Don't Make Faces At Him, Try and Save It
After yet another crap night’s sleep it is finally here, EFL cup final day, Southampton against Manchester United. It does seem to have taken absolutely ages to come around and I guess this is because we haven't had a game for two weeks. We had a late substitution last night as the car we were going to travelling decided that it needed to be squad rotated and so my car was requisitioned. I have no problem with driving as my days of alcohol at football disappeared when I had to start being responsible for my kids. My son who is going with me, was born a year after the Cardiff FA Cup final against Arsenal which really puts into perspective how rarely we get to cup finals. Our regular triumvirate is usually made up by my dad but he's managed to book a holiday and is on a boat, floating around somewhere in the South China Seas is desperately trying to get an Internet connection. My eldest daughter has been the beneficiary of rotation on the ticket side of things.
Travel sickness on the coaches has been an issue in the past so unlike the JPT in 2010, it's a 10.15 start to drive to Uxbridge. Despite England playing rugby at Twickenham with a 3 o'clock kick-off there is no issue at the top of the M3 and around the M25 to the M40 and parked in the shopping centre in Uxbridge by 12. A brief stop for food and then on the tube and I think this is quite possibly the earliest I have ever got to a football ground in my life, over three hours before the game kicks off and an hour before the turnstiles open. It's pretty cold so into Costa to grab a table and evaporate a cauldron of over-priced coffee for an hour. It was quite good watching the queue of pissed off looking Manchester United fans. Hopefully this would not be the first time today to the United fans would look pissed off.
Into the ground and I've been to Wembley a few times but every time I go in the initial view of the pitch is quite breath-taking. The ground it just looks fucking huge and it's hard to get your head round the fact that it holds virtually three times what St Mary's does. The kids ask me why Saints only got 31,000 tickets when the ground is clearly much bigger than 62,000 people. A brief chat ensues about the corporate level and I try not to use the words “wankers”, “freeloaders” and the phrases “rich bastards” and “those areas will be full of fucking United fans”. I do use the phrase, "about as far away from the working man's game as you can possibly get" which I'm quite pleased with. I have nothing against fans sitting in those areas but I just don't like that entire side of things and why there has to be nearly a third of the ground given over to it.
Our team news is as expected. It's the same team that played against Sunderland. Martin Caceres is on the bench as is Sofiane Boufal and the unlucky player who doesn't make the bench is Jordy Clasie. I'm not often right but I called that. José Mourinho has surveyed his embarrassment of riches and picked Chris Smalling at centre back and shifted Marcus Rojo out to left back. Michael Carrick isn't playing so Mata, Herrera and Carlton Pogba make up of the midfield and up front they have Martial, Lingard and the big man, Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Stop the big man and we have a chance today.
The atmosphere is really good in our end as we approach kick off with some serious renditions of 'Oh when the saints go marching in' and the Markus flag gets a rare outing as we all pass it over our heads from one side of the lower tier to the other. I don't know if it's an illusion because I'm stood right in the middle of it but the Saints fans appear to have got here early to make the most of the day where is the United fans seem to be leaving it to the last minute before entering the ground. This is exactly what happened in Cardiff with the Arsenal fans in 2003. No matter what anyone says, this means a fuck load more to us than it does to them.
A View From Under the Markus Flag
A quick blast through the national anthem which we sing at a much faster pace than the lass who is in the middle of the pitch with a microphone and we are ready to go.
The first ball up to Ibrahimovic sees him against Yoshida and he fouls him and Stephens is straight over and pushing him in the chest. Good man – don’t be intimidated. We look ok from the start but it’s United who have the first effort as they pass through midfield and Pogba has all the time in the world to take aim but he hits it straight at Fraser who parries it away.
One of my fears was that we would not have a go but we are having a go but we look a bit open when we lose the ball. Mind you, so do they as their midfield doesn’t seem arsed about tracking back. Bertrnd gets on the gallop down the left and gets the ball over but no one’s there and Rojo picks it up but is immediately disposed by Cedric. Rojo dives in but Cedric keeps going, slides it over and Gabbiadini steers it into the net. Flag up straight away and there’s not too much angst from our end because it’s up the other end and there’s no TV replay. Later on though… fucking hell. It’s a diabolical decision. The lino’s flag has shot up against Bertrand but the ball never reaches him and he make no movement towards it. Gabbiadini is onside and it should have counted. All the times you see llinesman wait until the forward has touched it before they flag and we get the wanker with a hair-trigger.
Like I say, there’s not a huge sense of injustice at the time and Herrera picks it up about 25 yards out and Romeu launches in and clatters him. Yes it’s a foul it’s not that bad but the Rat Faced Little Prick is rolling around, throwing his arms in the air and imploring Andre Marriner to book his fellow Spaniard which he does. Up steps Ibrahimovic and bang, over the wall and curling past the falling tree that is Fraser and into the net, about a yard from the post. Fuck off. Big screen replay and our wall is a disaster – someone turns their back, someone doesn’t jump and the keeper doesn’t react quickly enough. Balls.
We react well and are still the better side. Gabbiadini’s disallowed goal seems to have brought him to life and he expertly tees up JWP and he hits a decent low effort which de Gea gets down very well to save with a strong one handed effort. Herrera then reaps what he sewed earlier as he hauls down Redmond but because the ref has set a precedent due in the main to Hererra’s theatrics, he has to book him as well for what it a nothing challenge.
So, we’re still the better side but we switch off again horribly. A throw in on the United left is worked infield and Rojo just runs off the back of Davis and squares to Lingard who is in acres. Yoshida doesn’t throw himself at the ball and just stands there, perfectly screening Fraser’s view and Lingard just passes it into the net. Shockingly easy schoolboy defending goal to concede. Oh shit we’re going to get battered four or five.
I’m hoping we can get to half time without anything else going wrong and then Stephens goes on a run upfield, overruns it and piles into Martial who rolls around and all the United players are round the ref. Oh shit this is going to be a red card isn’t it and then we are completely fucked. Marriner only hands out a yellow and somehow we get the free kick. Turns out Lingard (who is also booked) has tripped Stephens which has thrown him off balance and he’s then piled into Martial. For those worried, despite looking dead, Martial is perfectly ok.
45 minutes are up and Redders is allowed to play a simple ball infront of JWP on the United left and a low cross in and Gabbiadini appears to knock it through de Gea’s legs to make it 2-1.., Get the fuck in… a look to the linesman and this time it stands. Come on!!! So, half time and we’re back in it and still very much in the game if we can keep playing as well as we are going forward. Jose Mourinho is obviously a bit concerned about the lack of tracking in his midfield so on comes Michael Carrick for Juan Mata. We’re unchanged and away we go.
JWP wins and early corner as his cross deflects of Rojo, over it comes and Yoshida knocks it back in and Redmond lashes a first time volley from an angle which is a great strike but to close to de Gea who react and knocks it over for another corner. Chris Smalling really should be a wrestler. Remember that rule we had at the start of the season where referees actually gave penalties for shirt pulling. Smalling is a joke in this regard. Anyway, JWP’s corner is headed out and back in again and Gabbiadini swivels with Smalling at his back and hits it first time past de Gea and into the net for 2-2. It’s right up there with Matt le Tiss in the last game at The Dell and Franny’s one goal. Our block has gone absolutely mental and Who the fuck are Man United, an explosion of noise and whirling scarves and Seven Nation Army rewritten with Oh, Gabb-i-a-di-ni! Fucking awesome.
There’s still no response from United and Lingard goes in late on Redmond as he breaks forward but the Saints man rides the tackle and keeps going because fo which the ref does fuck all. Compare and contrast with Shitbag Herrera earlier. United’s next chance is all of our own making as Fraser has the ball and instead of smashing it, clips it right to absolutely no one in a white shirt and has to redeem himself by rushing out at Ibrahimovic’s feet. What the fuck was that? We don’t make it hard for them. We’ve rocked them right back and we pick them up again and just give it to them. When we don’t give them stupid chances, all they’ve got is a long ball to the big man.
Meanwhile, Gabbiadini superbly makes something of a pass drilled to him and Davo’s clever backheel puts Cedric in and his low cross is cleared away by Valencia in front of Bertrand who has not quite got in there enough. JWP fires in another excellent delivery from the left and Romeu is up above Carlton who adds jumping to the list of things he can't be arsed to do and his header smacks off the post and away with de Gea beaten. Fuuuuuuck!
There’s a scare at our end and again it’s our own doing as Stephens gets under a cross and just misses it and Lingard at the back post has time but fucks it up and lashes over.
Boufal on for the disappointing Tadic on 70 and Long is on for Gabbiadini on 80. To be fair he’s looking knackered but who do you want in the box if the ball bounces? Five minutes to go and Boufal sends Bertrand away on the left, a low cross and Long misses it whilst being kicked up in the air by Bailly and the ball fizzes across and safe. Again it’s a half hearted appeal so it isn’t going to get given. We win a corner and despite Smalling still doing the Nacho Libre wrestling thing, Stephens heads at goal and Ibrahimovic clears from in front of the goal. Another corner, this time from Boufal and it’s cleared up and Yoshida fucks up and sends Herrera away on the right. The build up is slow-ish and we get players back and they’re all back when Herrera delivers the cross but no one is marking the 6 foot 5 centre forward and he buries the free header from 6 yards. Heart breaking and gut wrenching. You can’t really blame the keeper when there’s a free header from 6 yards but there was a time when he’d have made himself huge and the ball would have hit him. Not this season though.
Herrera still has time to try and get Romeu sent off as he gets caught and can’t decide which part of his face to hold which is a common problem when none of it actually hurts. We throw J-rod on for the last few minutes but we’ve gone and we don’t create another chance.
Game over. Gutted. Left with a sour taste in the mouth and the feeling of being ripped off. It's quite a common occurrence when you're playing one of the big clubs - Arsenal away this season for example. I'll get into the disallowed goal later on but right now there is pride in my team, pride in our supporters mixed in with the sick feeling in my stomach. How the fuck were we the better team for virtually the entire match and manage to lose? We come so close against the multibillionaires of Manchester United and it's fucking horrible. In 2003 we all stayed in the stadium and watched Arsenal pick up a cup but there's no fucking way I'm staying here to watch these cunts. Our boys have already come over to clap the fans so as soon as they've gone up the steps to receive their losers medals, we’re out of there.
In the queue for Wembley Park tube station, I'm surprised/not surprised to find thousands of United fans who have obviously left the ground before I did. Another throwback to 2003 where a lot of the arrogant fans of the winning team can't even be arsed to stick around long enough to watch their precious commodities pick up the trophy. It means that little to them. If we'd won the Wembley staff would have had to kick us all out about two hours after the finish. The unexpected bonus in all this of course is that we get to stand there and listen to United fans singing songs about Liverpool and Manchester City. They really are a bunch of pricks with absolutely no clue whatsoever. I have to make a distinction between Manchester United usual away following who are a very good following but I guess a cup final in London brings out all the plastic twats. There is one song that changes the lyrics of ‘Something Good’ and the United version has a line which says “Jose playing the way that United should”. Yeah right. Hit the long ball up to Zlatan - great football that! I know it’s only a song but do you genuinely believe that?
Back to Uxbridge and home. The junction at the top of the M3 is a fucking nightmare so it's onto the A3 and home. I managed to keep in a fairly good mood was driving home in the pissing rain but when I get home it's like a throwback to the old days where a bad result would ruin it for the entire weekend. I don't wanna talk about it and thinking about it comes later of course, when I'm trying and failing to sleep.
It was always going to be the case that how well we dealt with Ibrahimovic was going to define how the game went and the bottom line is that we didn't deal with him. We lost because of the defending as all three goals had elements about them that was very poor from our point of view. The first goal was a slightly needless foul, shambolic defensive wall and the goalkeeper not getting down quick enough. The second goal was just too open, not tracking a runner and a defender not throwing himself at the ball. The third, I know we were stretched but defenders were back and giving him a free header from 6 yards is absolutely criminal.
In my opinion the centre back issue killed us. Maya and Jack passed around nicely but at the key moments they went missing so all the pretty football and occasional good defending doesn't make up for that I'm afraid. We as a team are not nasty enough which is one of the reasons why I thought Caceres should have played from the start. We cannot allow the well-publicised centre back issues to happen again in any area of the team if we are serious about trying to compete for trophies against the likes of Manchester United. I’m not feeling too charitable towards José Fonte at the moment.
With the disallowed goal, we should have been all round the referee and made him go and talk to the linesman. If he had then it's a quick conversation to work out that Gabbiadini has scored and Bertrand is not a factor because the ball hasn't reached him. Okay, it might not have played out that way but we should've made a massive fuss about it as you can be damn sure that United would've done. Likewise, with the wall on the first goal. Chris Smalling was barging us all out of the way and someone should've been digging him in the back. This is our wall now fuck off. In an ideal world, we want the referees to be better but without that, do you have to accept that if you can't beat them, join them. If Nathan Redmond goes down screaming like a little bitch instead of staying his feet then Jesse Lingard probably gets sent off. Again, you can be sure as shit that if Herrera, Pogba, Ibrahimovic or Martial had been clipped by a player on a second booking they would've been over in the ground straight away and we would be down to 10 men.
I understand the reluctance to flood the game with technology and endless stoppages but surely if the ball is dead. Like it is when it actually hits the back of the net then it really wouldn't be too much to ask to check. It would've taken five seconds to find out that that was a goal. When I looked on Twitter at half time, there was a picture which showed Gabbiadini was clearly onside. It was posted about 30 seconds after the actual incident.
I thought our standout players were of course Gabbiadini, ably supported by Redmond and the two fullbacks who are both excellent. I was also very impressed by a Oriol Romeu despite playing most of the game with the booking, thanks for that little bitch Herrera. You could tell he was really concentrating on what challenges to going for and what not to go in for which I think will augur well for the future as it shows that he does really think about his game and he will only get better. I’d also like to big up JWP’s contribution as I thought he was excellent today – one of his best games in a Saints shirt. For me, Tadic and then Boufal didn't really do it. I've seen some reports that suggested the Tadic had a good game so it may be down to interpretation but I'm afraid I didn't see it and I thought it was an obvious substitution to make when he went off even though it didn't have much effect. I can’t really find too much fault in what Claude did. He got the formation and tactics right but mistakes cost us. Taking Gabbiadini off could be seen as a mistake but I could see the logic in it. There’s no guarantee that Caceres would have made a difference but I suspect he might have done and I expect him to be in the side for the next league game.
Forster 5, Cedric 8, Bertrand 8, Yoshida 5, Stephens 5, Romeu 8, JWP 8, Davis 7, Tadic 6, Redmond 8, Gabbiadini 9. Long 6, Boufal 6.
There are a couple of moments to really stand out for me in the whole game. When the second goal went in it was fucking amazing. We had come back from 2-0 down and they were rocking and at that point, I really thought we were going to win. As the game kicked off again and we were all still going mad, it was with great amusement that I had my son piling in to the ‘Who the fuck are Man United’ chants at full volume. Don't repeat that school young man.
As for United, well they did enough to win so I guess you have to congratulate them on that. Ibrahimovic is completely carrying the team are and whilst I respect that he is a great player, I found it quite surpising that for somebody who prides himself on being a bit of a tough guy, he really hit the deck easily, especially in the second half. It was a bit pathetic to be honest. As for the others, well Ander Herrera is my new hate figure - what an absolute shit bag. Diving around and screaming like a little bitch whenever anyone gets near. Absolutely fuck off. Then there is Carlton Pogba. The Carlton Palmer comparison really isn't too far fetched. When there’s a situation in midfield and Pogba has to use strength and power then he's pretty good and he batters players out the way and keeps possession and that's good but when he's trying to be creative, fucking hell. There are a couple of occasions when he looked up and chipped the ball out of play and there wasn’t a United player within 30 yards so what the fuck was the aiming at? Still, he has a new haircut and his own emoji on Twitter and he is very marketable. José Mourinho's interview after the game was quite magnanimous in that he admitted that the better side lost which was quite good of him. He of course talked up the influence of his main man but then he tried to talk up Pogba which was a bit of a laugh because everybody knows that he was shit and he's just trying to deflect away from it but all he really did was highlight it.
So, it's a glorious defeat. Fuck that, I hate glorious near misses. It would be nice be the bride instead of the bridesmaid so to speak. One thing I've been reminded of in the day or so since the game is that you can tell the class of supporters of other teams by how they react to you after that was basically an extremely gut-wrenching defeat. The supporters of our own team today were absolutely magnificent from start to finish and I loved every second of being in amongst it all at Wembley Stadium. Gut-wrenching and heart breaking. Maybe next year, maybe not but whatever happens, I was reminded today what a great club I am proud to support.