Monday, January 17, 2022

Premier League Match 21 - Wolves 3 Southampton 1


Don't Shoot From There - It's Miles Out

Every time a game against Wolves comes around, I realised that I don’t know much about them. The reason for this is because I’m always asleep by the time they come on Match of the Day because they are usually on late because their games are usually very boring. For some reason, Tottenham thought it was a good idea to take the architect of this kind of football and making him their manager at the start of the season and that didn’t work out very well. In Nuno Espirito Santo‘s place, Wolves employed Portuguese (surprise surprise) manager Bruno Lage, who has continued the good work of Nuno by mainly, boring the shit out of everyone.  However, his football has got results which is what it’s all about.  When we played them earlier on in the season, both teams were winless at that point and we produced a shocker of a performance and fell into the trap that was set by giving away a soft goal which ultimately won Wolves the game.  We don’t want any of that today please lads. Wolves are incredibly well organised and will take advantage if you are not the same, which explains why they managed to relatively easily beat Manchester United at Old Trafford a few weeks ago. Since they won that game at St Mary‘s, which as I said, was their first win of the season, they have been showing almost Champions League form and are currently eighth in the table.  It is not however, a game that we should go into with anything to fear. Our nemesis over the last few times we’ve played Wolves has been Pedro Neto but he is unavailable and so the main threat today will be Raul Jimenez. It’s great to see him get a run of games after the horrible injury he suffered last season. They still have Adama Traore who has recently been linked with a move to Spurs because they need a player who looks good on a highlight reel, beats lots of players but hardly ever scores or sets up a goal.  The back line is marshalled by Conor Coady and is usually very uncompromising with Max Kilman and Roman Saiss being the other two centre backs. It’ll be interesting to see how they handle the pace and power of Armando Broja. There’s been a lot of talk this week about the chances of us having Broja with us next season either as a permanent deal or on loan. As far as I can see, there is absolutely no incentive for Chelsea to sell him now but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to get the deal done. Basically, with four years left on his contract, the value of the player is only going to rise over the next three transfer windows so the sooner we try and get it done the better. Chelsea are a strange club regarding contracts so you never know. They have just given a four-year contract to Michy Batshuayi who has basically not played for them for about four years and is well past the promising youngster stage. Good news from the Saints is that KWP is back in training after having a bout of Covid. Covid has now become a convenient excuse for certain Premier League teams to get their games called off.  The AFCON, injuries, suspensions, transfer window being open and a need to loan out players are the real reasons.  The more this happens, the more it annoys me and the bigger shambles it is. As it stands, our one game yet to be rearranged is against Newcastle, who have signed two players since the date of the original game so far. My money is on there being at least three more by the time the game comes around. Ralph’s suggestion that these players shouldn’t be allowed to play in the rearranged game has largely been met with indifference from the people that matter. Ok, same team as Brentford with no KWP.  It will be interesting to see if it works against a better side.  Fair play to Wolves, they have a few missing but there has not been any suggestion that this game would be called off.  They have a few kids on their team / bench so fair play to them for having a bit of integrity.
Away we go and its Saints on the front foot, winning a succession of early corners.  The closest we come to doing anything with one of them is Romeu heading the ball back into the box, Salisu flicking it on and Bednarek going in with Sa but not managing to get a decisive touch.
Then I remember what I hate about Wolves as in quick succession, Podence and Ait-Nouri go down screaming after two challenges that amount to the square root of fuck all.  Fucking get up you embarrassing twats.  To his credit, the referee Michael Salisbury doesn’t give them free-kicks but unfortunately he doesn’t book them either so it’ll happen again.

Tella has a decent run down the right hand side, made easier by the absence of Ait-Nouri who is somewhere else, presumably rolling around in fake agony. Tella plays it infield to Romeu who wisely decides against shooting but instead to knock it out to Perraud, who cuts in on his right foot and smashes it near post but Sa gets down to save comfortably enough. We have hardly seen Wolves as an attacking force until diving little shit Podence tries a backheel in midfield but it goes straight to Tella who seems to get caught in two minds between clearing it and trying to start a Saints attack, so he loses it.  Podence finds Jimenez in the box who is superbly tackled by Lyanco and the ball breaks to Ait-Nouri who goes to ground of course under a challenge from Bednarek.  No worries, ref gives a corner. The referee Michael Salisbury is not interested in a penalty but Wolves certainly are because the bastards are all around the referee, led by Moutinho and Coady. Saints are decidedly not impressed with this behaviour and some handbags and shoving goes on and we go upstairs to VAR “Hi Michael it’s young Robert Jones at Stockley Park
“What do you want Robbie, it’s only a corner?”

“Yeah but all the Wolves players are yelling at you mate, we’ve really got have a look at something cos a few games have been called off and we’re bored”
“Really, oh go on then if you must
[Time goes by, civilisations rise and fall, eventually….]
“Got it. We’ve slowed it down to a tenth of its natural speed”
“He hasn’t meant it but the clumsy defender has definitely made contact with Ait-Nouri”
“Really Robbie?”
“Yeah, you may wanna call an ambulance on Health and Safety grounds because he’s clearly been murdered, judging by the way he is rolling around.

“No need mate - he’s already up and screaming in my face that they should have a penalty. Okay send me to the monitor - I’m there now”
“There you go Michael, ridiculously slowed down which means that it’s going to be a definite penalty.

“Can’t really argue with that lad, penalty it is.

Sometimes when you look at penalty takers you can tell if they’re dodgy or not or whether their bottle is going to go but there is no way that JimĂ©nez is going to miss and sure enough, he rolls in as calmly as you like. Bollocks. Saints try to get back to it with Redmond picking up the ball on the right and playing it to Romeu who curls over beautiful cross right onto the forehead of Salisu and all he has to do is head it down but he heads it at savable height and Sa is close enough to it to get off the ground and push it away. Good save but he really has to score from there. Some more good link-up play on the edge of the box and JWP puts Perraud away on the left and his cross deflects and bounces over the top of Broja but there is Tella at the back post, getting in front of the full back but shiteing the chance over the bar. The flag has gone up but that’s against Broja and it has to go down as a horrible miss and it would’ve counted had it gone in.
Half time.  Irritated.  We should have scored.  Bloody hell Wolves are annoying.  We’ve been disjointed again despite the chances we’ve created and no surprise that Ralph has clearly agreed and Diallo is off to be replaced with Adams.  Ok, we’re back to 4-2-2-2 but this leaves Bednarek at right back.

At the start of the second-half we win a throw on the right hand side which is hurled in by Bednarek, Broja flicks it on and Romeu competes for it, gets a toe to the ball and then Dendoncker, who is already committed to try and clear it, kicks him in the leg.  Clear foul. Just you wait till the VAR twats slow this one down and have a look at it.  Definite penalty. Saints have decided to not get all around the referee, who has basically let the game go on as Lyanco sends the ball into orbit.  Dendoncker is being a complete prick and motioning the thought Romeu dived. As if.  Romeu to his credit but not to our advantage, has got straight back up and limped away without making a massive fuss. What do you mean no VAR review? Looks like the phone lines to Stockley Park aren’t working for fucks sake.  Whatever the reason, we have been completely fucked over there.

Fraser Goes Walkabout - Doesn't End Well

The game goes on.  Wolves have a goal disallowed for a clear offside and a few minutes later, Lyanco leaves one on Podence, who of course goes down like a massive sack of shit or more accurately, like the tiny little 5 foot nothing sack of shit that he is. In comes the free-kick and Fraser Forster is off his line to go and claim it but he gets absolutely fucking nowhere near it. Kilman heads it over him and Fraser just turns and watches as the ball bounces off the inside of the post and Conor Cody nods it into an empty net.
We may get away with it because there is a VAR review for offside against Kilman.

“Hi Robbie it’s Michael, you there?”
“Was Kilman offside there for the first header?”
[silence – faint snoring]
“Fuck me Rob, is that why there was no review of that penalty shout earlier?”
“Goal then innit?”

And there we have it, we’ve thrown them another preventable goal.

Saints try and respond with Redmond playing quite possibly its first decent pass of the afternoon to put Adams through but as we know with Che, he hasn’t got a left foot so his scuffed near post effort is easy for Sa to save. 10 minutes ago and Redmond picks up the ball and a halfway line and runs before being cynically taken out by a combination of Coady and Moutinho. This is a good 35 yards out and Wolves obviously don’t think there’s any danger because they’ve only set a two man wall.  Up comes JWP and hits an absolute thunderbastard which rips away into the opposite corner that he normally aims for and Sa can’t get nowhere near it. What a ridiculous free-kick. He’s cut across that with his right foot and it is absolutely pinged away into the right top corner as he looks at it.  Game on.
90 minutes are up and Wolves are getting slightly nervous, diving around a little bit more as usual but Saints have possession and Stuart Armstrong works it out to Bednarek on the right hand side and fair play to him, he digs over a really good cross which is met by Perraud at the back post and his header back across crashes into the angle of post bar and down and Stuart Armstrong’s follow up is half blocked by defender so just runs through to the goalkeeper. Fucks sake.  That you suspect will be out last chance.
We’re gambling at the back now and it’s nearly 3-1 straight after as Fabio Silva bundles through on the left hand side and forces Forster into a decent save but it comes out to Traore who lashes the open goal over the bar.  Having not covered himself in glory allowing Fabio Silva to get the shot in in the first place on the last attack, Lyanco then makes a bit of a fanny of himself by signalling that he is injured to the referee without going down, so play goes on and Adama Doesn’t-Do-Weights runs into the big hole that Lyanco has left and outpaces Salisu before drilling it across Forster and into the far corner of the net. 3-1, fuck off.
Okay, I have a certain amount of humble pie to eat because Wolves today were relatively entertaining.  I’m not really here to talk about them though but fair play to them on their victory and I say that mainly because despite having a few players missing through Covid and having to throw in some youngsters, they did show some integrity and actually turn up. This is what happens when you do what you should and for that reason alone, they deserve the three points that they got. Whether they actually deserved to win three points based on the 90 minutes of football I’ve just watched is another matter. There is the small matter of refereeing consistency. The ref was sent to the monitor to watch the Bednarek challenge on Ait-Nouri about 30 times before arriving at the decision to award a penalty and to be honest, I can see exactly why was given because Bednarek’s merest brush of the ball doesn’t negate the fact that he took the guy out, even though Ait-Nouri is a pathetic diving cheat at every opportunity. There was a course an incident in the second-half where Romeu got his toe to the ball before being wellied up in the air by Dendoncker but there hardly seemed to even be a VAR check, possibly because Saints as usual, were too fucking nice and didn’t get in the face of the referee.  I promise you that if that one gets viewed properly on VAR and slowed down, then it’s a penalty.

When their incident happened, Ait-Nouri of course went down like he’d been fucking snipered and every Wolves player nearby got around the referee and there was a load of pushing and shoving and you can just imagine the guy at Stockley Park going, oh there must be some sort of incident to look at here I better slow this one down and have a look closely. When Romeu’s incident happened of course, Ori just got up and got on with it and no one questioned the ref. The answer should be to ignore all the theatrics and do everything on its merits but that isn’t going to happen so we have to get more in your face about this sort of thing.
Ralph was fuming after the game for the same reason but I do have to agree with his assessment as well that the referee overall was decent, not falling for the theatrics that Moutinho, Ait-Nouri and Podence and others in gold going for an Oscar whenever there is any sort of coming together of players. It is quite frankly fucking embarrassing the way they roll around, rivalling Tottenham for the most play-acting team in the division. In my opinion, sticking with the same team and formation as we had against Brentford was wrong. I don’t know what the fitness levels of KWP were like after his absence but if he was fit then he should’ve played. It is a bit mystifying why he didn’t come on in the second half when we were basically relying on Bednarek to get forward from right back and get crosses in.  The things that were wrong and disjointed in the first half against Brentford were also wrong and disjointed in the first half today. Ibrahima Diallo didn’t seem to know where we should be and it was no surprise that he got hooked at half time because Ralph clearly agreed with me.  Not to sugar-coat it at all, Nathan Redmond was crap.  He played once more like he was trying to get through the game without getting injured and without engaging in any sort of challenge with the Wolves defenders. The bloke cannot play with his back to goal so using him as a centre forward or as a number 10 in the middle of the pitch just does not work. He’s been half decent when he’s played on the right wing this season but stick him on the left or playing up the middle and he doesn’t deserve a place in the team. We could’ve got something out today in the second half but Fraser’s old weakness came back to haunt him on the second goal when he got caught in absolutely fucking no mans land on the cross and then seemed content to just stand and watch while the ball was pinging about before Coady stuck in the net. JWP’s ridiculous freekick gave us hope and we got unlucky with Perraud’s late effort against the post. The third goal didn’t really matter because we would’ve lost anyway but again it keeps up our run of being the team you wanna play if ever you’re out of form and have gone months without a gold. Just how does Adama Traore get to be that size without doing any weights? It’s an absolute fucking mystery. We have started to give shit goals away and we have to stop doing that pretty damn quick. The whole incident with Bednarek giving the penalty away was started by Nathan Tella failing to clear the ball when he had a clear chance to do so. The second goal was a goalkeeping nightmare. You can definitely say that we didn’t get the breaks today and similar to the game at St Mary‘s, Wolves just waited for us to make a mistake and pounced on it and won the game. I think they go into every game settling for 0-0 but if they nick a goal and get in front, they are very very good at holding the lead, through bring well organised and maximum shithousing - diving, rolling around, time-wasting etc etc. I have grudging respect for that but it must be horrible to watch and deep down, you know that the likes of Conor Coady are embarrassed by it.  Today we contributed to our own downfall, with the penalty we gave away and then we managed to throw ourselves deeper in the shit with Fraser’s calamity. It’s a shame that we didn’t get anything out today because as you know, our next three games are Manchester City, Tottenham and Manchester United, Manchester City will definitely turn up but it’s in the lap of the gods as to whether Tottenham and Man United will. We have to make an effort to get the defensive solidity back that we had earlier on in the season. Remember, we got very creditable draws with all three of these teams earlier on in the season but we’re going to struggle to pick up points against them this time around if we keep shipping goals that could be prevented.

Bring it on.

Thursday, January 13, 2022

Premier League Match 20 - Southampton 4 Brentford 1


All Smiles Before Semmens Tells Solak How Much Broja Will Cost

Brentford at home on a Tuesday night and I’m back to loving evening games again. With the Covid pandemic I am now working from home so it’s a lot easier to get to the game on time than it was before. Can’t wait. We had to wait a couple of weeks of course because this game was supposed to be played in mid-December but was one of the first ones to get called off because of the bizarre new ruling that the Premier League have put in place, which enables teams to request the game be called off when they have a few Covid cases.  I say “a few” because no one knows the actual number and for some reason, injuries, suspensions and international call-ups are now a factor when teams are trying to justify getting a game called off.  Absolute bullshit.  

Initially, I didn’t have a problem with Brentford requesting that the original game got called off but that was before it became abundantly apparent that teams like Leicester, Newcastle and especially Liverpool, we are basically manipulating the fixture list for their own ends. That reached a crescendo this week with Liverpool getting their league cup semi-final against Arsenal postponed because they had a Covid outbreak which, as Jurgen Klopp explained yesterday, was in fact a massive batch of false positives. When he says false positives, he possibly means, utter bullshit. What are the chances of the one in a thousand false positives that you get statistically, happening to about 10 players in Liverpool squad all at the same time? It’s a weird one and no mistake. It’s a bit like the 80% Covid rate that they have in Newcastle when their best striker gets injured and they are about to sign about 10 new players in the transfer window and the spike in Covid infections at Leicester whenever a few of their defenders are injured.
Anyway, here we are and Brentford will be eyeing up Saints as a team they can get something out of in their quest to survive their initial season in the Premier League. So far, they have looked like they will survive it comfortably, sitting as they do, about three places above us in the league. To be honest, they have been an absolute breath of fresh air this season, picking up points without grinding the shit out of it and their manager, Thomas Frank seems to be a very likeable character. Of course, we are more interested in Brentford these days because of the takeover that we’ve just had with Rasmus Ankerson, one of the three men behind our new ownership, being one of the main men behind Brentford‘s rise up the leagues.  Apart from when they play us, I wish absolutely no ill will to Brentford and hope they achieve their aims for the season. Ralph Hasenhuttl has the right back conundrum to solve tonight and I fully expect Captain JWP to be deployed there. There are a couple of interesting choices to make assuming everyone is available who we expect to be available.  I’m early to the ground, through the “rigorous” Covid status checkpoint and the team is announced.  Lyanco’s presence means it looks like 3 at the back with JWP at wing back.

Fast forward an hour and we line up and it looks weird.  JWP is in the centre of midfield and it looks like Tella is at right back – OK then.  It’s weird - in possession it’s almost a 3-3-4 with Perraud and Tella pushed really high.  Diallo doesn’t look comfortable out on the left of the midfield three with no full back behind him.  Interesting.  Anyway, it’s Salisu long throw time, gets headed back to him and he wins a corner when he tries to cross it back in.  JWP curls it in from the left hand side and Bednarek just walks forward a yard and flicks it in for 1-0.  How easy was that?  Where was the keeper?

As the game settles down we look kind of clunky as players get used to the formation.  When we get it down near the Brentford defence, we look dangerous.  Broja picks it up on the right and as he does, decides to run straight towards goal and he pisses past the left back and makes his way along the goal-line but no one makes the run to the back post for a tap in and his cross misses everyone.

Brentford aren’t offering much about from hopeful chips into the box which are meat and drink to Salisu, Lyanco and Bednarek.  One such chip is headed out by Salisu, picked up in midfield and spread wide to Mbeumo.  We don’t get across quickly enough in a clear hybrid defence failure and he gets a cross in which is expertly volleyed home by Janelt.  Bollocks – literally their first attack, 1-1.

Diallo begins to grow into the game and confidently runs forward down the left and combines with JWP and Perraud for the latter to find Romeu with the cross about 10 yards out and he spoons it into the crowd.  Good move, wrong player on the end of it.  Before we have time to get too down about it we win a corner on the right, JWP plays it in, everyone misses it and Diallo picks it up and for no logical reason, decides to hit it.  It goes near post and fuck me, it’s gone in.  How on earth has that happened?  Bearing in mind I’m up the other end, it takes a big screen replay to tell me that the keeper Fernandez has had an absolute mare.  Not only was he too slow to get over to the bouncing near post effort, it has come off the post, hit the back of his hand and gone in.  That’ll be an own goal, which is a bit of a shame for Ibra but I’m sure he won’t mind too much.

There is one more incident before half time as Redmond produces his one bit of decent play for the half with an excellent first time volleyed cross, which Perraud went up for at the back post and Fernandez clawed away from near the angle of post and bar.

It’s a bit strange to be at half time and winning and whilst at the same time, not being over impressed by what I’ve seen.  We experimented with this hybrid defence thing last season and it didn’t work and we’ve just about got away with it so far tonight.  I can’t help but think that Thomas Frank will work out a way for Brentford to be more dangerous in the second half, maybe by switching play more often.  Against that though is the realisation that Brentford are not very good or most certainly, are not playing well.

Any doubts about things are more or less dispelled three minutes into the half as we break up a Brentford attack on our left, Diallo and Salisu play us out of trouble and then Romeu gets his head up and plays a straight ball between two defenders into the path of Broja who is clean through on the half way line.  There is no way a defender is going to catch him as he bears down on Fernandez from the left, shoots, the keeper gets a piece of it …. but it carries on and into the corner of the net.  3-1 – get in.

Gentle Nudge to New Owner

Having returned to the bench today after a dose of Covid, Che Adams is the first sub on 65 minutes, replacing the ultimately disappointing Redmond.  Fresh legs against a tiring and slow defence – like it Ralph.

Five minutes later, boom, Diallo smashes it forward and his clearance turns into a chance as no defender heads it and Adams gets enough of a touch to give him a chance and as Fernandez comes out and attempts a Schumacher challenge (look it up kids, 1982 World Cup), Che gets a toe to it to lob it into the net, 4-1 and this is all going rather swimmingly now.

Stuart Armstrong is on for Tella and Stu’s presence means of course that we are going to win.  JWP has now gone to right back and it’s shame that we have to take Broja off a few minutes later when he gets totalled by a clearance which smashes him straight in the face.  I say it’s a shame because it would have been nice to bring on Simeu or Small as the third sub as the game is won bit instead it’s Adam Armstrong.

Nothing much happens from an attacking point of view in the last 10 minutes but we do slacken off a bit defensively when we get caught on the break down our left and Toney’s cross to Wissa looks perfect for a tap in until JWP appears at the end of a lung busting recovery run and gets a foot in.  The resulting corner is missed by everyone, Fraser then has to save from Toney as he bundles through.  Before we clear it properly, it’s crossed back in by Jensen and Mbeumo looks certain to score before The Wall is put up in front of him again.

Well that was an incredibly strange experience. Watching the last 20 minutes of the game without a care in the world knowing that we’d won. Saints were basically far too good for Brentford, especially in the second-half and we were absolutely clinical when we got our chances and if you are clinical then you can cover up a few deficiencies elsewhere. There were undoubtedly some deficiencies in the first half. We were switching all the time between a back four and are back three and we didn’t seem to know what we were doing half the time.  The one time that Brentford got their attacking play right, our defensive system broke down and the cross came in and they scored from it. It all looked a bit disjointed in attacking sense as well and to be honest, I thought Ralph had over-thought it again. You have to remember though that the changes were born out of necessity with us having no right back available. The second half though we played it really well and put the game to bed. I do feel that against a better side than Brentford, we may have had a few issues defensively when trying to switch between systems, if Brentford had switched the ball from side to side with any urgency and accuracy - but the way we played tonight was more than enough to beat a very poor Brentford side. From what I had seen of them and with their results, I expected them to be a lot better than they were but keep playing like that and they could still be in the relegation shake up. I feel a bit sorry if their two forward players, Toney and Mbeumo, who hardly had a sniff all evening apart from a little three-minute spell when the game was already won, when Fraser had to bail us out on a couple of occasions. With a fussier referee, Toney could well have been sent off and his frustration was clear. Brentford’s main issue though was the defence and the goalkeeper. The goalkeeper seems to spread panic amongst the defenders and the central defenders were so slow, Pontus Jansson in particular. There was some absolutely outstanding performances for Saints today. JWP has certainly gone up another gear in the last few weeks. Ralph has often mentioned that he is captain by example, never shown more than with the sliding interception he made in the 82nd minute to prevent a certain goal for Brentford. To show that level of commitment to defending at 4–1 up is quite something. Oriol Romeu was absolutely immense today, which went along way to dominating the midfield and set the platform for us to win the game. Ibrahima Diallo seemed to be a bit lost, position wise in the first half but had an excellent second half.  I was also very impressed with the shift that Nathan Tella put in, basically operating with a lot of discipline as a right wing-back and the back three were aggressive and confrontational and basically, very difficult to play against.

Romeu is Not the Maddest Bastard in this Photo
I love Lyanco, who is an absolutely mad bastard. He is a throwback to a previous era of big characters. He takes some chances at times and makes things ridiculously difficult for himself, like the time he tried to bring the ball down on his chest when he had to players up is arse and another time when he lost the ball and then chased round like a Jack Russell trying to get to the ball as three Brentford players passed it around. He was great. Cult hero stuff. And another goal for Armando Broja, another good goal to and when he broke through from the halfway line you knew that A) they were not going to catch him and B) there was a 95% chance that he’d score. Dragan Solak was in the crowd today, equalling Gao's appearance record at the first opportunity. Welcome Dragan, I hope you had a good day and enjoyed the game, please can we have £25 to £30 million to sign this centre forward. Just think, if we had been a bunch of shithouses like Newcastle, Liverpool or Leicester, we could probably have fabricated a few Covid cases, you know, false positives, that sort of thing and got this game postponed. There is irony in the fact that Brentford got this game postponed once. Justice has been done and we have been rewarded and though the league table is somewhat uneven in terms of games played, mainly because of reasons just outlined, we are up to 11th place. It is undoubtedly another good day for Ralph. In front of the clubs new hierarchy, we romped to our biggest win of the season just a few days after 120 minute slog with 10 men against Swansea. It’s another one of those days where I didn’t quite understand the methods used to get the result but that doesn’t matter, we don’t have to understand them, we just have to be pleased with the result, which was excellent. Next up is a trip to Molineux to play the minded numbingly dull and rigid Wolves side, who are still the only team to beat us at St Mary‘s this season. We owe them one. Bring it on. Up the fucking Saints.

Monday, January 10, 2022

FA Cup 3rd Round - Swansea 2 Southampton 3 (aet)

Shane isn't Offside...This is Not a Drill

FA Cup third round day and we are off to Wales to play Swansea at what used to be known as the Liberty stadium and is now known as the Stadium, which sounds really shit. Also shit, due to the Mark Drakeford wanting to be different to England, there will be no fans in the ground, an unwelcome throwback to last season, when football was shit.
Swansea are in what can be termed a transitional season, having lost their manager five minutes before the season started and appointing a virtual rookie in Russell Martin, who has been fairly impressive so far. They are kind of loitering in lower mid-table but with the Championship being the beast it is, a decent run of wins can catapult you into the play-off places and that will be their aim for the season. They shouldn’t have too many surprises for us because Martin tries to get them playing in a decent way, playing out from the back and being comfortable in possession.  It will be interesting to see what Swansea‘s attitude is towards the game. I imagine that Russell Martin will put our mix-and-match side, not least because they haven’t played for about three weeks because of Covid cancellations.
Today has been jokingly labelled the Michael Obafemi Derby, so I’m going to talk about him.  The striker broke into the Saints team at 18, scored a goal straight away and showed some ability.  Over the next three years he showed a complete inability to keep himself fit or be professional (Ralph Hasenhuttl’s words, not mine) and eventually we couldn’t wait to get rid of him, being happy with the £1.5 million we got from Swansea.   He should have been the ready-made academy replacement for Danny Ings and saved us £15 million but in the end, he wasn’t even seen as the replacement for Shane Long.  Since he has been at Swansea, surprise surprise, injured again, being unprofessional again (Russell Martin’s words, not mine) and I’m sure they would want to get rid of him as soon as they can. You wonder where he is going to end up next if he doesn’t sort himself out.  If he fails at Championship level then in these days of belt tightening, especially lower down the leagues, it’s unlikely he’s going to get anything higher than League 1. When he was at St Mary‘s, Michael was built like a middleweight boxer with his top half looking considerably bigger than his bottom half and one theory was that he used so much energy powering all his muscles, he could never recover properly after games. Whether that’s true or not, it’s a plausible explanation for why he could never produce two decent appearances in a row. If he played well one game, then he ended up getting substituted in the second game at half-time because he was blowing out his arse after 20 minutes. If you can’t play consecutive games, then you are never going to become a first team regular, are you?
The kid is clearly an arsehole of the worst kind, mainly because he has the ability to be a half decent player. He is an insult to everyone who wanted to be a professional footballer but didn’t have the natural ability. He’s certainly got a goal in him though so it wouldn’t surprise me at all if he scored today.
After the Newcastle postponement shambles, Saints will be looking ahead so I imagine we will be mix-and-match as well, as after this game we have Brentford on Tuesday followed by another game on the Saturday.  After the takeover there was more good news with Nathan Tella signing a new deal taking him up to the end of the 2024/25 season. It’s up to him now to kick on and build it on his undoubted promise, in the exact way that Michael Obafemi was never going to do.
Yan Valery at right back is the only real headline in a strong looking Saints side. The centre backs are the slow combination of Stephens and Bednarek, last seen being dreadful at Arsenal.  Hopefully, Swansea won’t be as good as Arsenal…. And Obafemi starts, as does Joel Piroe, their main goalscorer which tells you that Martin is not really prioritising upcoming league games at the expense of the FA Cup.

Away we go with Swansea passing a ball around nicely from the kick-off but it always looks kind of clunky when you see Championship players trying to zip the ball about. The first incident is a booking for Yan Valery after about three minutes as he launches into a tackle on the right-hand side and arrives about 10 minutes after the ball has gone. The referee, the normally pretty good Simon Hooper, has no choice but to book him. With our first real chance, we take the lead on eight minutes as Swansea’s passing from deep takes a dump as someone plays a horrendous pass across the midfield, straight to Nathan Tella and he slides it through for Nathan Redmond to pass into the corner of the net from the edge of the box. Very efficient and 1-0 up. For the next 20 minutes it all looks very easy and a matter of how many goals we will win by. Swansea are struggling as soon as they turn over possession and it looks like it’s going to be a comfortable afternoons work but then of course, it never is and it all goes to shit. One long ball pinged over our defence finds Obafemi on the left wing and though his first touch is shit, Yan Valery feels the need to put his hand over his shoulder. Party Boy throws himself to the ground and though it’s soft and though he’s thrown himself, that is always going to be a second booking and off he goes. Balls.
We re-shuffle with JWP going to right back, Stuart Armstrong to the centre of midfield, and Nathan Redmond to right wing leaving Armando Broja upfront on his own and we get to half-time comfortably enough with no real alarms but suddenly the game has got a lot more difficult. No changes at half time and there really isn’t much to say for the next half an hour as Swansea pass the ball around in front of us and create no chances at all.  There’s an incident involving Ryan Bennett when he pulls back Tella.  Having already been booked it really looked like it should have been 10v10 but nothing doing. A couple of times on the break we should do a lot better.  A heavy touch by Broja means that what should have been a chance either for himself or for Nathan Tella is butchered and then JWP puts in a free-kick from the right hand side which finds Jack Stephens at the back post with a free header at an open goal but he picked out the wrong side of the post in truly dreadful fashion.  In the 65th Ralph brings on Adam Armstrong and Diallo for Stuart Armstrong and Redmond.

On 77 minutes, as they were always going to, Swansea create an opportunity with a nice ball in between the lines by Grimes, a cross ball which skims off of Stephens and breaks nicely for Piroe to smash it high into the net. Fuck. With Elyounoussi and Long on for Broja and Tella, we have a proper go at losing it in the 90th minute as Elyounoussi loses the ball and Swansea break on us and suddenly Piroe is clean through in the right-hand channel but he shits himself as Fraser Forster comes out and smashes his shot too close to him and it hits one of  Fraser’s size 15s and bounces away. In a surprise development, for me anyway, there is extra time because for some reason, I thought all the games were straight to penalties. I bet Ralph is absolutely loving the fact that we’ve got a play and another half an hour with 10 men. Michael Obafemi has miraculously lasted 90 minutes of doing nothing much but that’s his lot. Don’t expect him to be able to play the next game Russell. And then it happens on 94 minutes, Swansea get wide with a ball floated over to Ntcham on the right wing and his low fizzer across the box is turned into his own net by Bednarek who is doing some sort of shit dance trying to get his feet in the right position. Fucks sake.

This Is For You, BBC Wales

Straight from the kick-off, we knock it back to Jack Stephens he gets his head up and pings one over the top of Swansea left back Manning who is not concentrating and Shane Long takes what must be the best first touch of his career and bundles past him before sending the ball across and finding Elyounoussi at the back post and he takes a very good first touch before passing it into the net past Hamer who pulls a face at his defenders like a bulldog licking piss off a stinging nettle. It’s the substitutes who are involved again as Elyounoussi picks up the ball on the left hand side and spreads out to the overlapping JWP on the right and he gets his head up and plays over a lovely low first time cross which picks out Shane and he doesn’t even have to take a touch, just sweep it into the net to make it 3-2. Get in. Shane Long has scored and he’s not offside. This is not a drill. We’ve responded brilliantly to going behind and now it’s Swansea turns and what have they got? Nothing. The second half of extra time plays out in relative comfort. Job done. Well, we got there. You have to remember that any cup game and in particular the FA Cup game it’s just about the result and the performance doesn’t really matter as long as you are in the hat for the next round. We overcame quite a lot of adversity today and there have been plenty of times over the last couple of years where this has not been the case.  For starters, we’ve played 90 minutes out of 120 with 10 men. With Valery being sent off, we had to take our best player out of central midfield and put him right back because our other to right backs who we could’ve put on were unavailable. Then, you add in the fact that we were away from home, plus we were 2-1 down in extra time having conceded a crappy own goal. To still come out on the right end of the result is what it’s all about.

Party Boy Chases His First Touch

Once Valery got booked in the first couple of minutes it was entirely predictable that he picked up a second yellow card. There are some players you can trust not to pick up a second yellow after picking up an early one (like Romeu) but like Salisu last week, Valery is not one of them. Like with the Salisu last week, we can’t really have any complaints from the point of view of the referee because Valery has put his hand on Obafemi’s shoulder and very similar to the Salisu on Son last week, it was completely unnecessary to make any sort of challenge because the first touch of the striker was running straight through to the goalkeeper. It’s disappointing that Obafemi saw fit to throw himself to the ground, rather than use the alleged pace he has but it's not surprising. That was his main contribution to the game when you look back on it, as he did absolutely fuck all with the ball at his feet in 60 minutes against 10 men.
It’s always nice when you have an unlikely hero to talk about. Shane Long isn’t going to have many more days in the sun and whatever you think of him as a player, you can’t be anything but pleased for the guy to bag the winning goal. For once he managed to stay onside and it was very obliging of Swansea to defend like we have done recently and all stand there ball-watching and not marking the man. Like everybody else, I was watching the BBC Wales coverage which was as biased as it comes in an amusing way. I don’t know who the woman was who was adding insight during the game but she was actually very good with her comments until Swansea equalised to make it 1-1, when she made a very strange squealing giggling noise with the excitement of it all.  She also laughed at Bednarek over the own goal – can’t blame her for that as I was laughing as well, sort of.  As a commentary team they all seemed to lose sight of the fact that we were playing with 10 men which is why Swansea were having possession and were “the better side”.  Also, losing sight of the fact that if we had kept 11 on the pitch then they probably would’ve got battered about 5-0. For all Swansea’s possession, the bottom line is that we scored twice from them trying to play out from the back and giving the ball away.  The winning goal was hilarious in that regard – some really sharp passing to get to the half-way line and some commentary masturbation, we win it back, 4 passes, goal, see ya later.  We missed a few chances today to make it more comfortable, but the worst miss was the crowd.  It was a reminder of how shit football is with no fans in the stadium.
On Sunday a miracle happened – we got a home draw in the 4th Round against Coventry City from the Championship.  It’s our first home draw since Lawrie McMenemy was the manager, nearly.
Next up we have Brentford on Tuesday in a game that has been rearranged because they had some players missing when it was originally supposed to be played. Ironically and predictably, it’s now us with players missing because as far as I can work out, we have one right back who is injured, one who has Covid and one who is suspended.  We will turn up though.  We will not pretend we have an epidemic and then declare that they were all False Positives after we’ve got what we wanted.

Wednesday, January 5, 2022

Chairman Gao Has Left the Building


Dragan Realises that Shane Long's Contract is Nearly Up

When I first started writing this blog in 2009, it was partly as a reaction against all the boardroom shenanigans that had been going on involving Rupert Lowe, which culminated in the club nearly going out of business. I was sick and tired of talking about boardroom level activity, rather than what was actually happening on the football pitch. Mind you, what was happening on the pitch was just as bad, as we got deducted 10 points and relegated to League 1. The boardroom had suddenly become the primary focus of Southampton FC and what happened on the pitch was almost secondary. It wasn’t really what I signed up for in the first place. Consequently, I’ve always tried to steer clear of talking too much about what goes on upstairs but today is a day when we can’t avoid it. After four years of, what you can only call, stagnation under Chairman Gao, he has sold his 80% shareholding to Sport Republic, a company owned by two Danes, Rasmus Ankersen and Henrik Kraft, which is an investment vehicle for Serbian media mogul Dragan Solak.  Solak's United Sports Group were Premier League rights holders in Serbia until recently, so he'll have been aware of Southampton from that and also, the Premier League would be aware of him which must have smoothed over the Fit and Proper Persons Ownership Test but the less said about that the better.
The intention of Sport Republic is to use Southampton as the start of building a multi-club empire along the lines of the City Group which of course is dominated by Manchester City. That is not anything for us as fans to worry too much about as yet but you can’t accuse the new owners of lacking ambition.  Ankersen has come in from Brentford who have a link-up with Midtjylland in Denmark (remember them?).
It’s very easy to get carried away when the club is taken over and assume that everything is now going to be rosy but there has to be an element of caution. Ownerships can only be judged over time. There were many who were excited when Chairman Gao came in with “untold riches from China” but as we know, things can change very quickly and they did when the Chinese government refused to let him invest any money overseas within a few months of taking us over.

Gao Waving Goodbye to His Liquid Assets, 4 Years Ago
Even when the Liebherr’s took us over, there was of course a change after a year when Marcus Liebherr passed away, which set in motion the series of events that ultimately lead to Chairman Gao arriving. What I like about this takeover is that it appears that they are adopting a light touch approach in that they recognise which parts of the club are working well and want to add to that rather than ripping up the whole thing and starting again. As a result, it appears that Ralph Hasenhuttl, Martin Semmens and Toby Steele will all still be in place and doing their current jobs but they will be joined on the board by Ankersen and Kraft. How much involvement they have on a day-to-day basis will of course play out over time but the noises coming from Martin Semmens indicate he is 100% happy with the way things have gone, concluding his two-year search for a new buyer. The other massive thing of course is that it appears the club has been purchased with equity, rather than some sort of leveraged buy-out against the club (Burnley’s recent takeover) or by something similar to the infamous reverse takeover (small company taking over big company) which we had in the 90s when Rupert Lowe swung into our lives.  More optimism can be taken from the fact that it was Martin Semmens brokering the deal and that Ralph Kruger had nothing to do with it. Part of the problem when Gao came in was that there was just him and his daughter and no one else and we hardly heard from either, ever since.  Rasmus Ankersen has a track record having been involved with Brentford for the last six years and in that time, Brentford have gone from being a middling Championship club who were always more likely to go down than up, to what they are now, above us in the Premier League. Kraft has vast experience of investing on Sports and Technology and as long as the personalities involved can all get along, the new guys experience makes this a win-win situation. The initial comments from the new owners are very encouraging, as are the comments from Martin Semmens.  Dragan Solak spoke of a long-term investment and praised the existing set up of the club. Henrik Kraft talked of Sport Republic being an engaged owner and of evolution rather than revolution. With those promising statements alone, we have already had as much if not more than what we had out of the Gao regime. So, I look upon this taken over as a chance for the club to move forward and get out of the holding pattern that we have been in for the last four years. I don’t expect it bound forward at 100 miles an hour because when you try and do that you invariably end up crashing into a wall or falling over a cliff anyway.  I’m sure that many would prefer an owner that came in and threw money about but that’s not for me and has bever been what Southampton are about.  

I can't be any more than cautiously optimistic at the moment.  I have some excitement and anticipation, which comes from the reasons outlined above but that's tempered by the healthy dose of cynicism, built up through supporting Saints for as long as I have. With the transfer window now being open, I would anticipate that there is now more of a chance of us bringing in a player this month but don’t expect us to suddenly be punting £50 million on someone.  With the new owners being big on Data Analytics, it'll be interesting to see if the "Moneyball" principles of recruitment that have served Brentford well, are implemented here.  Of course, it's not too different to when we were all cocky about the "black box" but it would be great to get the recruitment up to full throttle again.
Chairman Gao has gone. He hasn’t been the best of owners but he hasn’t been the worst either. His four years at the helm can be summed up as a bit of a void. There is nothing much that anyone can say about him because there has been no interaction. Hopefully now we can move on with the new more dynamic ownership of Sport Republic.

Dragan Realises that Theo Walcott has Another Year and a Half