Ryan, Like a Lion, In Bayern: Bertrand Signs for Saints!

While Liverpool are busy signing Johnstone Paint Trophy winners, Saints sprung the surprise of the summer with one the papers didn’t get hold of, bringing Champion’s League winner Ryan Bertrand to the club from Chelsea on a season long loan with the option of a permanent move. Interestingly the Merseyside club had been trying to secure a deal for the defender but couldn’t agree a fee.

With Luke Shaw gone to Man United, left back was clearly somewhere the club lacked depth and Bertrand who started for the Blues in their triumph over Bayern Munich in 2012 looks a solid signing.

As always, through the heady mixture of ignorance and laziness I have got two experts to give us the lowdown on the new man.

I caught up with Chelsea fan David Dickson and given that Bertand has spent most of his Stamford Bridge career on loan, Aston Villa fan, freelance football writer and Club Metro colleague Andrew Raeburn.

Bertrand started in Chelsea’s Champion’s League final win, but has never made it as a regular at Stamford Bridge. What did you make of him?

DD ‘Firstly, Bertrand will always, always receive a hero’s welcome back at Stamford Bridge, especially now he hasn’t been shipped off to Liverpool and had to perform the ‘biggest club in the world’ PR initiative in his first interview. I remember the slightly baffled/borderline stunned reaction to hearing his name in the starting line-up that night in Munich from all involved, and his outstanding performance against Bayern in his first ever European appearance for anybody is testament to the balls the guy has. He always struck me as a try-hard; far from a player likely to dislodge Ashley Cole from his throne but enough about him to carry on regardless, taking his opportunities when they arose.’

Bertrand spent some time at Villa last season. What did you make of him?

AR ‘Left-back had been a massive problem for us in the first half of the season, so when Bertrand came in we were all chuffed, considering his background and pedigree (starting in the CL final, etc). He was excellent on his debut in a 2-2 draw at Liverpool, and had several other good games early in his loan spell. But after having to sit out our 1-0 win over his parent club in March (when Joe Bennett came in and was excellent at left-back), Bertrand really struggled. Partly this was down to our own defensive naivety, which appeared to infect him too at times and partly it was down to being shunted between left-back, left midfield and left wing-back. But there were occasions when he was our weakest link. I’d say overall he was solid without ever being spectacular, but disappointed because he was never as good as his Chelsea background suggested he should be.’

What would you say are his significant strengths and weaknesses?

DD ‘As stated previously, Ryan seems to enjoy a complete lack of fear on the big occasion. Following Munich, he was thrown into some of the bigger games towards the end of the (sigh) Rafa Benitez era and performed with similar aplomb. He is quick, with the ability to go forward at pace, whilst also reading the game relatively well, but his defensive ability seems to suffer as a result. He never seemed particularly strong and, as a result, his ability to simply make a tackle never really stood out. He would, on occasion, be caught out of position too, but when pushing up in a good, attacking side, this may be expected and can be forgiven.’

AR ‘One of the real plusses of his loan spell was how well he got forward and linked up with Fabian Delph on the left hand side of Villa’s central three in midfield. His crossing can be hit and miss but he knows which passes to pick out. Defensively, he struggled when isolated one-on-one. Whereas on his debut at Liverpool he was excellent against Raheem Sterling, who runs straight at people, he was given a real examination a couple of weeks later by Everton’s Aiden McGeady, had problems with Ashley Young and got into all sorts of bother against Stewart Downing. Unlike Sterling, all three of those dared to cut inside and go outside to try and beat him. It may be he just needs more support defensively.’

Bertrand the winner.

Bertrand the winner.

Do you see him as a player that has yet to reach his full potential, having been backup at Chelsea for some time?

DD ‘Sad as it is to say, but I feel his potential may not extend beyond his exploits for Chelsea. He still has a decent ten years left in him, obviously, but Ryan seems to be caught between not being technically good enough for a top side, but not able to defend well enough for a less-than-top side. He was exceptionally popular at Norwich, Reading and Forest by the sounds of things, and has long outgrown being a Championship player, but it is hard to see him doing anything but bouncing between mid-table clubs unless someone devotes the time to getting the best out of him. In a Chelsea side with Ashley Cole and the resources to bring in more experienced and better overseas players after Cole’s departure, that role was never going to be taken up by Mourinho, Benitez, Di Matteo…etc. (I’m sure this article has a word limit, so I won’t list them all).’

AR ‘Very much so. Until his loan spell at Villa, he had never really been given a proper run of starts at Premier League level, which is what you need to develop. Obviously he’s had his path blocked by one of the best left-backs England has ever seen, so he’s been unlucky in that regard. Until Cesar Azpilicueta became Ashley Cole’s main backup, Bertrand could never be sent on loan so he had to bide his time. He started 14 PL games in 2012-13 but all in blocks of three or four, never enough to make a mark or develop your game. I actually saw his only Chelsea start last season as well, by sheer coincidence. I was covering the Chelsea-Cardiff game for West London Sport and in the player ratings described Bertrand’s display as: “Always keen, got up and down and provided solid support for Eden Hazard but lacks the self-assurance and attacking penetration of Ashley Cole.” Trouble is, after a half-season of regular games at Villa, I’ve seen no improvement on that. However, I do think he just needs to settle down somewhere, as a trusted, starting left-back and get a full season of regular games under his belt. The only time he’s done that was for Reading in the Championship five years ago.’

Bertrand the Saint.

Bertrand the Saint.

What do you make of the goings on at Saints this summer?

DD ‘I find it all relatively extraordinary. Yes, players from unexpectedly successful sides are regularly burgled (arf) by sides with larger budgets the following season, but the sheer extent to which Liverpool (and seemingly, Spurs) have pilfered every player with ability you have is far beyond anything I’ve seen since the great Leeds exodus of the early 2000s. Ronald Koeman has moved in, and shortly after someone has nicked his fridge, shed, boiler and roof. I am sure there are financial nuances (zzz) to this masterplan, but it is hard to see how any replacements could fill the gaps that have been left and this season could be a real struggle for you chaps, unfortunately. You’re quite nice when you’re not moaning about little smoke bombs…’

AR ‘It’s inevitable really, once the bigger clubs started circling. We got the same treatment after coming 6th three years in a row under Martin O’Neill (you were trifling with the likes of Exeter and Stockport at the time, how things change!). We couldn’t keep Gareth Barry (£12m) and James Milner (£26m) away from Man City, nor Ashley Young (£17m) from Man Utd, nor Stewart Downing (£20m) from Liverpool. The only difference was it didn’t happen all in the same summer. Sometimes that can be worse, as it appears to the fans the club won’t ever keep hold of their best players. But that’s the way football is these days – even Everton, who contend for the Champions League spots, wouldn’t be able to prevent their top talent leaving if the title challengers came knocking. The important thing is reinvesting the money you earn, otherwise you end up like us. I can see why some Saints fans may be angry – it seems, from the outside, that the club isn’t doing much to stop the top players moving on. But when players sense the grass is greener (or their agent convinces them it might be) then you can’t stop them. Speaking of which…’

 
Can we have some other Chelsea players? Please.

DD ‘Rickie Lambert’s gone. You need to replace him with another reliable goal-machine. We have this lad, Fernando… And I’ll bloody drive Ramires to you.’

Can we have Ron Vlaar? Please.

AR ‘No. Leave Concrete Ron alone, please. He’s got a phobia of the sea, anyway. Hopefully.’

So there we have it. Thanks to David and Andrew for their contributions. Let’s hope I need some more contributors soon!
Chris
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What if? (Part One)

23rd April 2011. St. George’s day.

Southampton travelled to the Withdean Stadium to face League One’s already crowned champions Brighton & Hove Albion.

A win would put them in second place and put the pressure on Huddersfield Town who weren’t playing. A tall order for Nigel Adkins side who were under intense pressure themselves to gain promotion.

Adkins’ entered the Withdean to a chorus of abuse after comments he made about Brighton having to ‘keep up’ with Southampton. This was the biggest game of the season.

Ashley Barnes put the hosts ahead on the stroke of half time. Saints created a flurry of chances in the final 10 minutes but to no avail. They’d lost 1-0. A Jose Fonte header at the death ruled out for a foul in the box the closest they came to snatching a point.

An unhappy ending for Adkins at the Withdean

An unhappy ending for Adkins at the Withdean

Despite overcoming Hartlepool United at home in the next game, Saints were drained of confidence and went down at Brentford. Main rivals for automatic promotion Huddersfield Town kept on winning, they even succeed where Saints failed, beating Brighton 2-3 at the Withdean to leapfrog us into second place. Saints win their game in hand at Plymouth but go into the final day needing to beat Walsall and hope that the Terriers lose at home to Brentford. Saints see off their Midlands rivals, but Huddersfield secure a thrilling 4-4 draw sealing automatic promotion. Saints face the lottery of the playoffs.

Saints face local ‘rivals’ Bournemouth in their semi-final and overcome them after extra time in the second leg at St. Mary’s to setup a final with Peterborough United at Old Trafford. Saints fail their final test and lose the playoff final on penalties. Jonathan Forte missing the decisive spot kick.

Nigel Adkins applauds the Saints fans for the last time at Old Trafford.

Nigel Adkins applauds the Saints fans for the last time at Old Trafford.

10th June 2011. Nigel Adkins and his backroom staff are relieved of their duties with immediate effect.

16th June 2011. The club release a statement from Katherina Liebherr announcing that as of today the club is for sale.

1st July 2011. Southampton Football Club is bought by a consortium of local businessmen. They talk of consolidation and rebuilding. Nicola Cortese is relieved of his duties as chairman.

4th July 2011. Rickie Lambert is sold to Brighton & Hove Albion for £1.2 million.

6th July 2011. Jose Fonte is sold to Crystal Palace for £850k.

9th July 2011. Adam Lallana and Lee Barnard are sold to Leicester City for a combined £2.8 million.

11th July 2011. Jason Dodd is appointed first team manager.

2011/12 League One.

As the new owners look to settle the club and clear what they call a ‘difficult financial situation’ they ensure fans that they have every confidence in the current squad and will be hoping for another promotion push.

Saints open the season at home to Bury and lineup like so:- Davis, Richardson, Seaborne, Martin, Dickson, Guly, Hammond (c), Schneiderlin, Chaplow, Connolly, Forte.

They secure a 1-1 draw and start the campaign with three consecutive ties. Dodd’s side look like the summer upheaval hasn’t effected them too much and they go on an unbeaten run in the league that lasts 19 games and takes them to the end of November. Although they are yet to be beaten they still trail Charlton Athletic by five points having drawn a lot of those games.

Guly's home hat trick in the 6-0 demolition of Wycombe Wanderers is the highlight leading up to Christmas.

Guly’s home hat trick in the 6-0 demolition of Wycombe Wanderers would be the Brazilian’s last contribution.

Saints suffer their first defeats of the season away at leaders Charlton and then at home to Bournemouth before getting back on track going into the January transfer window.

11th January 2012. Top scorer Guly do Prado is sold against his wishes to Birmingham City for £700k.

18th January 2012. Morgan Schneiderlin is sold to Reading for £1.5 million.

20th January 2012. Southampton announce the double signing of Matt Ritchie from Swindon Town and Tyrone Barnett from Crawley Town for undisclosed fees.

Saints find their form again despite supporter unrest given the transfer dealings of the club in January. The club’s owners move to reassure the fans that no business was done without the best interest of the club at heart.

With eight games to go, Saints are still within three points of automatic promotion, sadly those eight games would see them have their worst run of the season, losing four and eventually finishing 4th, twelve points adrift of 2nd placed Sheffield Wednesday.

Saints overcome Milton Keynes Dons in the playoff semi finals before facing Sheffield United in the final at Wembley. The game ends 0-0 after extra time and goes to penalties. With the scores at 7-7, the captain Dean Hammond steps up knowing if he scores Saints are back in the Championship.

Goal.

dean hammond oct

To be continued…

Chris

Will The Saints Go Marching On?

Everyone loves a stat don’t they? I know I do, and that is why I was chuffed when the guys from kickoff.co.uk offered to put together a season preview for me using their expertise. So dear reader, settle back and prepare to be dazzled by the numbers and enjoy!

Will the Saints go marching on?

‘Second season syndrome’ is a phrase regularly bandied around at Premier League level, with the perception being that promoted clubs are more vulnerable to relegation after their opponents have had a year to get used to facing them.

Southampton find themselves in that position ahead of the new campaign, so I thought I’d take a look back at their 2012/13 season and highlight both what they did well and any areas in which I feel they can improve.

POSITIVES

The Saints finished 14th in the final table, yet they were the tenth highest scorers in the division with 49 goals from their 38 matches. Rickie Lambert was responsible for 15 of these strikes, benefitting from being the focal point at the top of their attacking formation.

Both Mauricio Pochettino and Nigel Adkins before him encouraged a positive brand of football, with this being reflected by the fact that Southampton found the net in 29 (76%) of their top-flight fixtures. This achievement is furnished with additional kudos when you consider that this represented the best record outside of the top-seven.

Furthermore, the men from the South Coast scored in all eight of their meetings with the eventual Champions League qualifiers:

image007

As the chart above also shows, home wins were achieved against two of the top-three, whilst only late brilliance from Robin van Persie handed Manchester United victory at St. Mary’s.

This shows that Southampton can mix it with the big boys, on their own patch at least, but they also managed to remain unbeaten against teams finishing in their quarter of the final table:

image008

Although six of these games ended all-square, it is certainly worth noting that only Fulham picked up more points (13) from meetings between members of this quintet.

The Saints were similarly strong in matches in which they opened the scoring, winning eight, drawing six and losing four of these encounters. When you consider that half of these defeats came against the eventual champions, then that record starts to look even better.

NEGATIVES

Draws were undoubtedly a problem, with only Everton and Stoke managing more than the 14 picked up by Southampton. Although the team shone offensively, there was a lack of support for Lambert in the scoring stakes; no other player contributed in excess of six league goals.

Another major issue would have to be the defensive frailty displayed by the South Coast outfit. Just seven clean sheets were kept in 38 games, with four of these coming against the six sides that finished below them in the table.

Winning at the top clubs is never easy, but five draws and eight defeats from 13 trips to those that finished above them hints at fundamental flaws in the Saints’ approach to away matches. Could this be the result of some kind of mental block or is it the end product of an overly-positive tactical approach on the road?

Whatever the reason, it is hard to offer up anything other than complacency as an excuse for Southampton losing at home to three of the bottom-four last season:

image009

Alarm bells also start to ring when we take a look at results from games in which the men from Hampshire conceded first. Eleven of these 17 fixtures ended in defeat, with the 4-1 hammering of Aston Villa representing the only success achieved on the back of going 1-0 down.

Perhaps the most damning statistic of all, however, is just how easy opponents found it to convert their chances against the Saints:

image010

As you can see, nearly one in five of the shots that Southampton allowed resulted in a goal being scored against them. Only relegated Wigan fared worse in this category, and that by the narrowest of margins, whilst Newcastle were the nearest club in the other direction.

TRANSFERS

The incomings at St. Mary’s this summer should certainly provide the supporters with plenty of encouragement. Croatian international centre-back Dejan Lovren arrives from Lyon, whilst Victor Wanyama has won rave reviews for his performances at Celtic.

Although I have only seen Lovren in action once, in the Europa League at White Hart Lane last season, he comes highly-rated and has already won close to 20 caps for his country.

Young Wanyama has been far more on my radar, however, producing a string of top-class performances both domestically and on the Champions League stage from his natural position in the middle of the park.

These additions, along with the continued development of Luke Shaw, should help to address some of the aforementioned defensive issues, though the squad as a whole is an extremely young one:

image011

This perfectly feasible starting XI, for example, would boast an average age of just 24 years and nine months come the start of the season.

One more signing in a forward area could be made with a view to easing the burden on Rickie Lambert, but I don’t actually believe this to be necessary. Jay Rodriguez started to blossom when given a run in the team, albeit not in his preferred position, whilst Emmanuel Mayuka is a real talent. I would be interested to hear what Southampton supporters have made of the Zambian in his fleeting cameos, because he has impressed me greatly on the international stage.

FUTURE

If the previous campaign is anything to go by, then a difficult start awaits:

image012

If we exclude home games with the newly-promoted duo of Crystal Palace and Hull, then it becomes apparent that the Saints failed to win any of the equivalent 11 fixtures during 2012/13.

I must admit that I have my doubts about Pochettino and his high-pressing style, but I have a lot of faith in the group of players that has been assembled at St. Mary’s. This is a squad capable of pushing for a place in the top-ten, but whether or not they achieve that is open to debate.’

Thanks to Charles and Rob from kickoff.co.uk for compiling this!

Chris

The Winners of the 2012/13 Ali’s! The Results are in!

So that is the end of another topsy turvey season in the life of being a Saints fan, but no season would be complete without a spate of reviews and awards. This site is no different and yet again the response to this years Ali awards has been fantastic, and this is what is up for grabs:-

ali_trophy

So without further ado, here are YOUR winners…..

Player of the Year

This was calculated like so:- Each player got 2 points for a vote as winner and one point as a vote for runner up. Here are all those that received votes and their points percentage.

Scored points:- Adam Lallana (0.0013%), Jason Puncheon (0.0013%), Steven Davis (0.4%), Jay Rodriguez (0.94%), Maya Yoshida (1.34%), Artur Boruc (2.42%), Luke Shaw (5.24%), Nathaniel Clyne (8.2%)

3rd Place:- Jack Cork (15.8%)

2nd Place:- Rickie Lambert (17.9%)

And the winner, making it a clean sweep in Player of the Season Awards, well deserved after an amazing system, with a whopping 47.37% of the points…..Morgan Schneiderlin!

MS_2012

Most Improved Player

The beauty of this award is that everyone interprets it differently. Some went for an overall improvement on last season, while others voter for those who improved over the course of the season.

Received Votes:- Rickie Lambert, Jose Fonte, Steven Davis, Jos Hooiveld, Nathaniel Clyne, Artur Boruc, Jack Cork, Maya Yoshida, Morgan Schneiderlin.

3rd Place:- Luke Shaw (16%)

2nd Place:- Jason Puncheon (18%)

And the winner, a young man who started his career at Saints with a lot of doubters, but in the second half of the season was undoubtedly one of our top performers with 29%  of the votes……Jay Rodriguez!

rodriguez-liverpool

Performance of the Season (Team or Individual)

Received Votes:-Puncheon at Loftus Road, Second Half at Stamford Bridge (Team), Gaston Ramirez v Villa at home, Team v Villa at home, Team v Newcastle at home, Jay Rodriguez v Liverpool at home, Boruc at Villa Park, Team v Arsenal at home, Team v West Ham at home, Second Half at Old Trafford (Team), First half at home v Everton (Team), Lambert v Chelsea at home, Cork v Chelsea at home, Boruc at Carrow Road, Team at Loftus Road, Cortese v Le Tissier, Cortese sacking Adkins.

3rd Place:- Team v Chelsea at home in the league (13%).

2nd Place:- Team v Liverpool at home (20%).

And the winner, a memorable day as the champions were made to look extremely ordinary with 31% of the votes….Team v Man City at home.

SaintsvManc

Signing of the Season

Received Votes:- Maya Yoshida, Mauricio Pochettino, Gaston Ramirez, Steven Davis, Vegard Forren.

3rd Place:- Jay Rodriguez (7%).

2nd Place:- Artur Boruc (24%).

And the winner, forming a formidable partnership with Jason Puncheon on the right and proving as asset both in defence and going forward with 62% of the vote….Nathaniel Clyne!

nClyne

Unsung Hero

Received Votes:- That Fat Bloke in the glasses who hangs around outside the dressing rooms, MoPo’s interpreter, The Travelling Sains Support, Jos Hooiveld, Guly, Emmanuel Mayuka, Nigel Adkins, Artur Boruc, Jason Puncheon Jay Rodriguez, Morgan Schneiderlin, Nicola Cortese, Nathaniel Clyne.

3rd Place:- Steven Davis (16%).

2nd Place:- Maya Yoshida (22%).

And the winner is, a man who we missed in our terrible start to the season and made a massive contribution when he returned. He retains this award from last season! With 36% of the votes…..Jack Cork!

JCork

The Ali Dia Award For Comedy Moment

It says a lot about Saints fans, that this is always the award that comes the most varied answers. Great effort from everyone again! Brace yourselves….

Received Votes:- Arry Houdini, Jos Hooiveld Own Goal and Penalty King, Guly miss v Stoke, Boruc Juggling at Reading, Arsenal Away, Guly Skills v Spurs, WBA Away, WBA Home, MoPo’s skinny jeans, Danny Fox Tackle v WBA, Gazzaniga v Norwich, WBA Mexican Wave, Kelvin Davis Keeping, Steve de Ridder cameo’s, Puncheon substitution v Reading, Half Time Relay miss from 2 yards, Danny Fox, Defending in opening 10 fixtures, Boruc first couple of games, John Terry slips, Andy Carroll ‘You look like a horse’, Artur Boruc: Bottlegate, WBA ‘You’re going down on your sister’, JRod dive v Villa, Danny Fox v Arsenal, Nigel Adkins substitutions v Man Utd, Grant Holt cheating to win a penalty then missing it, Taunting West Ham ‘HOOOOF’, Ref tackled by Rodriguez, Boruc pushing Fonte after penalty save, Gazzaniga doing his boots up at goal kicks, Richardson and Seabourne defending against Stevenage, Half Time Relay – Split Trousers, Gangnam Style Sammy Saint, The amount of big clubs who had ‘off days’ against Saints, Mark Lawrenson’s predictions, Portsmouth FC – The gift that keeps on giving.

3rd Place:- Jos Hooiveld and Danny Fox together is like ‘crossing the streams’, the own goal at Newcastle (7%).

2nd Place:- That Gareth Barry perfectly place side foot finish own goal (11%).

And the winner, it could only be, the unscheduled rest break at home against Everton. With 40% of the votes…….. Jason Puncheon, he shits when he wants.

JPshits

Best Opposition Team

Received Votes:- Officials v West Ham, Norwich City, Swansea City, QPR, Liverpool, Everton, Wigan Athletic, Spurs, Man City, Chelsea.

3rd Place:- Arsenal (11%).

2nd Place:- Manchester United (21%).

And the winner, deservedly so after dismantling Saints both home and away, with 51% of the votes……West Bromwich Albion.

wbastm

Best Opposition Player

Received votes:- Juan Mata, Eden Hazard, Paul Scholes, Demba Ba, Santi Cazorla, Jos Hooiveld, Danny Fox, Andy Carroll, Theo Walcott, Jussi Jaaskelainen, Robert Green, Marouane Fellaini, Sandro, Stephen Peinaar, Youssouf Mulumbu, Michu, Chris Samba, Antonio Di Natale.

3rd Place:- Gareth Bale (14%).

2nd Place:- Robin Van Persie (27%).

And the winner, after an immaculate performance in the Baggies’ demolition of Saints at St. Mary’s. with 39% of the votes…..Romelu Lukaku!

lukaku

Best Opposition Fans

Received Votes:- Sunderland, Reading, Newcastle, Liverpool, Man City, West Ham, Wigan, Swansea, Villa, Spurs, All Shit, QPR, Everton, Arsenal, Norwich, Ajax, Stoke. (The sharp eyed amongst you will notice that only Fulham didn’t register a single vote!).

3rd Place:- Chelsea (11%).

2nd Place:- Manchester United (12%).

And the winner, a clean sweep for the team from the Midlands, boinging there way to three awards, with 42% of the votes……West Bromwich Albion!

wbafans

Best Saints Related Tweeter

A lot of people voting for themselves here I suspect…..

Received Votes:- Connor Armstrong, Ollie Johnston, anthonydjames, Joner07, MatthewLeGod, stevegrant1983, Richard Chaplow, Radhi Jaidi, macdoodle, danbsfc, shaunthecabbie, pilchards, Not Nigel Adkins, DutchTom, colinjb84, Official Club Account, kellymauger, Anyone but aap3saints, aap3saints, Matt Le Tissier, S13SFC, Iwan Thomas, Jos Hooiveld, I Hate Twitter, MoPo parody account, talksaints, Luke Shaw’s mum, SamDobson1, megan_snedden, SaintsRumours, dubaisaints, Nicola Cortese, Billy Sharp, LewisTull, Wattyspics, Anyone but sridout92, jayrodfan2, GGalpin95, Sam Hoskins, Sean Gonzalez-Lambert, OnlyWayisSO14, crespino10.

3rd Place:- Luke Shaw (14%).

And in joint first place, the imaginary trophy will have to spend 6 months in each users mind, with 16% of the votes each, errrr, this is a little embarrassing…..Simon Peach and I!

So that concludes this year’s ‘Ali’s’, some truly deserving winners there I’m sure you will agree. Thank you to everybody who voted, and thank you all for a fantastic season. I actually think the atmosphere at St. Mary’s this season was the best it has ever been, and one of the best in the Premier League. As the club goes through some interesting times progress wise our support is more important than ever.

Keep the faith.

Chris

All the makings of a classic….

After reading some great buildup pieces yesterday, notably by Sam Dobson and Sean Gonzalez-Lambert, it got me thinking that the whole Adkins/Pochettino/Cortese situation read quite like a Shakespearean tragedy. What do you think?

5th November 2012. Southampton is mutinous. The citizens protesting at their rulers incompetence and a lack of points.

‘What’s the matter, you dissentious rogues,
That, rubbing the poor itch of your opinion,
Make yourselves scabs?’

8th December 2012. Senator Adkins has appeased the citizens, but rumours persist that behind the scenes that he is a puppet and speaking on behalf of another.

‘They threw their caps
As they would hang them on the horns o’ the moon,
Shouting their emulation.’

18th January 2013. Senator Adkins is banished from Southampton by the King and immediately replaced by Senator Pochettino.

‘His nature is too noble for the world:
He would not flatter Neptune for his trident,
Or Jove for ’s power to thunder.’

Blue tie? Weird.

Blue tie? Weird.

21st January 2013. Senator Pochettino arrives in Southampton, a small (very, very small) number of Southampton citizens protest with the waving of their white hankies (hankies? It’s 2013…).

‘You common cry of curs! whose breath I hate
As reek o’ the rotten fens, whose loves I prize
As the dead carcases of unburied men
That do corrupt my air,–I banish you.’

9th February 2013. Senator Pochettino’s men defeat the horde of Manchester, repelling them from the city.

‘Would you have me
False to my nature? Rather say I play
The man I am’

30th March 2013. Senator Pochettino’s men, having already defeated the Scouse army, successfully defend the city and points against the conquerers of Europe. The aggressive relentless style of his army gaining praise the land over.

‘Had I a dozen sons, each in my love alike and none less dear than thine and my good Marcius, I had rather eleven die nobly for their country than one voluptuously surfeit out of action.’

6th April 2013. Senator Pochettino will lead his men to Reading to face off against the army of former Southampton leader Senator Adkins. What will be the result?

‘Nature teaches beasts to know their friends.’

Ooooooooooh When the Saints...

Ooooooooooh When the Saints…

Whatever happens on Saturday, my own position on this is that, though as fans we have a lot to thank Nigel Adkins for there comes a time when the ‘period of grief’ has to stop. For me, MoPo has proved now that he is capable of the job and the football we are playing is impressive to the point of unbelievable. He should, no longer, have to fight for our affections with Nigel. He should have them fully.

The three points is vital on Saturday, we can put ourselves on the brink of safety, and that above all else is the most important thing. The club has moved on. We can show our appreciation for Nigel at the Madejski with polite applause when he walks out of the tunnel, but does there need to be anymore than that? And it should be followed by a rousing rendition of ‘Pochettino’s Red & White Army’. We have to live in the now.

Come the final whistle, should we have the three points be in the bag, then why not give Nigel a send off and let loose with ‘One Nigel Adkins’. Closure.

In an ideal world Saints and Reading could both stay up, but the world isn’t ideal, especially in football, and if our safety means condemning the man who brought us a lot of joy over the past couple of years then so be it. The King is dead, Long live the King.

‘What is the city but the people?’

Chris

p.s. All quotes from the brilliant Shakespeare play ‘Coriolanus’. Watch the film with Ralph Fiennes. It’s great.

Never Mind The Turnstiles, Here’s The Bloggers…

Seeing as Saints cleverly thought ahead, and knowing that Mauricio Pochettino’s impending high pressing game was going to require some serious energy, rolled over for Chelsea and got themselves a rest this weekend, I thought I would tackle some general Saints worries and get the feelings of the other great Saints bloggers out there.

No matter how well things are going for Saints we can always find something to worry about, it’s in our nature, so this is a mixture of positives and negatives…

Thanks to all the Saints bloggers for taking the time to answer these questions! They are, in no particular order Ali Iveson from Saints Corner, Glen de la Cour from League One Minus 10, Sean Gonzalez-Lambert from And It’s All Southampton FC , Will Turner from OWhentheSaints, Ben Stanfield from The South Coast Brazil, Sam Dobson from The Saints Hub and Edward Kilby from SFC Player Stats.

How long have you been supporting Saints?

AI – ’12 years.’ GdlC – ’44 years.’ SGL – ’14 years.’ WT –  ’16 years.’ BS – ’28 years.’  SD – ’16 years.’ EK – ’15 years.’

How long have you been blogging about Saints?

AI – ‘2 years.’ GdlC – ‘3 and a half years.’ SGL – ‘1 year.’ WT –  ‘3 years.’ BS – ‘5 years.’  SD – ’18 months.’ EK – ‘7 months.’

How has the season been so far by your standards and expectations?

AI – ‘Not quite as well as I’d expected.’

GdlC – ‘It’s about how I expected in terms of league position.  We are playing better football than I expected though.’

SGL – ‘I think this season has been a pretty decent showing in our return to the Premier League. Our first 10 fixtures didn’t help us. However, the players have coped with the demands of the top flight and we have shown everyone that we can compete against England’s elite. I would have expected us to have a few more points though.’

WT – ‘I’d say as expected. Expected us to be battling relegation and we are.’

BS – ‘I think, as expected by most, Saints are in a relegation battle with 17th being the minimum target for the end of the season. They have however shown throughout the season (except Arsenal away) that they can compete with anyone in the league, home or away, but the amount of points thrown away from winning positions has been both regular and disappointing.’

SD – ‘We’re about where I thought we’d be. I did think we’d pick up a few more points at the start, even with that awful run of fixtures, but our recent form has made up for that somewhat. I didn’t expect anything other than a struggle to be honest, so as long as we stay up this season I’ll be satisfied. I think the teams at the bottom of the table are slightly stronger than they have been in recent Premier League seasons, so it was always going to be difficult to establish ourselves at first.’

EK – ‘I would put us on course of exactly where I thought we would be, although the last four games under Pochettino has been a wake up call and there is a real optimism that we can progress well and challenge the teams above us.’

Who has been your player of the season so far?

AI – ‘Nathaniel Clyne. Consistently excellent at right-back, contributing in defence and attack. Should be in the England squad.’

GdlC – ‘Morgan Schneiderlin, honourable mentions to Jack Cork, Sir Rickie and Luke Shaw.  By the end of the season it will be Artur Boruc.’

SGL – ‘For me, either Rickie Lambert or Morgan Schneiderlin.’

WT – ‘Morgan Schneiderlin’ 

BS – ‘No doubt about it for me – Morgan Schneiderlin! Lambert’s goals have been important but Morgan’s energy, commitment, tackling and even his goals this season have been very consistent. As a young player who has been with the Club nearly 10 years now its great to see how far he has come and he must be one of the first names on the team sheet each week!’

SD – ‘Nathaniel Clyne has been unbelievably consistent at right-back, while Jason Puncheon has done better than anyone could have imagined, but for me you can’t look beyond Morgan Schneiderlin. I’ve always been a fan, but for me he’s improved immeasurably every year. He’s pretty much the total package now. His reading of the game is top class, as is his tackling and passing. He’s even added goals to his repertoire this season.’

EK – ‘Morgan Schneiderlin by an absolute mile, we all knew he had it in him. But he’s excelled in every area and it’s great to see him enjoying his football with Saints, not to mention he’s the top tackler in the Premier League!’

Schneiderlin just in front of Nathaniel Clyne...

Schneiderlin just in front of Nathaniel Clyne…

Will Saints stay up?

AI – ‘Yes.’

GdlC – ‘Yes – 3 from Wigan, Reading, QPR and Villa will go.’

SGL – ‘Absolutely! Before the season started, I stated that Saints would finish between 12th and 15th in the table. It is still possible to achieve this!’

WT – ‘Yes. Well they should do.’

BS – ‘Yes – just! Saints have lacked the ability to close off games this season and its already cost them 24 points! They can’t keep doing it! Performances have been good but Saints need to be more clinical at both ends or they will be in trouble! Luckily for us it seems that there may be 3 ‘worse’ teams than us.’

SD – ‘I’m cautiously optimistic that we will. I’m pretty satisfied with the squad we’ve got, and I’m confident that there are at least three teams worse than us. Having said that, I’m concerned about us throwing away so many points in games we really should have won. We could really be in trouble if a few key players come down with injuries, but that could be said of any team. I predict we’ll be in the mix until near the end, but survive with a late rally. ‘

EK – ‘Yes, I’ve always had faith in this team and I believe with Pochettino leading us we will be a Premier League team next year.’

Adkins/Pochettino. Still hurting or looking forwards?

AI – ‘Looking forward to a bright future- no point dwelling on the past.’

GdlC – ‘Looking forwards – no point doing anything else.  Nigel’s done well out of us and he’ll move on to good things.’

SGL – ‘Hmmm. I was disgusted with the circumstances of Adkins’ sacking and thoroughly deserved more time. I will never forget the job he has done for the club though. I wasn’t sure about Pochettino at first. However, his style of football was really appealed to me.’

WT – ‘Still can’t watch/listen to ‘The Man in the Glass’ but Pochettino is an exciting appointment.’

BS – ‘I was thoroughly disappointed about Saints treatment of Nigel. Disgusted! To have never thanked him for his achievements at Saints was not in the spirit of the Club I love! He was a great character at Saints and we will always owe him a lot BUT I will always support Saints whoever is stood on the touch line – so for me it’s a case of the king is dead, long live the king!’

SD – ‘Like everyone else I was very shocked when it all happened, but the more I read and see about Pochettino, the more optimistic I feel about the future. Time will tell if it was the right decision, but the early signs are good. The players seem to genuinely like him and already look to be buying into his ideas. I will never have a bad word said about Adkins, but if Pochettino delivers I will be glad we made the change.’

EK – ‘Still hurts the way Adkins was treated at the end, but these last few games we have played some quite outstanding football and the future looks to be a bright one under Pochettino.’

Will Redknapp keep QPR up?

AI – ‘No.’

GdlC – ‘No.  Will he take any responsibility? No.’

SGL – ‘I don’t think he will. QPR’s problem is that they have too many individual players instead of team players.’

WT – ‘The million pound question if the contract rumours are true. Think it’s too steep a challenge even for Mr Houdini.’ 

BS – ‘Nope! They’ve been the worst team in the Premier League all season, bought in far too many players in the summer and prayed that they all ‘gelled’ but they haven’t! They also have failed to get another striker in in January to cover Loic Remy, who is injured – again! Whilst they’ve tightened up at the back I simply can’t see them scoring the goals they need to to stay up!’

SD – ‘I don’t think so. Granted they have improved recently, but if you stick eleven men behind the ball, you’re always going to pick a few 0-0 draws. It’s still a hell of a gap they have to make up. Sooner or later they are going to have to start attacking teams. I’m just not sure where the goals are going to come from. You’d think they’ll need a minimum of six wins from their remaining thirteen games, and even that might not be enough. It’s a big ask for a team who have only won twice all season.’

EK – ‘No.’

This little piggy went to High Court, this little piggy lost at home...

This little piggy went to High Court, this little piggy lost at home…

Le Tiss/Cortese. Damaging the club or irrelevant squabbling?

AI – ‘Pretty irrelevant, but certainly can’t help the club.’

GdlC – ‘Gives the media a negative stick to hit us with.  For me it’s very, very boring.’

SGL – ‘It is depressing to see the pair as it doesn’t help whatsoever. Without Liebherr and Cortese, there would be no Southampton Football Club. It seems to me they’re out to score points as if they’re on the Jeremy Kyle Show! Le Tiss hasn’t helped by going to the media about it all but, on the other hand, the fans might know what is actually going on.’

WT – ‘Petty but not irrelevant. I find it quite sad.’

BS – ‘A bit of both! Cortese runs the Club and Le Tiss needs to appreciate that! It’s his rules now! I don’t agree with Cortese’s ‘dictator style’ rule setting all the time but whilst Matt is, and probably always will be, the greatest player I’ve ever seen in the beloved red and white, he isn’t the smartest when it comes to speaking his mind publicly re Cortese!’ 

SD – ‘It is what it is. In an ideal world they would get on, but they don’t. Not a big deal, at the moment at least. I love Matt as much as the next fan, but sometimes I don’t think he helps himself by constantly sniping at Cortese so publicly. The meeting thing was a bit of a farce. I doubt either man had any intention of ever going through with it, both we’re playing a childish game. It was so predictable how it turned out. Matt has made his point countless times, and while he may be justified in some of the things he says, most fans have already decided which side of the fence they are on. There is very little he could say now to make people change their minds. Fans will only turn on Cortese if the team stop delivering on the pitch. Rightly or wrongly most supporters will turn a blind eye to pretty much everything as long as the team is winning. If things turn sour then people will be ready to attack, and Cortese might wish he hadn’t made so many enemies. Personally I think he’s a very shrewd guy, and I’m confident we will continue to be successful under his guidance.’ 

EK – ‘Damaging their reputations with the fans more than the club, but I personally think it’s pretty irrelevant.’

Pompey. Sympathy or Satisfaction?

AI – ‘Sympathy. The majority of their fans don’t deserve it.’

GdlC – ‘Bit of both.  I have kids in the U9 team I help run who wear Skates shirts to training cos Dad supports them and that’s fine.  I’d rather that than Man U/Chelsea to be honest.  Would hate to explain to my lad that his team had gone. However, they are a cess-pit and should have been thrown out of the league 2 years ago.  There are some special people on Twitter who deserve the worst to happen.’

SGL – ‘I have never seen a club in such a worse state than Pompey in my lifetime as yet. I have sympathy for the fans as we all know how they feel as we were in administration four years ago. There is some satisfaction as they simply used money that they didn’t have and the previous owners have ruined the club completely.’

WT – ‘Can’t say I haven’t enjoyed sniggering at the results and numerous has beens they keep signing up. I have sympathy for some of the fans though.’

BS – ‘Unfortunately I have no sympathy for them! Forget their fans, the Club actively cheated the system by winning a Cup with a team they couldn’t afford to buy, achieved European football through this and therefore revenues that a more deserving Club should have had, left charities out of pocket through non-payments and mistreated local businesses as well – potentially the most important ‘fans’ to any Club! Compared to some other Clubs like Aldershot, Luton, Rotherham, who in similar positions suffered sever consequences, Pompey have managed to get off very lightly so far! No Club in British Football history has been so mismanaged by people clearly selfish in their desire to win! History will show that they achieved great things in a short space of time but the reality is that they did it dishonestly and their upcoming comeuppance will be very satisfying for many people!’

SD – ‘I’m pretty indifferent to the whole situation to be honest. Between 2005-2009 I was very bitter about their success. It hurt to see them doing do well, while we were struggling. I would have given anything to see them crash and burn, but now that natural order has been restored I’m content again. I don’t really take much notice of what they are doing anymore.’

EK – ‘Both, I know a lot of Pompey fans so anything to do with the performance on the field I can have a little laugh, but everything off it isn’t particularly nice.’

Jermain, did you hear the one about the unpayed bonuses?

Jermain, did you hear the one about the unpayed bonuses?

Any Niggling worries about Saints?

AI – ‘That we’re not clinical enough in front of goal.’

GdlC – ‘If we stay up we’ll be fine and push on. Relegated and we lose Boruc, Clyne, Shaw, Morgan, Cork, Ramirez, Lambert and have to virtually start again – oh, and I expect we’d need a new manager. On the pitch, an injury to Sir Rickie would still kill us and the central defence needs to sort itself out.’

SGL – ‘I’m slightly worried at the fact that we can’t hold onto leads in games. The statistic of losing 27 points from winning positions doesn’t look good. However, I’m sure we can get the points to stay up.’

WT – ‘Only with the way former players seem to be treated. Le Tiss and co paying for tickets is disgusting in my opinion.’

BS – ‘Just their inability to cut out the niggling defensive mistakes and close off games when they’re leading! They must be more ruthless when leading and get ‘wise’ to seeing out Premier League games.’

SD – ‘The obvious worry is that our star players will eventually be picked off by bigger clubs. Jason Puncheon is worthy of a new deal, but I’m concerned he may not be given one because of his history with Cortese. Schneiderlin’s contract is up in 2014, so that’s another issue that needs addressing soon. If he were to move it would leave a huge whole in the team. He seems very happy at Southampton, but I doubt his recent form has gone unnoticed. He wouldn’t look out of place at any Premier League club in my opinion.’

EK – ‘Relegation is always on my mind despite the confidence I have in the team, as well as potential injuries to big players.’

Guly. Got to go or does a job?

AI – ‘Does a job. The majority of the criticism he gets is totally unfair as people look for a scapegoat.’

GdlC – ‘Does a job when needed as a squad player.  Not a starter and forgive the Brazilian stereotype but away from home on a freezing cold day – leave him at home.’

SGL – ‘Difficult as we don’t know which Guly will turn up! I have to be honest in that I wasn’t his biggest fan but I’d never boo him. At times, he does do a job. I don’t think he is Premier League quality. Although, he has put in some respectable performances recently. I have no idea whether he will move on in the summer though.’

WT – ‘Definitely does a job. The abuse he receives is ridiculous, we have far worse players than him.’

BS – ‘Any player who wears a Saints shirt should be cheered not booed! Guly is not one of my favourite players but he certainly does a job and, bearing in mind the continual abuse he gets from the uneducated section of the Saints fan base, I think he should be applauded for that!’

SD – ‘It annoys me how so many people ignore all the good things he does, and then barrack him every time he makes the slightest mistake. Sometimes he has bad games, but who doesn’t? Most other players can get away with the odd poor showing, but with Guly it’s always a massive scandal. I have no idea what the new coaching staff thinks of him, but I know for a fact he was very highly regarded by Adkins. I’ve heard from more than one player that his teammates think very highly of him too. Ultimately they are the people who really matter, and if Guly is good enough for them then he’s good enough for me. I wouldn’t start him every week, and I suspect he’ll be gradually phased out over the next 18 months, but for now he still has an important role to play.’

EK – ‘Does the job, I’ve never understood the hate towards him, he is the one who helps Saints retain possession of the ball and can on his day change the game with a little bit of his Brazilian magic…although that has been pretty limited so far this season.’

...and then the other nun said "It does doesn't it?"

…and then the other nun said “It does doesn’t it?”

If everyone is fit. Best XI?

AI – ‘(4-2-3-1) Gazzaniga; Clyne, Fonte, Yoshida, Shaw; Schneiderlin, Cork; Lallana, Ramírez, Puncheon; Lambert.’

GdlC – ‘Boruc; Clyne, Fonte, Yoshida, Shaw; Cork, Schneiderlin; Puncheon, Ramirez, Lallana; Lambert.’

SGL – ‘(4-2-3-1): Boruc, Clyne, Fonte, Yoshida, Shaw, Cork, Schneiderlin, Puncheon, Ramírez, Lallana, Lambert.’

WT – ‘Boruc; Clyne, Fonte, Yoshida, Shaw; Puncheon, Cork, Schneiderlin, Lallana; Ramirez; Lambert.’

BS – ‘Boruc, Clyne, Fonte, Forren, Shaw, Cork, Schneiderlin, Puncheon, Lallana, Ramirez (in the hole), Lambert.’

SD – ‘Boruc; Clyne, Fonte, Yoshida, Shaw; Schneiderlin, Cork; Puncheon, Ramirez, Lallana; Lambert.’

EK – ‘(4-2-3-1) Boruc, Clyne, Fonte, Yoshida, Shaw, Schneiderlin, Cork, Puncheon, Lallana, Ramirez and Lambert.’ 

Thanks again to those that took part! Some differing opinions, but credit to the players who have made some very consistent looking starting XI’s, and with recent performances, I think it would be fair to say that Jay Rodriguez is giving Mr. Pochettino some nice selection problems!

Chris

As featured on NewsNow: Southampton FC news

Relegation Ramblings: The Opposition’s View

No matter how well we might be playing it is difficult to get away from the fact that we are 6th from bottom, with just 12 games to play (at the time of writing this humble blogger expected us to get nothing from the City game, and is now feeling suitable guilty. Hence no Newcastle fan – Chris). Four points are all that separate Saints from the drop zone, and everyone will have their own opinion as to who will suffer the ultimate disappointment.

I asked a blogger of each of the four clubs below us to see how they see the battle for survival panning out. Here they are in league position order:-

15th Southampton

Points:- 27

Name:- Chris Rann

Blog:- George Weah’s Cousin

Did you expect to be in this position when the season kicked off?

‘I thought we might be a bit further up than this, but knew it was also a distinct possibility  I still think our league position reflects our dreadful start rather than our true standing.’

What has been your biggest problem and why are you not picking up as many points as you would hope?

‘A mixture of terrible defending, a crazy amount of goalkeeping errors and most importantly not being able to defend a lead. Our performances aren’t being reflected in results, we are playing like a side who are much higher in the table.’

Are there any other teams from above you think could get dragged into it?

‘I’m sure at least one will, I have been saying all season that West Ham would, as if you look at their squad it looks very poor, but they are continuing to prove me wrong. Norwich look vulnerable too I think.’

Colours to the mast. Who will go down and in what order?

‘I will be amazed if Villa don’t finish rock bottom, they just look like a truly dreadful team, lacking in ability and experience. They seem to be relying on Benteke too much, who looks very hit and miss to me. I think this season will be one too many for Wigan and they will finish 19th, and despite the hoards of money, I think after a stint of improvement ‘Arry will get found out again and QPR will finish 18th’

Why will you stay up ahead of those chosen (unless you chose yourself then why them ahead of you)?

‘As I said, we are playing incredibly well, and although we aren’t converting that to as many wins as we would like, we are improving with every game. We have   a squad that is more talented than it gets credited for and we have a goalscorer. The next two games could be crucial for us, we have Newcastle and QPR (both winnable) while those around us have some tough fixtures. We could pull away.’

If you could take one player from the other relegation battle sides who would it be?

 ‘Julio Cesar. Without doubt. Although Boruc has been great recently for us, Cesar has already rescued QPR a number of times. A goalkeeper as good as him, who can be relied upon at all times could be crucial in a relegation battle.’

17th Aston Villa

Points:- 24

Name:- Matt Turvey

Blog:- Aston Villa Life

Did you expect to be in this position when the season kicked off?

‘I think many fans expected a little more than what happened last season, especially given the stature of Paul Lambert but, truth be told, I don’t think many fans can be too surprised given the past two seasons before this one have been spent close to or in the relegation zone.’

What has been your biggest problem and why are you not picking up as many points as you would hope?

‘Set pieces – for some reason, Villa have been atrocious at both defending and attacking set pieces. The amount we concede at present is frankly ridiculous, and you only need to have a basic grasp of probability to know that if you concede 16 corners (as we did against Everton), then sooner or later, you are going to concede goals. Not only that but Villa can’t seem to take advantage of scoring from set pieces either. Couple that with the lack of ability to defend, and it is hardly a surprise the club are where we are.’

Are there any other teams from above you think could get dragged into it?

‘I think most of the club around the drop zone are, in one way or another, already in the fight. For example, Newcastle are away from immediate danger – so to speak – but they are far from “safe”.’

Colours to the mast. Who will go down and in what order?

‘I’ll start at the bottom where I think it’ll be QPR. Harry Redknapp may well be seen as an excellent manager (he isn’t – Chris 😉), but he has been relegated before. Couple that with this strange, constant state of flux that the club seems to be in due to their swathes of transfers, and it seems likely that they are going to fail to survive.

After QPR, it gets very hard. Reading seem to be having a mini-renaissance in the past few weeks, epitomised by the fact that Villa fans were having to keep track of their results to see if we would be in/escape the drop zone during matches. However, with all that said, I’m not sure they can keep it up for the whole season. Sure, they are doing progressively better than they were earlier in the season but, let’s be frank, it would be hard to do much worse.

As for the last place, it is really difficult. Truth be told, this place could include any one of Wigan, your good selves (Southampton), and us. I’d like to think that given our ability to play football (when it goes well), that we’d be able to finish above 18th. The choice comes between newly promoted team with a new manager with Southampton, comparatively hardened relegation battlers in Wigan, and us.

It’s really close to call at present so I’ll go with who I’d prefer to go down – Wigan. Why? Truth be told, I’ve never got the hype surrounding Roberto Martinez. Sure, he did well at Swansea as part of the Martinez-Sousa-Rodgers-Laudrup progress they have made, but I’ve seen nothing that puts him up at the top of the tree that Dave Whelan keeps talking about. He does play attractive football, yes, but is a commitment to style over substance genius or idiocy? A lot of the time it seems like the latter when contrasted with how Stoke have developed, or even Swansea – Martinez’s old club.’

Why will you stay up ahead of those chosen (unless you chose yourself then why them ahead of you)?

‘As stated above, it is far from clear cut in terms of us staying up. If I had to give a reason, it would be that we have more gears we can go through, but we are just playing badly at present. Look at the comparative teams and you’ll see that we should, on paper at least, dodge the drop, even if it isn’t by many points.

I know that is far from a watertight argument but, in my eyes at least, I think – whether from hope or logic – that we can survive if, and this is a big if, we rise to the challenge.’

If you could take one player from the other relegation battle sides who would it be?

‘I’d go for Christopher Samba. Now, I know that sounds quite crazy when I’ve said about the belief I have that QPR will finish rock bottom, but Samba has been, and is, a fantastic player. Villa could do with that kind of solidity in defence alongside Ron Vlaar. However, due to the (lack of) money available in the January transfer window, the club are playing a dangerous game not investing back there.’

Chris Samba - QPR's big money man.

Chris Samba – QPR’s big money man.

18th Reading

Points:- 23

Name:- Dan Wimbush

Blog:- The Tilehurst End

Did you expect to be in this position when the season kicked off?

‘Sadly so, though I didn’t think we’d be quite in this much trouble. I thought we’d have picked up 3 or 4 more points by now but I knew we were in for a long season, so having a chance of survival with 12 games to go is fine.’

What has been your biggest problem and why are you not picking up as many points as you would hope?

‘Before Christmas it was a mixture of poor signings, under-performing players, injuries and bad tactical choices… so just about everything really! In the main a poor start and midfield injuries forced us to play 4-4-2 and while it was entertaining (think of the 7-5 & 5-2 with Arsenal, 4-3 with United, 3-3 with Fulham) it wasn’t getting us results and we were looking cut adrift. Thankfully players returned to fitness and Brian went back to 4-5-1, sacrificing entertainment for staying in games as long as possible and effectively trying to turn matches in 25 minute contests at the end of play, when we’d bring on Adam Le Fondre. So far the change has worked and a run of 14 points from a possible 24 has lifted us right back into the right and given us a real chance of survival.’

Are there any other teams from above you think could get dragged into it?

‘At the time of writing it’s looking very much 3 from 4, or 3 from 6 if you think QPR have a chance of survival and that Saints and Newcastle are still in the mix. Other than those six then I still don’t think Norwich are totally safe but they should have enough in the tank to stay clear.’

Colours to the mast. Who will go down and in what order?

’20. QPR  19. Wigan  18. Reading

I think Reading have got a great chance to stay up but I just think we’ll come up slightly short as Villa somehow sneak out of trouble. Reading have left themselves with a set of fixtures that are either six pointers or relative no-hopers against top 8 sides that you can’t realistically hope to get things from. With that in mind anything less than 10-12 points from home games against Wigan, Villa, Saints and QPR will send us down and I don’t know if we’ve got the quality to ensure we get three wins and a draw. I’d love to be proved wrong and I’m naturally a pessimist but I just can’t imagine a survival party taking place this season. I’ll never be happier to be wrong though!

QPR seem doomed, particularly if Remy doesn’t make a very, very swift return. They too have big games against all of their fellow strugglers but clawing back six points when you’ve only won two games all season seems too much to ask, particularly when you’re a team trying to gel and with little momentum.

Wigan could also survive but I think this is just one season to far for Roberto Martinez and after eight drop-defying years, it’ll be time up for Dave Whelan’s club.

Why will you stay up ahead of those chosen (unless you chose yourself then why them ahead of you)?

‘I suppose I should mention why Saints, Villa and Newcastle will stay up! Newcastle have obviously added great quality in January and I think they’ll have enough at home to stay up comfortably. Southampton have also invested heavily and have a real ability to score goals, something that’ll always keep you in games and pick up points. Your back five finally seems to be coming together and you’ve just got so many weapons that you’ll be fine. With Villa I’m really torn because while it’s a young side, they do have really quality players such as Benteke, that the three I’ve tipped to go down don’t seem to have. I’ve also got a nasty feeling Darren Bent might come in from the wilderness and score some key goals. If any team does replace Reading in those relegation places, it will be Paul Lambert’s side.’

If you could take one player from the other relegation battle sides who would it be?

‘Maybe Adam Lallana to add that creative player we’ve been missing behind the front man.’

Adam Lallana - Creativity could keep Saints up.

Adam Lallana – Creativity could keep Saints up.

19th Wigan Athletic

Points:- 21

Name:- Alan

Blog:- This Northern Soul

Did you expect to be in this position when the season kicked off?

‘Now, I seem to spend half my time preaching to that we should expect to be in a relegation battle each and every year we’re in the top flight but, if truth be told, I did get drawn in by the finish to last season.  Up until that point Roberto Martinez’ Wigan always seemed to be an ounce of confidence or a dash of je ne sais quoi away from doing well and everything seemed to click running into the final stretch last year, it wasn’t a case of us fighting with our backs to the wall, we were making great strides and playing with a style and confidence that was more befitting of a top-six side.  Which could only lead to one thing…

… High expectations and a massive crash to the ground.  I wasn’t on my own in thinking that we’d pick up somewhere near where we left off, but I really should have known better.’

What has been your biggest problem and why are you not picking up as many points as you would hope?

‘Our biggest problem has been a tendency to give teams a two goal start.  Underneath that lie injuries to two key players, Ramis and Alcaraz.  Apart from during the first ten minutes of the season against Chelsea, Ramis has looked a class above and Alcaraz was a massive player for us last year, had we been able to keep them together then who knows where we would be.  After all they would still have a proverbial vampiric goalkeeper behind them (he doesn’t like crosses, geddit?) and be supported by wing backs who are ten times more comfortable in the attacking final third than their defensive one.’

Are there any other teams from above you think could get dragged into it?

‘Last Friday, I thought that there were seven or eight teams in it, but with your win against Man City, I’m starting to feel the pressure.  In terms of the overall battle, then maybe that figure is still the same, with Sunderland and Norwich, in particular, looking over their shoulders.

For us though, I’m only interested in getting back above Aston Villa.  That’s the only realistic target for us right now, and then let’s see what happens.  We’ve got a massive game against Reading in a couple of weeks and after that it could be all over bar the shouting for Latics (of which there’ll be plenty as the Wigan Wide Web eats itself whole).’ 

Colours to the mast. Who will go down and in what order?

’18. QPR

19. Reading

20. Wigan’

Why will you stay up ahead of those chosen (unless you chose yourself then why them ahead of you)?

‘Simply put, because we can’t defend.  No team can keep conceding like we do and win games.  It wouldn’t be so bad if you could see changes that could be made that would make the team more solid, but with Ramis out until next year, Alcaraz permanently two weeks from a return, Boyce joining them on the sidelines and all hopes pinned on Paul Scharner we’re not only restricted with personnel, we’re also tied tactically

There are clear changes that could be made that could strengthen us at the back (a change in left wing back and goal keeper being the most obvious ones) but the manager has seemed reluctant up until now.  The manager needs to pull something out of the bag akin to last season’s switch to 3-4-3, but the nearest we’ve had is a flirtation with the 1930s in a W-M line up.  There’s probably some social commentary based witticism I could throw in at this point (30’s depression vs 2010’s recession, austere football for austere times) but, frankly, I’m too depressed.’

If you could take one player from the other relegation battle sides who would it be?

‘After all I’ve said, I should be after a defensive king pin, or a top notch goalie, but I’d have to go for Charles N’Zogbia.  Not only does he know the club and the situation we’re in, but he’d bring a bit of panache that we’ve sadly missed this season.  More so, I reckon his loss would weaken Villa more than the loss of other players would hurt other teams and maybe more than Villa fans realise.  He’s a real man for the moment and when given the stage can really turn it on.’

Charles N'Zogbia - They'd love him back at Wigan!

Charles N’Zogbia – They’d love him back at Wigan!

20th QPR

Points:- 17

Name:- Tony Gibson

Blog:- Lofty Heights

Did you expect to be in this position when the season kicked off?

‘Certainly not.’

What has been your biggest problem and why are you not picking up as many points as you would hope?

‘Simple, Mark Hughes and his team of overpaid mercenaries that he assembled. Also the lack of firepower, Cisse off form and now of course gone, major, long term injuries to Johnson and Zamora. The same could be said of new signing, Loic Remy, who is now also, injured. The simple fact that our stand our player was a 34 year old Kiwi says it all. That of course is Ryan Nelsen, who has also now, sadly left us.’

Are there any other teams from above you think could get dragged into it?

‘Anyone from Fulham downwards really.’

Colours to the mast. Who will go down and in what order?

‘After last weekend, I think there is every chance now we may go, we are just not picking up the points, other teams are starting too and the games are running out. Will be Reading, Villa and Ourselves bottom.’

Why will you stay up ahead of those chosen (unless you chose yourself then why them ahead of you)?

‘I travel home and away with QPR and this prediction is simply what I have seen from the other sides. Reading and Villa are simply the worst I have seen this season.’

If you could take one player from the other relegation battle sides who would it be?

‘Tough one, seeing as it goals that is the problem, your own Rickie Lambert or Benteke from Villa.’

So there we have it, a mixture of views there from inside our rival camps! Thanks to Lasse Burri Gram-Hansen who mailed us to suggest the article and theme. If one thing is clear it is going to be an interesting final 12 games!

Chris

As featured on NewsNow: Southampton FC news

Played For Both: Saints & Latics

Well after the debacle that was the Manchester United team, I have surprisingly fared a little better with a shared Wigan Athletic team, even getting people in the right positions and players that have been registered players with both clubs.

Considering the two clubs share very little history it was relatively easy to pick a team and I even had a spare keeper (Dave Beasant)!

Here goes:-

TeamGoalkeeper

Eric Nixon

Born in Manchester Nixon began his professional career in 1983 at Maine Road with City, while at the club he earned the feat of playing for a club in every English division in one season, while on loan at Wolves, Bradford, Saints and Carlisle in 1986/87. He made four appearances at The Dell in that season, providing cover for Peter Shilton. He eventually joined Tranmere Rovers and made over 340 appearances for the Wirral club before several loan moves in the mid-90’s. He signed for Wigan in 1998 (initially on loan) and played three times before heading back to Tranmere. Nixon retired in 2004 and went into coaching and Elvis-impersonating!

Eric Nixon

Eric Nixon

Defender

Jeff Kenna

Dubliner Kenna joined the Southampton youth academy in 1987 and turned pro in 1989. He was a highly rated right full back during his time at the Dell and played in the defeated ZDS final team. Having played over 110 times for Saints he was sold to new money Blackburn Rovers for £1.5 million in 1995. He played over 150 times for Rovers but fell down the pecking order and was sent out on loan moves in 2001. One of those was to the DW Stadium. He played six times for Wigan before heading to Birmingham City. He returned to Ireland in 2008 and became player/manager of Galway United, he quit to take over the reigns at St. Patrick’s Athletic in 2009 but lasted less than a year and now coaches in the United States.

Jeff_KennaDefender

Fitz Hall

‘One Size’ started his career in his native London with West Ham, but was released as a youth player, he signed for Barnet but it didn’t work out there either and he dropped into non-league football. He was managed at Chesham United by Bob Dowie, brother of former Saints striker Iain who took him to Oldham Athletic in 2002. His fantastic first season in Greater Manchester saw him propelled to the Premier League in 2003 with Saints. Though Hall didn’t perform badly for Saints, he couldn’t force his way past Lundekvam and Svensson at the heart of Saints defence, having played just 11 times for the club he rejoined Dowie at Crystal Palace. It was 2006 when he made his way to the Latics, but his time at the DW seemed to be littered with injuries, own goals and suspensions. Once Peter Taylor moved on Hall was out of favour and left for QPR in 2008. Now playing at Watford.

Fitz Hall

Fitz Hall

Defender

Chris Makin

Makin began his career at Boundary Park playing nearly 100 games for Oldham between 1991 & 1996. During the early days of his spell he was loaned to Springfield Park and played 15 times for Wigan in the 92/93 season. He arrived at Southampton in 2006 at the end of his career via Marseille, Sunderland, Ipswich, Leicester, Derby and Reading and little was expected of him. To many fans surprise he proved to be a decent acquisition for Saints and played 27 times before retiring through injury in 2008.

Chris_Makin

Winger

David Lee

Right winger Lee was born in the North, and but for a short spell with Saints spent his entire career in the North. Having started his career at Bury he was given a chance in the top flight by Saints in 1991, but he would last just a season. Having played 20 games he was loaned to Bolton and joined them permanently soon after. He played over 150 games for Wanderers before signing for Wigan in 1997 and played over 80 times for the Latics, later had spells with Blackpool, Carlisle and Morecambe before returning to the DW stadium as a youth coach. Now the assistant academy director at Bolton.

David_LeeMidfield

Alan McLoughlin

Having been a trainee at Manchester United McLoughlin made a name for himself with Swindon Town. His performances were enough for Saints to take a punt on him in 1990 for £1 million. He didn’t establish himself at the higher level and played only 24 times for Saints in two seasons. He crossed the M27 divide that summer for £400,000 and became a Pompey legend. Playing over 300 times for the club, his performances earned him a place at the 1994 World Cup with Ireland. As injuries hampered his later career he joined Wigan in 1999 for £260,000 and made 22 appearances for them before leaving for Rochdale in 2001. Having retired in 2003 McLoughlin has been a commentator on local radio in Pompey and also worked with the club as a coach. Sadly battling cancer, McLoughlin had a kidney removed in October last year. Everyone at georgeweahscousin.com wishes him a speedy recovery.

Alan McLoughlin

Alan McLoughlin

Midfield

Tommy Widdrington

A graduate of the famous Wallsend Boys Club in the North East, geordie Widdrington joined Saints as a youth scholar in 1987, he turned pro in 1990 and soon became popular with the crowd with his combative style. Although never truly first choice he played nearly 100 times for Saints in five seasons. In his early days as a young pro Widdrington was sent on loan to Wigan (1991) playing six times for the Latics. After he left Saints he played for Grimsby, Port Vale, Hartlepool, Macclesfield and Port Vale before heading back south with Salisbury City. Now manager of Eastbourne Borough.

Tommy_Widdrington

Winger

Harry Penk

Local lad Penk joined Wigan in the early 1950’s and was given the chance to turn pro with Portsmouth in 1955, things didn’t work out for Penk at Fratton Park and he joined Plymouth in 1957. He lasted three season’s with Argyle playing over 100 times and joined Saints in 1960. Penk made over 50 appearances for the club between ’60 and ’64 before moving to Salisbury City.

Harry_PenkForward

Henri Camara

Senegalese forward Camara came to England via France and Switzerland to sign for Wolves in 2003. He endeared himself to the fans by refusing to play for them in the Championship following relegation and was loaned to Celtic. He was signed on loan by Saints in January 2005 and was without doubt the most succesful of Redknapp’s dealings while at the club. Camara’s energetic performances couldn’t stop Saints being relegated though and he headed to one of their Premier League replacements Wigan. Camara played over 70 games for the Latics, chipping with 20 goals. Later played for West Ham, Stoke and Sheffield United before heading to Greece.

Hands up who has been a decent signing...

Hands up who has been a decent signing…

Forward

Brett Ormerod

Fondly remembered at St. Mary’s, scruffy striker Brett Ormerod’s relentless hard work complimented James Beattie’s more technical nonchalance perfectly. In what was a great period for Saints fans Ormerod played over 100 times for Saints between 2001 and 2006 including the 2003 cup final (having a blinder in the semi). As he fell down the pecking order he was loaned to Wigan in 2005 scoring twice in six games. Now playing for Wrexham.

Brett Ormerod

Brett Ormerod

Forward

David Connolly

Irishman Connolly began his career in 1994 with Watford, before heading to Holland with Feyenoord and subsequently played for several more English clubs, scoring goals everywhere he went before arriving at Wigan in 2005, injuries effected his time at the DW (soon to be a recurring theme) and he scored just one league goal for the Latics. He moved to Sunderland in 2006 before joining Saints in 2009. Part of the Saints side that was promoted from League One in 2011, the Championship in 2012 and that won the Johnstones Paint Trophy in 2010. Took a break from football on his release from Saints, but returned at Pompey in December.

David Connolly

David Connolly

So there it is, another team, and a slightly balanced one for once! As always let me know of anymore that I have missed!

Cheers,

Chris

As featured on NewsNow: Southampton FC news

A Message to you Guly…

“Stop your messing around,

Better think of your future.

Time you straighten right out,

Creating problems in town.

Guly, A message to you Guly.”

Over the last twelve months there has been a complete reversal on popularity of two Saints players. This time a year ago Jason Puncheon’s name was mud in the stands of St. Mary’s, the problem that we couldn’t be rid of, the player who was continually loaned out to teams in higher divisions after a spell of indifference and a seemingly poor attitude for Saints. He had been the subject of crowd abuse and his time looked up on the South Coast, only a difference in opinion between Saints and the chairmen of several other clubs as to his value kept the player a Southampton asset (See this post from March 2011 ‘Puncheon Below His Weight’ for context). At the same time Guly do Prado was a regular in the Saints first team heading for Championship promotion, weighing in with 10 league goals as his role changed between striker and winger as to Adkins needs per game. He was always a crowd splitter though (See the post ‘Guly, or Not Guly’ from November 2011 for context.).

This season Puncheon has completed the ‘prodigal son’ return in full, and is now a crowd favourite, wowing the supporters with match winning performances and even prompting talk of England recognition. Guly on the other hand finds himself the victim of the boo boys, and even when he has yet to do anything wrong (he was booed on being introduced against Reading) he finds himself the target of hate.

For me I find it difficult to explain where this level of hatred has come from. It is perfectly acceptable to not like a player, or rate their ability, but Guly has  been decent for us for two and a half seasons now. Whenever I watch Saints and he plays, he barely puts a foot wrong, yet those that decided he wasn’t good enough over a year ago, have moved from silent dislike to noisy disdain, and for me that isn’t fair. Firstly, you support the team, picking out a player for abuse is harsh at the best of times, but to do it before they have even kicked a ball is unfathomable.

Guly has split opinion from day one, and that is fair enough, but what is abundantly clear for anyone that has watched him play, is that in terms of comfort on the ball, he is one of our best. I often ask people what it is that makes them hate him so much, and the responses vary, from rumours of his unrest in England (decent enough reason for him not to be in the team, but to boo him?), his drink driving charge (you would have to boo nearly everyone in football if off the pitch activities are taken into account and remember club ‘hero’ Claus Lundekvam), to him being ‘lazy’ (he isn’t whenever I watch, in fact he is extremely busy), to him being ‘crap’ (this one simply isn’t true), to him being ‘Cortese’s signing’ (if true, still not HIS fault).

Guly focussing on the ball...

Guly focussing on the ball…

Similar reasons were given for the abuse Puncheon received at the time, and it makes me wonder what it is about them that makes people take a dislike to them. From what I can see, the main thing they have in common is that they can be a little nonchalant. Is that enough of a reason to vilify them? Fans should learn from the turnaround of Puncheon that they might not always be right.

One of the most common criticisms of Guly seems to be that he “gives the ball away too much”. Actually this season he has the best pass success rate in our entire squad (90.8%), this is relative with regards to pitch time etc. but clearly indicates that he is someone who rarely makes stray passes. Statistically he is also dispossessed less than once a game (0.8times), in comparison Gaston Ramirez and Adam Lallana are dispossessed 2.8 and 2.6 times per game respectively, and this is what I don’t get.

Guly plays in a similar way to those two. He tries things, he attempts the creative, sometimes it will go wrong, that is the pay off for when it goes right. So why aren’t they given the same treatment?

The fact is, Guly hasn’t made a massive contribution this season, he clearly isn’t first choice, but when he has been used he hasn’t done anything wrong. In the previous two seasons, he has made a massive contribution. So why the disdain?

During our indifferent run of games earlier in the season, I saw fans calling for the likes of de Ridder to be brought into the team and Billy Sharp brought back from loan, yet when Guly is given the nod (a player who has contributed more than those two in the past) it is met with a plethora of complaint from a section of the Saints fans. There comes a time when you have to sit back and say “look. Nigel knows what he is doing”, if he thinks Guly is good enough, then he is.

I’m not saying you have to like him, or think he is the best player around, but when he pulls on the shirt get behind him. The guy is owed at least that. With it looking like Lallana may be out for months, don’t be surprised to see Adkins turn to Guly to play in that role. Back him.

If his home sickness is true (the quotes seemed to suggest that he would like to end his career in Sao Paulo) and he leaves the club in the next couple of transfer windows, let’s hope he does so with his head held high and smile, his contribution over the last two fantastic seasons means he should be wished well.

I had a think about the Saints players that have been booed by their own since I have been watching. I can think of David Speedie, Kerry Dixon, Jermaine Wright, Jason Puncheon and Guly. That shows how spoilt we have been since the Liebherr takeover. Puncheon and Guly should never be categorised with those three for anything, and far worse have wore the shirt.

Back the maverick samba assassin, or at least stay silent when he is brought on if you can’t bring yourself to ‘support’ him.

Chris

As featured on NewsNow: Southampton FC news

Premier League Preview: Part 3

Welcome to Part 3 of our Premier League Preview!

QPR:-

Name:-  QPR Report

Team:- Queen’s Park Rangers (QPR)

Website:- Blog;  www.qprreport.blogspot.com and  Messageboard http://qprreport.proboards.com

Twitter:- @qprreport

What can we expect from your club this season?

A safe season, one without all the off-the-field drama of so many previous seasons.

Who is your most important player?

Cisse.

Where do you predict you will finish this season?

10-12th.

Who might win the Premier League?

Sadly Manchester United, Manchester City or Chelsea.

Who definitely won’t?

Wigan

What is your most anticipated fixture?

Chelsea and Manchester United at Loftus Road.

What is your most anticipated fixture that doesn’t involve your club?

Manchester United vs Chelsea.

How do you think Southampton will fare?

Stay up (15th) (made some good, early signings).

You find yourself stuck in The Madjeski Stadium. How do you escape unnoticed?

Wear my blue and white hooped scarf!

Reading:-

Name: Dan Wimbush

Team:-  Reading

Website:-  The Tilehurst End  http://www.thetilehurstend.com

Twitter:- @thetilehurstend

What can we expect from your club this season?

After last year’s unexpected title win we’ll be very happy to secure a second season back in the Premier League.  Brian McDermott has worked wonders at the club so far, despite having to sell the likes of Gylfi Sigurdsson, Matt Mills and Shane Long and now that we’ve got new ownership it’s been great to see him able to strengthen the squad for once. Despite signing six players you won’t see that much of a difference style wise from us this year. We’ll still look to work very very hard closing down the opposition, allowing them long spells with the ball before breaking out wide through Kebe and McAnuff, or getting the ball up top to Roberts or Pogrebnyak. As Southampton fans know only too well Reading were the masters of counter attacking last season and given the jump in quality I can’t imagine we’ll suddenly start pressing from the front!

Who is your most important player?

It’s looking like being Pavel Pogrebnyak. Much as the signing of Jason Roberts helped win us the title last year, it’s going to be vital we get good production from the Russian if we hope to stay up. He’s shown his quality wherever he’s been and if we’re getting a striker anything like the one we saw at Fulham last year, we’ll be in for a good season.

Where do you predict you will finish this season?

Tough to call until you see how the other teams shape up. We’ve seen good teams relegated due to the strength of others and likewise weaker teams survive because there’s just been three awful sides. Right now if I had to gamble I’d say about 15th, but anything from 10th to 20th wouldn’t shock me.

Who might win the Premier League?

Hard to look past City again. The strength and depth they have at the Etihad is just staggering and while I think Chelsea and Manchester Utd will both be strong again, neither can match the power that City posses right now.

Who definitely won’t?

Liverpool, Arsenal, Reading or Southampton 😉     While Rodgers has been lauded for the job he’s done at Swansea, Reading fans will be able to tell you that he’s not infallible and can get things very badly wrong. When he came to Reading he tried to do too much too soon and left us in a relegation dogfight but landed on his feet at Swansea who were already playing a passing game when he arrived. Liverpool weren’t exactly playing like Swansea last season so it will take a while to turn it around. As for Arsenal well if Van Persie goes as expected its difficult to see them having the quality to really mount a decent challenge.  Can’t see anyone else gate-crashing the title picture either to be honest.

What is your most anticipated fixture?

Wigan away obviously….  😉

Everyone has their favourites but for me, cliché as it sounds it’s got to be Manchester United away. I was unable to get to the games the last time we were a Premier League side so this time around I’m determined to see Reading take on England’s most successful side on their own patch next season. Trips to Anfield, The Emirates and White Hart Lane are also ones I’m anticipating while the home games against teams like yourselves, West Ham, Swansea and Norwich will be fun as we’ll actually be able to turn up knowing we’ve got a chance of winning.

What is your most anticipated fixture that doesn’t involve your club?

City v United will once again be a tussle worth watching. I expect those two to finsh first and second and Fergie will be fired up more than ever before to put one over the noisy neighbours.

How do you think Southampton will fare?

I’m really not sure to be honest. Like Reading, you’ve been quite active in the transfer market and I’ll be interested to see how Rodriguez makes the step up. If Sharp, Lambert and Rodriquez can translate Championship goals to the Premier League you’ll be laughing, while Lallana is another top player who I expect to do well. I do fear for Norwich, Swansea, Fulham and Wigan this year so I think the Saints will end up roughly around the same place we are so 12th-16th.

You find yourself stuck in The County Ground. How do you escape unnoticed?

‘Can you direct me around the magic roundabout please?’

Pave-ing the way for Reading success?

Southampton:-

Name:- Ben Stanfield

Team:- Southampton

Website:- http://www.saintsfc.co.uk/

Twitter:- @benstanners

What can we expect from your club this season?

I think, as ever being a Saints fan, we can expect a mixture of the sublime and the ridiculous. Saints have nothing to really lose this season. We are at least one, if not two, years ahead of where we’d thought we’d be as a Club but that doesn’t mean that we are going to give up the hard work of the last two years by being the whipping boys of the Premier League.

We have a young, astute and intelligent manager and a team that, to be honest, would die for each other on the pitch. The spirit in the Club is as good as I’ve ever known it in the 25 years I’ve supported and watched Saints and I really feel that we will shock a lot of people this coming season.

Who is your most important player?

Many would argue that it is a straight race between Rickie Lambert and Adam Lallana. I’d agree!

For me, although Lallana is a class player who can turn defenders inside out and create goals for the team with almost every passage of play, Lambert is our most important player.

Pretty much all of our success over the last 2 seasons has come from building the team around Rickie Lambert, getting the ball up to him and then feeding off that. Not to mention his goals of course that have helped fire us to the Premier League.

Lambert proved people wrong last season by scoring goals consistently in the Championship and I feel he will score goals again this season, but obviously not to the level’s of 20’s and 30’s that he is used to!

He is the modern day “talisman” of the Saints team and we don’t look the same side when he’s not playing. So much will revolve around his presence up front and the ability to hold the ball up against the better teams to give our defenders a breather! Like Saints themselves, I don’t think Lambert has anything to lose this season but the importance of him being in the side and playing well will play a key role in our success.

Where do you predict you will finish this season?

If I’m honest I’d take 17th place now! We have to be realistic, there are a lot of experienced Premier League teams in the league that have quality and know how to get results. But we also know that the brilliant thing about English football is that the teams at the bottom can beat the teams at the top on their day.

In my opinion the Premier League is very much two divisions in one. Saints need to aspire to get off to a good start if they can, although the fixture list hasn’t helped with doing that much, and then build on that. As long as we survive I will be happy but finishing higher up the bottom half of the Premier League is certainly not unrealistic, especially if some strong signings can be made between now and the end of the August transfer window.

Who might win the Premier League?

For me its a straight race between the two Manchester clubs. City have taken the pressure off of themselves by winning the title last season – they always say that the first one is the hardest – but that doesn’t mean that the fans or owners will accept second place this season! Mancini has probably the best squad of players in the World – as you’d expect for the amount of money he has spent – and really they should win it again.

Having said that you can never right off Fergie and there hasn’t been a Premier League season in the history of the competition where United haven’t been up their challenging. The signing of Robin Van Persie could be the difference between United finishing second and winning the title. His potential partnership with Wayne Rooney has me salivating even as a non-United fan.

I think City will nick it this season, but I think it will go to the wire again.

Who definitely won’t?

Tottenham and Arsenal I’m afraid. They’ve both huffed and puffed the last few season’s but realistically they don’t have the winning-mentality that United and City have. Several times last season both Clubs lost games against teams that City and United wouldn’t have. Arsenal and Spurs both put a lot of emphasis on their attacking play but defensively aren’t in the same league as City or United.

Arsenal losing Van Persie is key for me. He pretty much single handedly got them to third last season with his goals and although they have bought in Podolski and Giroud I can’t see them scoring 30 goals between them, let alone individually. Goals wins you league titles and I don’t think Arsenal have the fire-power to topple City or United.

With Andre Villas-Boas in charge at Spurs now it will be interesting to see how he does. He didn’t have a very successful time with Chelsea last season so the pressure and spotlight will be on him from the first game of the season. Spurs are a good side and they will finish in the top-6, I have no doubts but, again like Arsenal, I don’t think they have the mental belief to go that one step further to the title and dig results out regularly the way that United and City do.

What is your most anticipated fixture?

Thats a good question! The last couple of seasons we’ve had local games against Portsmouth, Brighton and Bournemouth to look forward to, but not anymore. For me, just being back in the Premier League means that every game has to be an anticipated fixture now. When you look at the fixture list every single match gets you excited – OK, maybe not Wigan away!

But I guess, after the trial and tribulations of last season, playing against Reading and West Ham will be good. We certainly owe Reading a defeat this season after they pretty much won the title at St. Mary’s last season!

What is your most anticipated fixture that doesn’t involve your club?

I think the two games between Manchester City and United are the fixtures that I will be looking forward to watching. The power has shifted from red to blue in Manchester now and I don’t think Fergie and everyone connected with Old Trafford are enjoying that much. I’ve no doubts that United will be looking for revenge this season and I think these two games will go along way to determining the title.

Traditionally they are cagey affairs although City did score six at Old Trafford last season. There is no love lost between the two managers or the sets of fans and, with arguably the two strongest squads in the Premier League, they should be cracking matches to watch.

How do you think Southampton will fare?

As stated above, I genuinely think that we will have a good season. I know there are going to be a few times we walk off the pitch having been given a lesson by players a lot more experienced than ours but I also know that Saints can play with little fear and have a go at sides as well. We’re expected to get relegated by all the pundits so what have we to lose?

We have the talent and commitment to win each time we go on the pitch, but the biggest issue for me will be taking our more limited chances at one end and stopping them going in at the other end An important factor for any football club!

Offer me 17th now and I’ll snap your hand off!

You find yourself stuck in Fratton Park. How do you escape unnoticed?

The thought of being stuck in Fratton Park is one that has probably woken me up a few times during the night in cold sweats! How do I escape unnoticed? Well as they hardly ever get that many people to watch Pompey anymore, as they only turn up when they’re doing well with a team of players they can’t afford to buy or pay, I’d probably walk to the end of the row (without having to ask anyone to get up!), up the stairs and then out the exit with them none the wiser……….

Stoke City:-

Name:- Hannah Burrows

Team:- Stoke City

Website:- Delilah’s Voice

Twitter:- @HBscfc

What can we expect from your club this season?

At the time of writing this, our lack of transfer activity is worrying. However, we’re well known for our late transfers so I’m not panicking, yet. With our current squad, I can’t see us finishing much above 12th. Having said that, if the likes of Sunderland, Fulham and the newly promoted teams fail to perform, we could find ourselves fighting near the top half. On the other hand, if the notoriously weaker teams have a decent season, it could be disaster, no chance of relegation though, I hope.

Who is your most important player?

Anyone who follows me on Twitter knows that I’d love to say Wilson Palacios here. His new found fitness levels in pre-season could see him become a big, big player this season but right now I’d say Peter Crouch, although I still can’t believe he’s a Stoke player!

Where do you predict you will finish this season?

I’d like to think we can achieve a top 10 finish for the first time since promotion but whether we do or not hinges on our away form. Failure to improve it could be fatal but an added win here and there could shoot us up the league.

Who might win the Premier League?

I hope City manage to defend the title, that Aguero goal will live with me for a very long time to come and it’d be great to see another end to the season like that – basically, anyone but United and Arsenal.

Who definitely won’t?

West Ham – a ticking time bomb.

What is your most anticipated fixture?

Arsenal at home simply because of the atmosphere. Arsene Wenger’s made his bed so to speak and now he has to lie in it every visit to the Britannia! His comments about our style of play and Ryan Shawcross will never, ever be forgotten and it always seems the players give a little extra effort in this one!

What is your most anticipated fixture that doesn’t involve your club?

Probably the Manchester derby. With the clubs so evenly matched now it makes for mouth-watering clashes and a fixture I always look out for.

How do you think Southampton will fare?

It’s hard to say really, the transfer window seems yet to kick in and obviously one or two signings could be crucial. Compared with the other promoted teams though, West Ham will be their usual cocky selves so that could back fire and Reading seem to have made a few decent signings. I think Southampton’s fate will be determined by the weakness of current lower PL teams, the likes of Wigan, Swansea and perhaps even Stoke!

You find yourself stuck in the Emirates Stadium. How do you escape unnoticed?

Put on a cockney accent and suggest the very long wait for a trophy will be over this year. Also, suggest Aaron Ramsey is a world beater and claim Cesc Fabregas has taken a step back in his career by signing for Barca!

The odds on Crouch being Stoke’s top scorer?

Sunderland:-

Name:- Mark Harrison

Team:- Sunderland AFC

Website:- www.seventy3magazine.co.uk

Twitter:- @harrmn

What can we expect from your club this season?

To build on the progress made since Xmas last season and with this a push for top half but our target should always be ‘winning’ the mini league of all those teams outside the top 6.

Who is your most important player?

Sessegnon was our star last season so if we can keep him away from a top four team I expect him to be prominent again, but for me the two centrebacks need to be an injury free partnership and be the backbone of the team. Attack from the back!

Where do you predict you will finish this season?

8th

Who might win the Premier League?

Man city to triumph again.

Who definitely won’t?

Spurs, I just don’t think AVB can handle the pressure and the players the way Harry did.

What is your most anticipated fixture?

Arsenal away, the start of the season cannot come soon enough for me.

What is your most anticipated fixture that doesn’t involve your club?

Man Utd v man City, I love a derby and Utd will not want to lose face to their neighbours again.

How do you think Southampton will fare?

I am afraid to say they will struggle and relegation is a concern.

You find yourself stuck in St. James’ Park. How do you escape unnoticed?

I would struggle, I cannot make my face as bitter and twisted as the locals.

Thanks to all the contributors.

To read Part 1 (Arsenal, Aston Villa, Chelsea, Everton & Fulham) click here:- http://georgeweahscousin.com/2012/08/15/premier-league-preview-part-1/

To read Part 2 (Liverpool, Man City, Man Utd, Newcastle & Norwich) click here:- http://georgeweahscousin.com/2012/08/17/premier-league-preview-part-2/

Chris