic is a strong player and all Arsenal’s midfielders are tiny.  If he leans on them, it’s not necessarily a foul if they fall down, which they always do.  Big Vic went down in a challenge at the end and Marriner waved play on. It’s probably wasn’t a foul but you can’t give those all day to Arsenal and then not give them the other way round.

Here's a thing.  This was the first time Andre Marriner had refereed Arsenal since he thought Kieran Gibbs and Alex Chamberlain looked the same and sent the wrong one off in that game against Chelsea.  Remember what happened when we got Clattenburg in the first time he'd refereed Everton for ages.  Yes, we got a shitload of crap decisions in that game as well.  Just saying...

Forgetting him for a minute though, I just feel that we’ve been done, ripped off and basically that we didn’t get what we deserved.  I don’t think Arsenal would have scored if either Cork or Alderweireld hadn’t got injured.  Cork’s injury brought Yoshida into the game and whilst he didn’t do badly, as soon as Giroud came on he didn’t have a clue, the same way he never has a clue when he plays against any physical striker.  Toby would have handled him much better.  What a player Toby Alderweireld is – the boss in defence and superb in midfield until he had to go off and that’s where the bad luck comes in, 3 subs already made and having to defend with 10 men, two of whom are Mané and Mayuka.  Bollocks.

After the final whistle, Chamberlain came over to give us a clap and he got an appreciative round back. Chambers came over and got boos and wanker signs and fuck offs.  The way it should be.  It occurred to me how much I enjoyed going to a game and not being in the family centre and being able to call the referee a cunt and generally have a good old swear at everything.  I would like to think that my bad language is all over the footage that the knob in front of me has on his mobile phone.  The first half corner that Steve Davis shanked along the ground just before I shouted “get it off the fucking ground for fucks sake” should make a good You Tube clip.  He recorded practically the whole game.

Into the London night and home. Pissed off.  The bigger picture is that we played well and it’s only City who’ve really done us this season and even that was close for 80 minutes.  Other than that, we’ve lost to Liverpool 2-1 and hit the bar in the last minute, lost to Spurs 1-0 when they should have had a man sent off and we missed a sitter in the last minute and we’ve lost 1-0 to Arsenal when down to 10 men, in the last minute.  Small margins and all that.  As for tonight – we played well and Fraser Forster finally proved to Saints fans what a good goalkeeper he is.  The congested Xmas period always favours the sides with bigger squads and like last year, playing all the big guns at this time of year is not doing us any favours.  Still….Proud to be a Saint.

So, we’re still 3rd in the League and it’s Man United up next who will replace us in 3rd if they beat us.  We have an injury crisis in midfield as I can’t see any of Morgan, Corky, Toby or JWP being available.  In addition to that, Dusan Tadic is also injured apparently.   It looks like Harrison Reed must be very close to getting a start unless Ronald decides on something left field like playing Maya or Gardos in midfield. If Mayuka starts I might cry.  News is coming though that United’s injuries are all clearing up as well. Great.  There’s addition spice to this one with Koeman and Van Gaal not being the best of mates so I’m sure the press conferences will be interesting.

We march (limp) on!