What a Surprise - The Boy Can Play
After the tedium of the past couple of games, there won’t have been many Saints fans looking forward to today’s trip to Middlesbrough which is a shithole at the best of times. Boro prove that no matter how much your own team annoys you, you never have to look too far to not feel too sorry for yourselves. The Smoggy’s themselves have not been having the best of times of it either, having had their relegation confirmed last week when they failed to win a 3 point banker away at Chelsea. The football they’ve produced has been horrendous and they don’t score any goals. The tedious brand of football that they employ was set in stone by Aitor Karanka who finally got sacked and Boro gave notice that they had given up on staying up by approaching Steve Agnew as manager for the rest of the season. I don’t really know anything about him but one three minute interview is enough to know that they weren’t going anywhere other than the Championship.
The Boro squad looks ready for the Championship already. Brad Guzan in goal after that season he had in goal for Villa last season where he let in about 100 goals with 98 of them going through his legs. Patrick Bamford is up front and they paid £7 million for a striker who never scores. He looked good in youth football when he was the biggest 14 year old you’ve ever seen.
The defence features Calum Chambers – no doubt in his reflective moments he thinks about the decisions he’s made in his career and feel a bit sad but then his bank statement drops through the door and he feels ok about it all. To recap, he was with Saints from 8 years old through to 20 when he made the first team, played about 20 games and then fucked off to Arsenal as soon as he could. I’m sure he envisaged Champions League Football and England Caps and whilst he played very occasionally (as 4th choice right backs, 5th choice centre backs do) he mostly ended up playing in front of 3 men and a dog in age group games before this season being loan to Middlesbrough where he’s played about two-thirds of the games and been relegated. Maybe if he’d stayed with shitty old Southampton he’d have been a Premier League regular and possibly been in the England squad. Never mind though – just check the bank balance whilst you’re pondering next season’s loan move or better still, ask for a transfer and move to a club where you might actually play, rather than becoming the next Luke Shaw. Would I take him back? Yes – potentially a very good player.
The press have latched onto the ‘Puel out’ bandwagon and have linked a few managers with us, the most prominent of which being Marco Silva who is about to get relegated with Hull. Hmmm. I’m not a huge fan of Claude right now but I think we can do better than that come the revolution though Silva’s record in Portuguese football before Hull was very good. My main criticism of Claude is his predictability but he must have had several ‘fuck it’ pills before picking the side as he made 7 changes. Amazingly, one of them was Martin Caceres coming in for his long overdue debut and almost as surprising was Jeremy Pied starting at right back. I’m going to go with Cedric and Gabbiadini being rested but going to say that Stephens, Davis, Redmond, Tadic and JWP were all dropped to see if others could do better. In addition to the two debuts, in came Hojbjerg, Clasie, Boufal, Long and Rodriguez.
It's predictably dull for the first fifteen or so. Saints looks solid enough at the back with Caceres showing touches of class in amongst touches of rust which after 18 months out is not surprising. Shane Long is playing down the right and wins our first corner. No one seems to know who’s going to take it with none of JWP, Tadic or Davis on the pitch so it falls to Boufal and it’s a decent kick but an under pressure Caceres heads over.
Jeremy Pied is making up for lost time on the right and is finding loads of space to attack, feeding Long whose cross is missed by J-Rod and finds its way across to Ryan Bertrand’s right foot and he shanks it wide. Caceres starts Middlesbrough’s first attack with a poor ball out of defence and J-Rod shows great work ethic to get back and foul de Roon and just to make sure, Romeu trashes Bamford as well which is pointless because he’s complete shit. Negredo takes the free kick but can’t clear the wall.
I have been a pretty loud critic of Shane Long this season but he does bring something to the team that is needed in that he plays quickly – there’s no fucking about and not too much thought about going sideways or backwards. J-Rod finds him out on the right and his first time cross is heading towards Hojbjerg for a tap in but Guzan gets a hand to it and the danger passes.
Gibson, the Middlesbrough centre back is highly rated but every time I’ve seen him on TV he’s been shite and there’s an “Under 11s football klaxon” going off as he lets a clearance bounce, Long challenges him and so Gibson just hauls him down and handballs it. How this is not a yellow card I will never know and similarly to the corner earlier on, no one knows who’s on free kicks and so Hojbjerg has a smash from miles out but again it hits the wall, goes up in the air and Maya tries to score with a header from 20 yards which even Guzan saves.
A goal is not looking particularly likely but then what do you know? Clasie picks it up and plays a superbly times ball into the right channel for Shane to run onto. He crosses first time to where Chambers has lost J-Rod and with an almost casual swing of the right boot, Jay dispatches the ball past Guzan and into the net on the half volley. Great technique and a really good goal.
Boooooo! go the Boro fans as the teams go in for half time. Bizarrely they’re chanting the name of Aitor Karanka who is at least 90% responsible for the way they’ve played this season.
Boufal is gone at half time, replaced with Redmond and away we go. Obviously fired up by the words of inspirational Agnew, Boro attack a bit at the start of the second half but this mainly involves lumping it forward which Caceres and Yoshida are dealing with quite comfortably. They’re also sticking the boot in whenever possible with Clayton seemingly on a one man mission to kick as many players as possible. There’s another Bamford classic as Chambers launches it in there, Negredo wins the header and it falls to Bamford who shuts his eyes and slices it over the bar.
Saints show them how to do it a few minutes later as Romeu and Hojbjerg combine to give the ball to J-Rod and he superbly picks out Redmond on the left wing in acres. Fabio has come so far infield that when he tries to get to Redmond he just skips round him and bends a right footed shot into the far top corner. Superb goal and 2-0.
Saints keep attacking as the boos ring round and Bertrand on the left slides a well weighted ball to meet the diagonal run of Long and he gets there before Guzan who brings him down as clear as you like. Penalty. Oh fuck off, Shane’s going to take it. J-Rod, Bertrand, Caceres – actually any fucker rather than him. Up he steps, leathers it, off the bar and over. Bloody hell.
We have another great chance to put it ot bed as Redmond again finds himself in acres on the left with Fabio nowhere but this time he gets under it and puts it over. Boro show signs of life with De Roon firing over and then they are very lucky to win a corner as Friend and Pied go up for a header and he ref adjudges that Friend’s header has flicked off the top of Pied’s head. Looks like bollocks to me. Anyhow, Fischer whips in the corner, a header and it’s in the back of the net. No, not fucking Bamford. Then I see the replay and it’s actually quite funny. Bertrand is marking Bamford and is shoving him around a bit and I swear that Bamford is looking the wrong way and it just hits him on the back of the head and goes in.
There’s a little over 5 to go and we’re still a threat and Gibson shows how average he is by taking a shite touch, losing the ball to Shane and then unceremoniously carting him over. It’s his first yellow card but it should be his second. Shane isn’t getting up and on comes Charlie Austin for the last few minutes. As the free kick comes in I’m expecting an Austin goal but J-Rod puts a header over the bar.
There is one scare as there always is as a bouncing ball falls to Chambers who leathers it but Fraser gets down well to save quite comfortably and the last chance of the game is ours as Redmond on the right plays in Davis (on for Hojbjerg) who gets to the ball through some dreadful half arsed defending and pulls it bacj to J-Rod on the edge of the box who fires just wide. Should have scored really but never mind. It’s the final whistle and we’ve got that winning feeling again.
Ultimately it was a win against a desperately bad Middlesbrough side who are relegated for a reason and they showed it today. It was good to see the fringe players show what they can do and hopefully, Claude can continue his upward trajectory and the ones that played well will be rewarded with a place for the Manchester United match. From what I saw today, Clasie should keep his place ahead of Steve Davis, Redmond ahead of Boufal and J-Rod ahead of Tadic... Oh yes, Martin Caceres. Who could have predicted that the 60-odd cap Uruguay International with five Scudetto's and a Spanish league title would be decent? Barcelona and Juventus on his list of former clubs... played with and against some of the best players in the world... Who could have predicted that possible? Two months too late. You know, maybe Claude wouldn't have any pressure on him if Caceres had played for the last two months and he has to stay in the team. I know that Bamford and Negredo aren't the toughest opponents to deal with but I'm sure he'd be OK to deal with better – after all, he’s done it before.
Having said all that about the changes in the team, the first half was incredibly stodgy and we only really played ok from J-Rod's goal to Shane's penalty miss. Jesus... Who is the last Saints player you'd ever want to take a penalty? Out of the 11 out there at the time, I'd have had Shane in a play off for last place with Fraser. Anyone who has watched Shane over the last few years knows that the ball only goes in the right direction when it's instinctive and he has no time to think. He never scores in the warm up shooting drill and there is no way that he practised penalties ever. I reckon he knew that he was going to miss. My mind goes back to when Austin started a fight with Tadic so he could take a penalty and the theory I have about J-Rod just being too nice and almost timid.. We really could have done with J-Rod doing an Austin today…”I’m the centre forward, give me the fucking ball, I’m taking it”. Jay has been on the pitch for the last two penalties we’ve been awarded and watched Tadic and Long fuck them up. Jay scored a great goal today and there were flashes of his best but he needs to be nastier all round.
Typically, after the farcical penalty, we let a goal in and Fraser had to pull off an admittedly routine save to stop us gifting them 2 points. We are now 9th in the league and just one goal behind West Brom in 8th. I reckon that one win out of our last two will be enough to get 8th place but it makes you think – Top 10 and a Cup Final – is that a bad season really? If you forget the Cup Final and just think about the League – in the Premier League era (the last 25 years), only Koeman (twice – 6th and 7th), Pochettino (once – 8th), Alan Ball (once – 10th), Glenn Hoddle (once – 10th) and Gordon Strachan (once – 8th) managed to finish in the top 10. None of those had Europa League Group games to deal with and only Strachan got us to a Cup Final. On results alone it’s not so bad but the style of play at home and the lack of goals is appalling and that’s what we need to change in the last two games, starting with Manchester United on Wednesday. So be brave Claude – go for it…
Forster / Cedric – Caceres – Yoshida – Bertrand / Romeu – Clasie / JWP – J-Rod – Redmond / Gabbiadini