Sunday, 28 December 2008

Respectable point does little to ease relegation fears

A series of four defeats has finally taken its effect on Saints' league position, with Jan's side plunging into the relegation zone today. Ironically the descent came on a (rare) good day for Saints, as they battled well to a 1-1 draw at home to league leaders Reading. However, victories for Doncaster and Forest saw them leap above Saints.

Plymouth 2 - Saints 0
Saints 1 - Reading 1

Today's hard fought point at home to Reading came on the back of a disappointing 2-0 defeat at Plymouth on Boxing Day. That was Saints' fourth successive loss, piling the pressure on Jan Poortvliet and those who appointed him. Despite beating Reading a month a go, few expected anything from this game given Saints' home record this season. However, though the Head Coach may have been slightly bendy with the truth when he said he would have chosen to play Reading today, it is true that Saints' brand of passing football is more effective against clubs who play in a similar fashion. That most other such teams, such as Reading, achieve success with it, is the problem for Jan as he looks to steer Saints away from relegation. David McGoldrick's second half goal looked like the winner until trademark poor Saints defending saw them squander the lead. However, it was a good point, and a hell of a lot better than a fifth straight defeat.

Few other sides will take four points from Steve Coppell's side this season, but that will count for little in the final reckoning if Saints cannot reverse their horrific records at home and against lesser teams. The New Year will herald little new hope for Saints' fans given their side's league position and the complete absence of potential to strengthen the squad. However, achieving such a result today (and at home!) is slight cause for optimism.

Wednesday, 24 December 2008

Christmas AGM report: Ebeneezer Lowe faces critics but offers no solutions

Rupert Lowe can no longer have any doubts about the depth of the animosity felt towards him after this week. The vitriol and abuse hurled in his direction by fans on Saturday was followed up by yesterday’s rumbustious AGM, in which shareholders made their feelings known at the way state of the club. But has it really achieved anything, and are Saints any closer to finding a path out of their present mess?

The Itchen Suite at St Marys is usually a cheerful place, where a mix of fans, businessmen and clients are finely wined and dined and treated to an afternoon of football. Yesterday, however, it provided the setting for the club’s 2008 AGM and the prevailing mood was one of anger and bitterness. Shareholders gathered for a rare chance to quiz key figures at the club and Rupert Lowe was given the chance to answer many of his biggest critics, including Leon Crouch and Lawrie McMenemy.

AGM: Key Points

· The rancour was evident from the start with cheers greeting the news that Lowe was losing his voice.
· His attribution of the club’s dire financial state to the side’s promotion attempts under Leon Crouch set the pair on a collision course from the start. Crouch argued that the decision taken by Jim Hone and Dave Jones to carry on spending money, relying upon SISU investment that never emerged, was more to blame. He also heaped blame on Lowe for ditching Pearson in favour of the current Dutch set-up (“who are out of their depth and don’t have a clue”) and argued that he had financial plan in place to keep the manager in place.
· Saints legend Lawrie McMenemy heaped scorn on Lowe for his failure as Chairman and pointed out that misguided player decisions during his first tenure, such as Agustin Delgado and Jelle Van Damme proved his own financial ineptitude. Lawrie’s wife, Anne, asked why a painting of the ex-Saints boss was taken down.
· Lowe also failed to rule out player sales in January, indicating that the club’s financial state may necessitate them.
· Leon Crouch asks for a vote of no-confidence in Lowe, of which 85% approve.

The Way Forward

On the terraces and amongst shareholders, the extent of the anger at the state of the club has now been revealed. The shows of hate towards Lowe on Saturday and the incredibly cantankerous AGM have made this clear, but what has this achieved?
Not much would appear to be the answer. The angry exchanges that dominated the AGM were mainly focussed on what had gone on in the past and who was to blame. For what it’s worth, I see Rupert Lowe to blame for our relegation and Leon Crouch (along with others) to blame for the club’s poor finances. But all such acrimony and application of blame serves to achieve is to prove that neither is the right man to take the club forward and out of its present hole.

More pressingly, the side’s dire form on the pitch needs to be addressed but a change of management is extremely unlikely. The lack of money in the club, together with Lowe’s reluctance to admit error, means that, unless a change occurs at boardroom level, the Dutch regime will see out the season. Such a scenario seems like to end in relegation and a further deterioration of the club. With money needed in January, the not-exactly-premium quality of the playing stock at the club is likely to plummet further. Relegation now appears likely.

It pains to write with such a negative outlook, but never has there seemed so little to be positive about. What is needed is outside investment but the chances of such an injection are made even thinner by the current economic outlook. Having witnessed Saturday’s horror show and read about the club’s situation in some depth I fail to see a way forward, a way to turn the situation around. This, truly, will be a long and hard winter for Saints fans and could be the pre-cursor for a very painful May.

Background to the AGM: R&W Bill’s guide to what is going on at Southampton Football Club

On the pitch

With over the half the season gone Saints have won just once at home and seem destined for relegation. The early hope promised by wins at Derby and Reading has all but evaporated in recent weeks as Jan Poortleviet’s young side has been repeatedly bullied off the pitch. Rupert Lowe’s Dutch experiment looks more misguided every week and Saturday’s loss at home to strugglers Nottingham Forest was something of a nadir. The side passes prettily at times but seems bereft of killer instinct and after falling behind the manager lacks the tactical nous to change things around. Though the 4-1-2-1-2-1 formation has worked well away from home, when physical teams come to St Marys they set up shop and two out and out strikers are required if we are to penetrate. All but Jan Poortleviet and Rupert Lowe seem to concur on that.

Off the pitch

The club’s failure to achieve a quick return to the top flight, coupled with financial mismanagement, has led Saints to their present dire situation. The club is losing money and has had to loan out its highest wage-earners (Stern John, Gregorz Rasiak) in order to cut costs. Following Rupert Lowe’s return as chairman in the summer, Nigel Pearson was laid off because (according to Lowe) his salary was too high and the present Dutch regime seems are being collectively paid half as much. Corners of the ground have been closed off and player sales in January seem likely.

Sunday, 21 December 2008

Christmas cheer lost on dark day for Saints fans

Christmas cheer was very much lacking at St Mary’s yesterday afternoon, as a bumper crowd was treated to an abject Saints display that sees them enter Christmas just a point away from relegation. The 2-0 reverse came against fellow strugglers Nottingham Forest in a game Saints really had to win. Coming hot on the heels of defeats away to Crystal Palace and Burnley, Saints fans made their feelings known at the final whistle, directing boos and taunts at the uninspired, limp performance that seemed to sum up a season that now has relegation written all over it.

Crystal Palace 3 - Saints 0
Burnley 3 – Saints 2
Saints 0 – Forest 2

After a lot of early optimism at the attractive football on display, fans seem to have wholly fallen out of love with the new Dutch regime. A series of three defeats may not be devastating, but the performances have not shown any progress and the team seems to be going backwards rather than forwards. Saints were humiliated by Palace, and again in the first eleven minutes at Burnley, when all three goals were conceded. Poortvliet may point to the second half comeback as progress, but a team that can only play when three goals behind is not going to thrive at this level.

The Forest game was dire. After a bright start, Saints ran out of ideas and their complete lack of penetration and imagination in the final third was embarrassing to behold. The performances of David McGoldrick and Jason Euell deserve special mention for being especially woeful and neither of these players demonstrated any of the stomach or fight required for a tough relegation encounter. It was a testament to their sheer appallingness that the great donkey (otherwise known as Bradley Wright-Phillips) was cheered on to the field in the second half. He again proved himself to be lacking in just about all the qualities required to be a half-decent footballer.

The Forest goals came either side of half time and the only surprise was the quality of the second. The side was thoroughly unexceptional and yet we repeatedly failed to break them down on our own patch. Jan must surely realise that his pretty brand of football is not suited to home matches where teams will come and set up shop. Our lack of firepower can be explained by all our quality forwards being out on loan; it isn’t rocket science. Lowe’s experiment is proving woefully misguided and relegation now looks likely.

The Dutch Revolution isn’t working. Changes must be made if Saints are to preserve their Championship status, but the financial situation at the club prevents that. If yesterday is anything to go by the future of the club looks bleak indeed; given the state of our finances, relegation will come hand in hand with the merry prospect of administration. In more ways than one, this is a low moment for Saints fans.

How’s that for some Christmas cheer?

Sunday, 7 December 2008

Wednesday, bloody Wednesday, help Saints to unwelcome record

Yesterday saw Saints squander a golden chance to secure only their second home win of the season, a late Sheffield Wednesday leveller meaning the honours ended even.

Saints 1 - Sheffield Wednesday 1

Previously merely worrying, this result moved Saints into alarming new statistical territory as it saw them record their worst ever start to a season in terms of home form. For a large part of the match such a result looked distant as the home side dominated. However, their failure to build upon BWP's early goal cost them dear as Wednesday pressed forward in the second half. Marcus Tudgay’s late equaliser was a real sucker punch for the home support, who again left disappointed.

More encouragingly, the result stretches Saints' unbeaten spell to four matches and the side can hopefully take that mentality into the forthcoming matches against Palace and Forest.

Monday, 1 December 2008

Unbeaten week moves Saints clear

Five points from nine have seen an unbeaten Saints to a relatively high-flying position for them this season, four points clear of the relegation zone. The side secured their fourth away win of the season in emphatic style last Saturday, dealing Reading their first home defeat this term. As ever with Saints, such world-beating form was unlikely to be sustained, though the game was followed by solid points at home to Plymouth and away to fellow-strugglers Charlton.

Reading 1 - Saints 2
Saints 0 - Plymouth 0
Charlton 0 - Saints 0

Though Saints have performed better away from home this season, few were expecting anything from a tough match away to promotion-favorites Reading. Those who made the short trip to the Madjeski, however, were treated to a barnstorming first half Saints performance that left Reading chasing shadows. A single Bradley Wright-Philips goal was all Saints had to show for what many saw as their best half of the season and there was relief all round when the winger doubled the advantage soon after half time. Amazingly (or not, depending on your opinion of the player), they were BWP's first goals since January- he was obviously inspired by the Saints chant of "Bradley, Bradley... he steals from the Skates." Reading were able to pull one back during a tense finish for Saints' defence, but the side held on to secure one of the upsets of the season and the best moment thus far of Jan Poortlviet's reign. Even Mark Dennis, the bruising ex-Saints defender and co-commentator on Saints TV was reduced to tears at the end (the last time that happened was after his nose was broken by a flying John Fashanu elbow).

Sadly, however, the magic of the Dutch Revolution seems not to have reached St Marys yet. The side could not build on the weekend win, held to a disappointing, though by no means discreditable, goalless draw by Plymouth. That was followed by Saturday's trip to South London, where hopes were high against a manager-less Charlton Athletic. Saints fans were in fine voice and made the game feel like a home game for the visitors. The side sustained heavy pressure in the first half but dominated the second. However, not for the first time this season the side could not convert their flowing passing and possession into goals and the game finished without one. Saints fans continued in fine voice to the station and were treated to a farewell flurry of two fingers from the home contingent after delivering their (slightly harsh) verdict on the home side's location. Unbeaten in three, it has proved a good week for Saints and hopefully they can put fears of relegation to one side and maintain this form into the new year.

Thursday, 20 November 2008

Home Defeats leave Saints a point off drop-zone

Consecutive home league defeats against Preston and Wolves have landed Saints back in the relegation mire ahead of their trip to Reading today.

Saints 0 - Preston 1
Saints 1 - Wolves 2

Given Saints' form on Sky this year, they were hamstrung from the start of their televised match against Preston. And that disappointing result was followed by defeat at the hands of promotion-chasing Wolves on Saturday. Two easy first half goals were enough to secure victory for the visitors, their men allowed to float into the box unmarked on both occassions. Despite hitting the post in the second half, Saints never looked like getting anything from the game, especially after the dismissal of Jason Euell.

Points are going to be hard to come by during a tough set of fixtures during December and many pundits are predicting Saints to be firmly stuck in the relegation zone come the start of the year. After a brace of poor results a tough trip to promotion-chasing Reading awaits Jan's boys today, and the Dutch Head Coach will have to pull off a few tactical changes if Saints are to get anything from the game.

Sunday, 2 November 2008

Saints' escape drop zone after Deepdale comeback

Following the disappointment at Swansea last weekend, four points from two games this week have seen Saints clamber out of the relegation zone. The points, as usual, were secured in a characteristically unpredictable fashion. A one-goal lead at home to Coventry was squandered in midweek, before a heroic fightback against Preston yesterday saw Saints claim the three points at Deepdale.

Saints 1 - Coventry 1
Preston NE 2 - Saints 3

After a sequence of poor results, another record-low crowd at St Mary's witnessed Tuesday night's encounter with Coventry. And the course taken by the night proved all too familiar as a dominant Saints side failed to convert their possession into chances. There were plenty of scares for the team too, with the inexperienced defence again grateful to the heroics of Kelvin Davies between the sticks. However, Saints hopes were lifted in the second half as David McGoldrick coolly slotted home an opener. But the night quickly resorted to type, with Kamikaze defending allowing Coventry through for an equaliser, leading to a final score which will have done little to restore future attendances at the Mecca.

Perhaps Saints should play all their fixtures away from home, for it is around the country that they have accumulated the bulk of their points tally this season. The fact that St Marys is proving to be a fortress for no one but themselves at the moment was again demonstrated on Saturday, with the side coming from two goals behind to win at Preston. In a game that seemed to be following a familiar pattern, Saints came in two goals behind at the break. From then, however, it proved a different story. Jan Poortvliet's introduction of Bradley Wright-Phillips and debutant Oscar Gobern lit the blue touch paper for a dominant second half performance by Saints. Fellow debutant Alex Pearce kicked things off, heading in from a corner on 64 minutes (how rare have goals from corners been for Saints this season?) and Surman struck the equaliser four minutes later after work from BWP and Gobern. The team waited until stoppage time to conclude the triumphant fightback, McGoldick converting after beating two defenders.

Although this has been a season of false dawns, the scale of this comeback should inject the side with some confidence and hopefully they can kick on from here. If Saints start producing such heroics at home we will be alright this season. We should all hope so- and here's to an unbeaten November.

Saturday, 25 October 2008

Swans see off poor Saints

Saints failed to pick up some much need points this afternoon, an abject display seeing them go down 3-0 away to Swansea City. Following their goalless midweek draw against Sheffield United, confidence in the side seems to be at an all time low after their third three-goal reverse in four games.

Sheffield United 0 - Saints 0
Swansea City 3 - Saints 0

Saints picked up a good away point at Brammall Lane on Tuesday but could not build on that today. A poor display was described by former Saint David Armstrong as their "worst of the season," two goals after half time seeing Saints off after being one behind at the interval. Although an away defeat is not the end of the world, the scale of the defeat, combined with Saints' failure to produce any significant chances is worrying. It will give head coach Jan Poortvliet much to ponder as the winter fixtures approach, especially in light of their precarious league position. The encouraging wins against Doncaster and Norwich seem a long way off now, and, although it may be early to say it, Saints seem to be heading for a long and hard relegation battle.

Saturday, 18 October 2008

Saints slump as fortune favours the save

Defeats either side of the international break have left Saints perilously close to the relegation zone with over a quarter of a season gone. Following encouraging wins against Doncaster and Norwich, the young side have slumped to three-goal reverses against Coventry and Watford.

Coventry 4 – Saints 1
Saints 0 – Watford 3

Coming at the end of an exhausting spell of games, the Coventry game looked like a blip, with a mistake-filled performance costing Saints dear. However, the rot seems to have set in as they resumed their league campaign with a disastrous result at home to Watford today. A superb start to the game went unrewarded, as David McGoldrick missed a penalty in the third minute. Somehow, Watford then took the lead from a set-piece. But Saints continued to press and won another penalty soon after. Sickeningly, Paul Wotton was also unable to convert and it truly felt like it wasn’t going to be Saints’ day. So it proved, with Watford scoring a further couple from set-plays before the break.

The three goal half time lead proved unassailable and Jan Poortvliet will have much to mull over in the coming days. His pre-game target of six wins from the next ten games looks ambitious indeed and the side must pick themselves up for the test of Sheffield United on Tuesday night. This rollercoaster of a season doesn’t look like calming down soon, with Michael Wilde acknowledging in private the urgent need for more experience in the side. Saints were definitely very unlucky, but the season is going to prove tough going if they continue to throw away chances as they did today.

Wednesday, 1 October 2008

Newboy shines as St Mary's treated to a dose of the good stuff

The good times returned to St Mary’s last night as another record-low crowd roared Saints onto their first home win of the season. It has been a long time coming, but consecutive wins have seen Saints shoot up the table to a position of mid-table security.

Saints 2 - Norwich 0 (Robertson, McGoldrick)

There were many strange moments last night, not least when the announcer felt the need to quote a Blur lyric in front of 15,000 people ("Confidence is a preference for the habitual voyeur of what is known as Parklife") during the half-time shootout. Stranger still were many of the referee's decisions in an exciting match which saw both sides miss a bundle of simple chances. But both decisions and missed chances seemed to even out in the end as Saints were able to preserve their third clean sheet in four league outings, largely thanks to the outstanding efforts of Kelvin Davies between the sticks.

It would be unfair on Saints to give their 'keeper all the credit. But after dominating the first ten minutes and McGoldick hitting the post, Norwich seemed to be in the ascendancy. Saints were run ragged as Norwich piled the pressure on their inexperienced full-backs Joseph Mills and Lloyd James and a goal seemed inevitable. And, what a goal. During a rare foray into the Norwich half new loan signing Jordan Robertson received the ball in space outside the penalty area and delivered a cool, curling strike that looped beyond the diving 'keeper's reach to nestle in the top-right corner. What a debut goal. It was totally against the run of play, but Saints have been due some luck this season and the side was able to see the lead out to half time without too many nervy moments.

(Debut goalscorer, Jordan Robertson, on loan from Sheffield Utd. Nathan Dyer has gone in the opposite direction. Pic: Daily Echo)

The exciting, end-to-end football continued in the second half, with both sides going close before the moment that changed the match. The ever-dynamic Adam Lallana was brought down by Dejan Stevanovic just inside the area and the referee instantly pointed to the spot and brandished the ex-Skate with a straight red card. Glenn Roeder was left incensed on the touchline as his departing centre-half was treated to a special performance of "You Skate B******!" from the St Mary’s choir. David McGoldrick put the faithful's minds at rest as he coolly despatched the penalty. Both sides continued to go close in a frenzied St Mary’s atmosphere, but nothing was going to take the glass off this important victory and for all Norwich's missed chances, Saints could have easily had a couple more.

St Marys erupted at the final whistle after a truly moral-boosting night. With any luck, Saints can continue to push on up the table and put any relegation worries behind them. However, this is still going to be a long season with many twists and turns. Confidence is truly the key for this young side and consecutive league wins will have restored much of it. Maybe that stadium announcer had a point after all.

Sunday, 28 September 2008

Saints halt haemorrhage with victory at the Keepmoat

Saints managed to halt the bleeding yesterday with a confidence-boosting win away to fellow Championship strugglers Doncaster Rovers. The result was Saints’ second league win in eight games and was especially important coming just four days after an embarrassing midweek League Cup exit against Rotherham.

With Saints averaging a point a game so far this season there are few causes for optimism, but this result at least sees them enter October outside the relegation places. After the midweek misery of Millmoor- where a dire Saints performance was further marred by another injury setback for Michael Svensson- it was difficult to see where Saints' next win was coming from. Doncaster were the hot favourites going into this game but this is not the time for Saints fans to feel embarrassed; the team needs them more than ever this season if they are to retain their Championship status.

Rotherham 3 - Saints 1 (L.C)
Doncaster Rovers 0 - Saints 2

The less said about Millmoor the better, suffice to say that a poor Saints side (despite being close to a first choice eleven) was out-fought and out-thought by their League 2 opposition. Goals from Nick Fenton and Danny Harrison put Rotherham in the ascendancy before Stern John got one back with a screamer on the hour mark. But Carling Cup glory was put beyond Jan's side nine minutes later as Drewe Broughton got the South Yorkshire side's third, forcing Saints into an ignominious Carling Cup exit.

Few were expecting much from Saints' second trip to Yorkshire in a week, and an unsurprisingly scrappy game was decided by two second half goals. That Doncaster were dispatched by an own-goal and a penalty says it all really, but that does not diminish the importance of the three points. There was not much class on display from either side as a Matthew Mills own goal was added to by a Drew Surman spot-kick to seal the game. That the latter failed to add a third after winning a second penalty did not prove costly in the end and Saints were able to enjoy their return journey south this time. Though Saints again were let down by some chronic defending and again had Kelvin Davies to thank, they will be hoping to build on this game with a second consecutive win at home to Norwich on Tuesday night. COYRs.

Sunday, 21 September 2008

Jan loses can as Saints let Barnsley escape with a point

A string of missed chances saw Saints painfully stumble to a goalless draw at home to their relegation zone bedfellows Barnsley yesterday. Saints' failure to secure a win from their two home matches at St Marys this week has severely ratcheted up the pressure on Jan Poortlviet and his young side.

Saints 0 - Barnsley 0

His team's failure to secure a home win thus far this season looks to be taking its toll on the Dutch coach, right, who professed deep unhappiness with the performance of his side. Bradley Wright-Phillips came in for particular criticism over a failure to replicate strong training ground performances on a Saturday.

(Picture: Daily Echo)

And in a climate of falling attendences and mounting injury problems it will not be long before this situation turns into a crisis. Saints badly need three points, but must now wait for Saturday's trip to Doncaster for another chance. The Rupert Lowe inspired Dutch Revolution was never going to deliver instant results but a string of timid performances has set alarm bells ringing amongst fans. The end-of-the-match boos are still few and far between, but are likely to become more widespread if such relegation-inducing results continue. How long until organised anti-Lowe protests and "Sack the "board" chants, I wonder?

Come on Saints- I don't think I can take much more of this.

Thursday, 18 September 2008

Ipswich result proves fans face stressful few months

The struggle that lies ahead for Saints was underlined last night as they could only hang on for a draw at home to play-off pretenders Ipswich. All pre-season talk of promotion was well and truly forgotten as Saints' young side struggled to remain composed in front of an attendance that could have fitted in The Dell.

Saints 2 - Ipswich 2

These may seem dodgy days for Saints, but they are at least exciting days, with the game being played at a frenetic pace. Andrew Surman got the opener with an accurate strike from the edge of the area. However, for all Saints' early dominance they never looked quite in control, a point proven by Ipswich scoring an equaliser eight minutes later. The scrappy goal could have been added to by the visitors before half time, Saints again being thankful for the presence of Kelvin Davies between the sticks.

The second half carried on in the same way, Ipswich taking the lead with a back post header after Nathan Dyer had rashly hit over. The goal highlighted the inexperience of the back line, particularly that of Lloyd James at right back, whose performance inspired all the confidence of a blind conductor. But, spurred on by some incredible support from the Northam End, Saints somehow secured an equaliser, Czech loanee Thomas Pekhart poking home. After this however, the Saints players truly lost their heads, running around like decapitated roosters, a lack of composure in response to the home support proving their inexperience. A winner look unlikely as Saints scampered forward and they were lucky to escape with a point as Ipswich broke on the counter.

If this result proves anything, it is that this season will be a bumpy ride, with flashes of youthful brilliance being overshadowed by a damaging signs of inexperience more often than not. Make do doubt about it, Saints will face a struggle to survive this season- the importance of winning games such as our next home tie against Barnsley is huge- but if Jan can lead the boys into the Championship again next season there will be much reason to be positive. In the meantime, Saints fans face a stressful few months- but at least it won’t be dull.

Wednesday, 17 September 2008

St Marys gears up for crucial match

Following last night's results, Saints lie stranded at the foot of the Championship League Table. We are in the midst of a twenty-one day period in which there are seven games to be played. By the end, we will have a better idea of where this season could take us. At the moment, however, a long relegation battle seems likely unless we can stem the inconsistency. Now, more than ever, three points are needed. Ipswich are there for the taking. It is time for Jan and the boys to deliver.

Come on Saints

Tuesday, 16 September 2008

R&WB feature: Deluded Toon make Saints appear normal

For those of you at the end of their tether at Saints current predicament (Relegation zone, Rupert in charge, unheard of managerial team etc), it might help to find solace in the fact that there is indeed another club in English football likely to induce equally record-breaking levels of stress amongst fans and hilarity amongst outsiders. Although, unlike Saints, their fans are part of the problem.

I speak of course about Newcastle FC, a club whose supporters seem to operate in some sort of parallel universe where Joey Barton is "alright once you get to know him" and Kevin Keegan is Jesus Christ with a poodle perm. While I generally look upon attacks upon other clubs and their supporters as not only bad form, but more usually unjustified, the juxtaposition of what is expected and what occurs on Tyneside seems particularly worthy of comment. And given Saints recent form, it seems only to be the Toon Army at whom we can laugh without opening ourselves up to accusations of hypocrisy.

The last few years have hardly proved to be glorious for Saints, with Nathan Dyer and Bradley Wright-Phillip's evasion of a custodial sentence being the closest the club has come to some form of success. The return to the club of the Most Hated Man on the South Coast, combined with the side's failure to look capable of escape to the Premiership have meant times have been rocky at St Marys.

But I'd much rather be a Saint that a Tyne. Newcastle fans have endured misery upon misery in recent seasons, with cash splashed out on a series of underperforming and unloved stars by a legion of dodgy managers, failures compounded by the Toon Army's unrealistic expectations and the ease with which their anger has turned to hate.

Witness the last week's activities on Tyneside, the most recent expression of the supporters' inability to support. The witch-hunt directed at Mike Ashley in the wake of Kevin Keegan's departure was befuddling to all those living south of the Tyne. They should be lucky to have a man (alright, a prat, but a rich prat) who was willing to plough hundreds of millions into the club. Kevin Keegan? After juggling balls for three years, he was hardly going to march Newcastle into the top four. Ashley's continental set-up was hardly going to help, but, come on, KK is no messiah. His reaction to instructions of a tight wage bill (a wish-list including Frank Lampard and David Beckham) was laughably infantile.

And all the while myth continues. Newcastle are wonderful supporters and deserve better. There is something "different about Newcastle." Northerners (in the words of Kevin Keegan) like to be entertained on a Saturday, while Southerners go to the theatre. Well, there is about as much tragedy going on on Tyneside as in any adaptation of Romeo and Juliet I have seen, as much comedy as in As You Like It too. What goes on at St James' Park on a Saturday afternoon entertains just about everyone except those in the stands. Though, as Martin Samuel highlights, there is always someone else to blame. And as Matthew Syed points out, their support has been less than, er, steadfast in the past.

In our present situation we can be grateful for one thing. At least we don't support Newcastle.

Sunday, 14 September 2008

Pressure starts to mount as Saints performances go unrewarded

Consecutive defeats for Saints have left them stranded in the relegation zone five matches into the new season. A disappointing home defeat against the physically stronger and more experienced Blackpool was followed by a loss at Loftus Road that may have all but ended Saints promotion hopes.

Saints 0 - Blackpool 1
QPR 4 - Saints 1

I was glad to miss the Blackpool game, being as I was in Cornwall, where only the weather proved as unpredictable as Saints' recent performances. Saints showed far more vigour in today's game at QPR, where a very good performance was marred by a sending-off and a terrible refereeing decision ruined their chances.

Jan Poortvliet summed it up, saying the final result owed more to decisions than to the standard of football played, although few would disagree with the decision to dismiss Olly Derbyshire after half an hour. That, following Dexter Blackstock's first minute opener, left Saints facing a real struggle to get anything from the game. The challenge, though not reckless, was late and appeared two-legged. Add to that the QPR player's proximity to the goal and he can have few reasons to complain.

QPR's second goal however proved far less dubious, with the goalscorer Stewart clearly offside when the ball was played. The offence could be measured in a matter of yards rather than inches, a poor error by the assistant referee, unforgivable as far as Saints fans are concerned. A quality finish from Adam Lallana came between QPR's goals. It was an awesome move from the side, "worthy of the Premiership" in the words of the Sky commentator. The brave equaliser was not enough, as the offside-decision-that-never-was followed. QPR's subsequent goals came in the dying moments, with a miss from Nathan Dyer signalling the end of Saints' resistance.

It was a disappointing result, leaving fans to wonder what might have been had Olly Lancashire chosen to stay on his feet. But there are many reasons to be positive, Saints' ten men matching, outfaring even, their opposition for large periods of the game. Saints look truly dangerous whenever they enter the final third, their pace and angled passing movements unnerving defenders at every turn. It cannot be long, surely, before Saints convert such performances into consistent results.

The blunt reality though is that Saints remain rooted in the relegation zone after consecutive defeats. The question is, can Saints start to produce the wins required before the threat of relegation becomes a millstone around their necks?


Thursday, 11 September 2008

Saints Academy rules supreme in Zagreb

Few watchers of England's 4-1 defeat of Croatia last night will have taken more pleasure in it than our very own Rupert Lowe. The hat-trick of winning goals scored by Saints Academy graduate Theo Walcott provided a timely reminder of what can be achieved if there is a strong focus on the youth set up. The official Saints website was quick to highlight the night as a vindication of Lowe's approach, with Gareth Bale and Chris Baird also shining for the home nations.

While many (myself included) complain that such a strong academy merely turns the club into a feeder club for the bigger teams, there can be no arguement that our financial woes would be far greater if it were not for the income obtained via the sales of players such as Theo Walcott and Gareth Bale.

The Boy done good.
(Picture: Copyright BBC)

And while England fans savour a dazzling victory, Saints across the world will be relishing the fact that it was only made possible by our very own academy. Well done Theo.

P.S. A quick note of well done to George Burley, after Scotland's 2-1 win away to Iceland. I was quick to criticise the other day, but if he carries on producing results like these, he will prove a success. A mighty big "if" though.

Wednesday, 10 September 2008

Burley failure surprises Scots

I can't think why. With an adequate managerial track record upon his arrival at St Marys, Burley was considered a good appointment when he joined Saints. However, a series of transfer failings (Rudi Skacel: high on wages, low on performance) and a lack of a real promotion push saw the years following our relegation wasted. The three year period following relegation, when parachute payments are still recieved, is normally a time in which ex-premiership teams dominate the Championship and achieve promotion. Not Saints, though. Under Burley's leadership those days were squandered, as well we a huge transfer kitty (over £11m in the 2006-7 pre-season), which partly explains the club's present financial woes.

Amazingly however, Scotland are surprised by Burley's recent failings. Quite how two and a half years of average Championship management equipped him for a national side is anyone's guess. But I'd much rather have bicycle-riding carpenter Jan Poortlviet in charge anyday.

Thursday, 28 August 2008

Total Football: The Dutch Revolution has arrived...

A week, as in politics, can prove a long time in football. Just last Thursday night I was being told by a fellow Saints supporter how relegation this season would be the tip of the iceberg, with administration and Conference football soon to follow. An excess of ‘Bowies may well have contributed to the gloomy nature of his analysis, but it is fair to say that many fans felt a similar pessimism after the league defeats with which Saints started the season. However, the last week has seen such negativity blown away by consecutive Saints victories and two displays that have exhibited the “Total Football” Jan Poortvliet promised to bring to St Marys.

Derby 0 – Saints 1 (Lallana)
Saints 2 – Birmingham (Holmes, Lallana) L.C

The narrow win at Pride Park may have come against at poor Derby side, but an accomplished Saints performance saw them dominate from start to finish. The display was lauded in the local press, with even Derby fans applauding passages of Saints passing play. The win was followed by Saints avenging their league defeat to the Blues with a League Cup win on Tuesday night. Tidy goals from Lee Holmes and Adam Lallana fell either side of half time to hand Saints a well-earned victory.

It is important not to get too far ahead of ourselves after just two victories, but it is impossible not to dream of what Saints could achieve this season if they pass themselves to more victories like these. A mid-table finish must still be the aim, but after these two wins, a Dutch Revolution seems not so improbable after all…

Friday, 22 August 2008

Jan is the man: Reasons to be Positive

After starting the new league season with consecutive defeats, a general air of negativity risks surrounding St Marys. With this in mind, I felt it was time to voice a rallying call for those now doubting the Dutch Revolution and present five reasons for fans to be positive about the new Dutch set-up.

1) Jan Poortlviet played at right-back for Holland in the 1978 World Cup final. 'Nuff said.

2) The facebook goup Jan Poortlviet is the Don now contains twenty-four members (and counting). With such fervent backing from the online networking community it is hard to see how Jan can go wrong.

3) The success of our young squad will rely upon confidence. While two defeats will not engender it, it must be remembered that the matches saw Saints outplay the opposition for large periods. When the first win comes, it should boost the youngsters' belief, making subsequent success more likely.

4) It looks like Andrew Surman is staying after the Reading deal fell through. While it may not be forever, a longer stay from the St Marys favourite will be welcomed by all fans.

5) Things can only get better. We are currently in the relegation zone.

Now, more than ever: COYRs

Tuesday, 19 August 2008

More bad news as player sales continue

After the events of the weekend and his previous murmurings of discontent at the direction the club was taking, few will be surprised at today's news that Andrew Davies has signed for Stoke. His sterling performances last season, combined with the club's financial woes, perhaps made his departure inevitable, with Jan Poortvliet's open lack of knowledge about the player pointing to orders from the top that he would be sold. Reports in Monday's newspapers that he was spotted in the stands for Stoke's Premiership opener seemed to confirm the news.

The typically plain statement on the Saints website announcing the news gives no indication of the reasoning behind the sale, though it is to be hoped a boardroom explanation is to follow. This will perhaps come after the sale of Andrew Surman, apparently impending if reports in today's newspapers are to be believed. These are worrying times, sales of the gems at the heart of the Southampton squad. It is a mark of the financial woe in which the club finds itself and a worrying loss on the footballing side. Most fans will understand the financial pressures that have forced these sales, but they will still cast minds back to the previous reign of Rupert Lowe, when Saints was most definitely a selling club, even when securing eight placed Premiership finishes.

More ominous news comes in the form of Gregorz Rasiak's season long loan to Watford. Saints may gain from not having to pay his wages, but Rasiak is a proven goalscorer at this level and his presence in the same league as Saints could come back to haunt them. With bad news flowing and the pressure mounting, a first league win cannot come soon enough for Jan Poortlviet's side.

Sunday, 17 August 2008

Saints stumble out of the blocks

“You’ll never win anything with kids,” Alan Hansen’s famous verdict on Manchester United’s young team, was famously proven wrong as the youthful side went on to Premiership glory. Jan Poortvliet will be hoping for a similar victory of youth over experience this year if he is to prove the doubters wrong. Three games into his reign however, the doubters seem to be proliferating with his team point-less, though not win-less. 2-1 defeats away to Cardiff and at home to Birmingham came either side of a midweek cup win against League Two newcomers Exeter.

Saints 1 – Cardiff 2
Exeter 1 Saints 3 (League Cup)
Saints 1- Birmingham 2

After a solid performance away to Cardiff, a stoppage time winner at Ninian Park was enough to separate the two sides. David McGoldrick added to his goal in the opener, bagging a brace as Saints strode to a 3-1 League Cup win against Exeter. But Saints were unable to maintain the winning form, going down to a Kevin Phillips winner at home to Birmingham after Chris Perry’s header was cancelled out.


It is a massive disappointment for Saints to lose their first two league games of the season, but there are reasons to be optimistic. Saints were not outclassed in either match; indeed, they were well worth a point against Cardiff and dominated the first half against Birmingham. The problem seems to be a lack of experience, rather than a lack of skill or a tactical deficiency. For instance, conceding the late winner from a set-piece against Cardiff. The 4-3-1-2-1 formation appears to be working well, with five goals in three games a lively contrast to the barren days of the Burley regime. The eye for goal displayed by McGoldrick also offers grounds for optimism.

However, no Saints fan will be satisfied by the losing start and must hope Jan Poortleviet can deliver three points quickly. The head coach’s persistence with a lone striker to the death against Birmingham incensed Dave Merrington, as well as many fans, after a lack of chances in the second half. And Poortvliet’s admission that does not know whether Andrew Davies is in talks with Stoke is worrying. He should know the importance of Davies to the club, both as a defender and future captain, and be doing everything he can to keep the player at the club. Either he has been permitted to talk to Stoke or he has not- the confusion displayed over such an important matter is not encouraging.

If Saints are to be successful this season, Jan must adapt quickly to the demands of English football. If he can, and his young players can learn from their mistakes to mature as a team, this could still prove to be a better season than many fans fear.

Saturday, 9 August 2008

The Big Kick-off Approaches

Here we go again…

I have said it before and I will say it again: at least it is never boring being a Saints fan. With just over an hour to go until Saints kick-off the new campaign at Cardiff, fans of SFC find themselves heading into one of their most unpredictable seasons in living memory. Who is to know how Jan Poortvliet will fare in his first season in English football? Is it possible to play beautiful football and succeed in the Championship? Will Rupert’s brood of academy youth be strong enough to thrive it in the second tier of English football? It is questions such as these that have stumped the bookies and pundits that are usually so pleased to throw strident opinions around during pre-season. There seems to be a vague consensus that Saints are more likely to be relegated than promoted this term, particularly if the newspapers belonging to the Murdoch empire are to be believed. I don’t know if Rupert Murdoch has anything personal against Saints (he probably has something against his namesake Lowe- most do) but the News of the World predicts a Saints finish of 23rd, while the Sunday Times has the Saints escape relegation at a highly unrespectable 21st.

Worryingly, you can see where they are coming from. How ever much talk of a “Dutch Revolution” is bandied around, one cannot escape from the reality that Saints will largely be relying upon unblooded youth this year. However, it is equally true (and equally surprising) that something of a feelgood factor exists going into today’s first match. Despite the return of the hated Rupert Lowe and the lack of a pre-season win against league opposition, there is a sense that, with a little bit of luck, this could be a good season for Saints. I haven’t the smallest doubt that this will be proved hopelessly optimistic as our bruised and battered flock of youngsters are dragged into another relegation dog-fight, But with Saints, you never know.

After all, who could have predicted this close season? Changes both in the boardroom and the dugout, a footballing revolution on the pitch and an astonishing return to fitness for Michael Svensson- the latter dubbed the “Greatest Comeback since Lazarus” by the irrepressible Daily Echo. While goings on at St Marys continue to prove as idiosyncratic as Daily Echo headlines, the coming season promises to be another rollercoaster ride for Saints fans. Still, at least it won’t be boring…

Good Luck Saints

Monday, 28 July 2008

The Future's bright, the Future's Orange (Hopefully)

Even sports bloggers need holidays- especially when they choose to write about a club whose affairs contain more twists and turns than the Middle-Eastern Peace Process. The situation is worsened when the writer is lumbered with a lifelong support for the club in question. Lets be honest, the last year has not been a pleasurable one for supporters of Southampton Football Club. It has seen the departure of George Burley, a long and exhausting relegation dog-fight, allegations of burglary against two players, the club’s worst ever set of financial figures and the second coming of one of the South Coast’s most hated men to St Marys. I thought I needed a break.

Rupert Lowe: The Second Coming

Over two months have passed since the return of Rupert Lowe, and what a frenzied two months they have been, even by Saints’ standards. I thought it would be best to analyse these recent developments through the prism of my expectations when he first rejoined the club. Upon his return I set him a list of five golden rules, criteria that, in my opinion, he had to meet in order to bring success back to St Marys:

1) Keep Nigel Pearson
2) Sort out finances
3) Communicate with the fans
4) Rebuild the club’s academy
5) Attract Investment.

Going through each in turn I can hopefully offer a good overview of the events of the past two months, while giving a good analysis of Lowe and Wilde’s performance thus far.

Dutch Revolution on the South Coast? Really?

As was generally expected, Lowe’s return was quickly followed by the end of Nigel Pearson’s tenure as Saints manager. As the news broke, there was widespread anger amongst fans that Lowe had not listened and had failed to learn his lessons. His reputation as the ultimate chopper-and-changer of managers was intact, as he unfurled his new, unknown Dutch management team of Head Coach Jan Poortvliet and Mark Wotte. While the official website waxed lyrical about the Dutch Revolution hitting St Marys and spoke – amazingly, without jest – of Saints teams playing football to rival the Dutch teams of the 1980s, there was a widespread feeling of incredulity amongst Saints fans. With respect, Jermaine Wright is not Marco Van Basten. How could Lowe justify the sacking of a successful manager in Nigel Pearson and risk the future of the club on a couple of foreign unknowns and a pipedream?

Financial Reality Bites

It emerged shortly after Pearson’s sacking that Lowe and Wilde had been willing to keep him on as manager but only if he took a significant pay cut and that the new management team are on a far lower combined salary. It is a massive blow to lose a manager as promising as Pearson, who many now back to succeed at Leicester, but can be justified (reluctantly) in terms of the clubs financial situation, which is unmistakeably dire. This year, the club’s accounts have recorded a loss of £5 million, after £12 million of player sales. Without players to sell, the club would have made be making an annual £17 million loss and be swiftly heading the same way as Luton. It is a situation that Lowe has been gradually fixing, with a trimming of the wage budget and corners of the ground shut in an effort to cut back. The sacking of Pearson may mean Lowe has broken the first golden rule, but only as a result of attempting to stick to the second rule. As even Prime Ministers can discover, Golden Rules sometimes have to be modified . However, we should not give Rupert too much of a free-run. It emerged he has attempted to import Dutch Revolution to St Mary’s before; the financial situation has merely given him an excuse to do so.

“You’ll never win anything with kids”

Cynics of the new Lowe regime have branded the new Dutch Revolution as a P.R exercise. Talk of beautiful, flowing football is there to mask the cold reality that we have no money to afford new, experienced players and will be relying upon academy youth this season. And it is true, the rebuilding of the club’s academy is central to Lowe’s plans. To be fair to him, it has worked well in the past, at least as a significant cash-cow. Without money from the sales of Gareth Bale and Theo Walcott the club would be in much trickier financial waters. But however good the new management team is (and that remains in doubt), it is doubtful how far the current crop of academy youngsters can take the club. Promotion certainly looks a distant dream at present. Despite some surprisingly positive media coverage of the new developments, it has been an uninspiring pre-season so far, with the return after four years of Michael “Killer” Svensson providing a rare highlight.

Killer! Killer!

While Killer’s return has given all cause for hope, pre-season wins at Salisbury and Basingstoke have hardly set the world alight. It is questionable how much can be learnt from visits to places such as Winchester FC, where one opponent was a guy I played against at secondary school. It was certainly a shock seeing the mighty Saints play against my hometown, just five years after an F.A Cup final. Andrew Davies’ call for more experience in the squad must be heeded if a bottom-half finish or lower is to be averted.

Verdict on the Second Coming: Passed, but could do better

It is fair to say that Lowe was not totally at fault for sacking Pearson and that the financial situation is being addressed, particularly through a long term vision for the club’s academy. But while a recent interview with Rupert Lowe is indicative of the improved level of communication with the fans since his comeback, there must be amelioration on the field if the club is to have serious promotion hopes. And I think we have all given up on hopes of outside investment. So with respect to the golden rules, he has not done badly, but such form must be maintained for the club to progress. While it is certainly orange, it remains to be seen just how bright the future turns out to be for Saints fans.


Friday, 16 May 2008

Rupert's Return: the Saints Soap Opera Continues

Had Leon Crouch and the ex-board chosen to take the fight to the last, today would have seen the EGM where shareholders would have chosen between Crouch and a new board headed by Rupert Lowe and Michael Wilde. As events unravelled yesterday, it became clear that was not going to happen, with Crouch's resignation opening the way for the controversial return of Lowe and Wilde. Their return has split the fanbase, with many supporters devastated at the prospect of the return of two such notorious figures, whom many blame for the club's relegation and subsequent demise. Others recognise the financially vulnerable state of the club and see Lowe as the man to inject a strong dose of financial belt-tightening that will safeguard the club's future, (despite Lowe's tainted history and lack of appeal). All fans feel disappointed at the failure of the club to attract the investment which really would move the club forward. However, with the joy and relief brought by a successful relegation fight comes a general feeling of optimism that the club's problems have bottomed out. In my view, there are five key criteria Lowe and Wilde must satisfy for this to prove the case.

Five Golden Rules

1) Keep Nigel Pearson

Crucial for two reasons. Firstly, and most obviously, of course Pearson deserves to be kept on. When he joined, the club was in freefall under Dodd and Gorman, and despite some bad results Pearson was able to restore confidence, boost fitness and secure a survival that would otherwise have been very much in the balance. His commitment is obvious and he has won the right to lead Saints into the new season. Secondly, he has the fans behind him. A recent poll on the Saints Forum website found that the manager has the support of the vast majority of fans. If Lowe and Wilde are to have any chance of success they must keep the fans onside. Getting rid of Pearson may just push things over the edge.

2) Sort out the club's finances

While talk of imminent administration may be an exagerration, the long term future of the club depends upon getting the club onto a sure financial footing. Despite Lowe's profligacy with managers, he proved himself financially last time by running a very tight ship. More is needed now, trimming the wage bill and raising attentences will be crucial to this.

3) Communicate with the fans

The official Saints website has never been the ultimate source of Saints knowledge, but the last few days has seen the site shamefully overlook the dramatic events at the club. Fans, desperate to know who was coming and going at board level, have instead been fed news about last night's "Legends" match. While I recognise the appeal and importance of last night's charity match, telling fans what is going on at Southampton Football Club is surely the purpose of the site and in that it has singularly failed during Crouch's reign. Fans who look online for Saints news must go to instead. An injection of honesty into the club's communication is thus urgently required. Afterall, who can forget Lowe deriding the D.E as "recidivist much-spreaders." Well Mr Lowe, unless you sort out the Saints site it is to the muck-speaders to whom people will turn for their Saints news.

4) Rebuild the club's academy

Linked to point 2, and important in the long term as another revenue stream. The academy has lost key staff, as well as much of its reputation over the past few years. Growing quality homegrown players is important both in providing talent to the team and in generating revenue.

5) Attract Investment

The investment saga has rolled on for long enough, but its importance cannot be overstated. If we want to get back in the Premiership we need new finance to get us there. Rupert's penny-pinching will only get us so far.

Over to you, Mr Lowe...

I think all fans would unite in saying thank you to Leon Crouch. His heart was obviously in the job, and his appointment of Pearson was crucial to our survival (after the mistake of carrying on with Dodd and Gorman). Without his support, we would not have such a fitting tribute to Ted Bates, either. However, in hard times, hard measures are called for and it is now up to Lowe and Wilde to sort out the club's finances. And if they are to keep fans onside they must keep Nigel Pearson. They now have another chance now to prove themselves. Lets hope they do not let history and bickering get in the way getting the club back onto the path to success.


Sunday, 4 May 2008

It's official: Saints are safe

There were scenes of wild jubilation at St Marys this afternoon, as a 3-2 win over Sheffield United saw Saints maintain their Championship status. The final-day win, which sparked a mass pitch invasion at the final whistle, condemned Leicester City, who could only draw at Stoke, to third-tier football for the first time in their history. As favourites to go down on the final day, the Saints players dug deep to produce a gutsy and heroic performance. A goal from Marek Saganowski came between two goals from hero Stern John, as Saints came from behind to end Sheffield United's play-off hopes. After a dreadful season, Saints have ended on a staggering high, reminiscent of the Premiership dog-fights that characterised the club in the 90s. The emphasis must now be on sorting out the club at boardroom level during the summer, and sorting out a side with which Nigel Pearson can progress next season.


Monday, 28 April 2008

Battling Saints Performance Restores Hope

The unpredictable nature of football was demonstrated once again tonight, as a seventy-seventh minute goal from Adam Lallana saw Saints crash West Brom's promotion party. Though the 1-1 draw was not enough to lift Saints out of the drop-zone, a strong performance has restored hope amongst Saints fans that survival is possible. Saints held their own in the first half, with a potential penalty and a glorious chance for Marek Saganowski going astray. The second half saw West Brom get into their groove, but they could not stop super-sub Lallana drilling home against the run of play. Saints were only able to hold on for seven minutes, until Chris Brunt's equaliser broke red and white hearts. Though Saints will start the final day in the drop-zone, this result went some way to restoring courage after the disappointment of the Burnley match.

A Funny Old Game

If there's one thing I've learnt about Saints after years of support, it's that they never do things the easy way. That will certainly be the case if they stay up on Sunday. For although a point away at West Brom is a good result in anyone's book, Saints will enter the final day with their destiny out of their own hands. Still, with Leicester, Sheffield United, Blackpool and Coventry still in contention for the drop, a variety of outcomes are still possible, especially given the fixtures these clubs face.

Blackpool vs Watford
Charlton vs Coventry
Sheffield Wed vs Norwich
Stoke City vs Leicester

With Sheffield Utd still in play-off contention, the difficulty of Saints' final home fixture should not be underestimated. It will take a heroic performance at St Marys to secure the three points. However, if Saints do win, it will take an unlikely set of results to see them relegated, including a Leicester win away to in-form, automatic promotion-chasing Stoke. While a win for Sheffield Wed at home to Norwich is more likely, and Coventry could pick something up at the Valley, Blackpool could slip up at home to play-off contenders Watford.

Still In It

Tonight's point was massive for three reasons. First, such a strong performance has restored a little hope that survival is very possible. Secondly, it means that a point at home to Sheff Utd could be enough if Leicester lose. Finally, it has dragged Coventry and Blackpool into the relegation picture. All of these factors improve Saints odds of survival, and I know I would not exchange final fixtures and positions with Leicester if given the chance. There is still more than an outside chance of relegation. But tonight has provided a massive boost for Saints, hopefully at just the right time.

Monday, 21 April 2008

League 1 Here We Come?

Saints stare into the abyss

Saturday didn't feel right from the start. From the poor weather to the god-awful fans' chanting competition, there was an edgy pre-match atmosphere at St. Marys. Following excellent, morale-boosting results against Bristol City and Charlton, many (including myself) thought that a home win against nothing-to-play-for Burnley would virtually see Saints to safety. The complacency was misplaced. Stunned Saints fans watched in horror as their team slumped to a horrific 1-0 defeat, despite largely outplaying the opposition. Make no mistake about it: Saints are now the favourites to fill that final relegation spot and face one hell of a scrap to maintain their Championship status. Just five years after reaching the FA Cup Final, Saints now face the very real prospect of playing in the third tier of English football for the first time in forty-eight years.

Saints feel the Burn(ley)

Despite dominating the first half, Saints were let down by a lack of creativity in the final third. Their failure to convert possession into goals, or even meaningful chances, proved costly, as poor defending saw Burnley score from a corner on the brink of half time. In the second half Saints players were struck by the jitters, Stern John in particular missing two golden opportunites. Richard Wright, Andrew Surman and Youssef Safri were rare rays of sunshine in an otherwise limp display, especially given the importance of the game. The boos that rang out at the final whistle were not only due to the perilous situation Saints now find themselves in; there was a widespread feeling of disbelief that the players could turn in such a lacklustre display at such a pivotal moment in the club's history.

The Mother of all Dog-fights

With other results going against them on Saturday, just one point stands between Saints and a second relegation in four years. And with two very tough fixtures remaining (Away vs West Brom, Home vs Sheff. Utd), Saints are now the bookie's choice to go down. Their only hope is if Sheffield Wednesday lose away to Leicester and Saints manage a win at home to Sheffield. Utd on the final day of the season. It is hard to envisage Wednesday failing to pick up any points from
their final two matches, nor Saints getting anything at West Brom. Still, football is a topsy-turvy game and you just never know with Saints. They may have lost the "easy" one but who would have predicted their win against Bristol?

It wasn't meant to be like this

Saturday provided a reminder of just how cruel football can be. Yet while things look grim, the club's destiny remains in its own hands, and the fanbase must unite in the belief that we can go to the Hawthorns and get something. I honestly believe we can, as Leicester did last month. Such a result could see Saints back on the road to safety. Despite the anger felt towards the players, the board, the manager, whoever, it is now all-important that Saints fan unite to cling to that hope.

PS. Apologies for the belated post. It takes a while to gather thoughts after a result as terrible as Saturday's.

Sunday, 13 April 2008

Solid point sees Saints move closer to safety

It may not have been the prettiest of points, but yesterday's 1-1 draw away to Charlton could have massive repercussions for Saints' survival hopes. Saints were well worth their point and led for much of the game after Charlton conceded a somewhat unlucky own-goal. The home team could not be begrudged their equaliser, however, and would have been disappointed at a result that probably brought an end to their play-off hopes. Manager Nigel Pearson was as composed as ever after the result, highlighting that "there is still lots of work to be done." Other results largely went in Saints' favour yesterday. Although Barnsley look to be heading to safety after two wins, Leicester suffered the hammer-blow of missing out on three points at home to relegated Colchester. As the table below shows, the result could prove costly to them.

The fight goes on

The last two games have seen Saints doing all the right things: Fighting hard, scoring goals, and, most importantly, picking up points. These results have instilled Saints fans with a new sense of confidence. The last week's poll demonstrates this level of optimism, with the vast majority believing Saints will stay up. However, the table below highlights how ominous Saints' position still is, just two points off the trapdoor and a terrible goal difference (cheers, George) to boot. Next Saturday's home game against nothing-to-play-for Burnley is now a crunch match of epic proportions. Given the tough nature of Saints' last two games (A vs West Brom, H vs Sheff Utd), anything other than three points would see Saints become relegation favourites once more. Yet again, the next week will see Saints fans gearing up for the most important game in their recent history.


16 Norwich 43 -9 52
17 Barnsley 42 -10 52
18 Blackpool 43 -3 50
19 Southampton 43 -16 50
20 Coventry 43 -13 49
21 Leicester 43 -2 48
22 Sheff Wed 42 -5 48
23 Scunthorpe 43 -25 39
24 Colchester 43 -19 37

Sunday, 6 April 2008

Massive Win for Saints

St. Marys was back to its vocal best yesterday as Saints secured a big three points against table-toppers Bristol City. At last, Saints fans were able to cheer on a performance that restored hope and took the focus away from the club’s off-field situation. Goals from Stern John and Jason Euell were enough to overcome City, as Saints took a huge step towards safety.

Stern-ing Point?

With Leicester and Coventry losing, and Sheffield Wednesday only able to draw, the win moved Saints three points clear of the relegation zone. They still face a tough run-in, and the teams below them have games in hand, but the points on the board should prove the significant psychological boost required to see Saints home to safety. Nigel Pearson’s loan signings Chris Perry and Chris Lucketti were particularly successful in shoring up a leaky back line (one that had been neglected by Burley; Wayne Thomas, anyone?). The win has renewed hope among Saints fans of brighter times ahead, and a real sense that survival this season could provide the platform for a promotion push next season. Still, with survival by no means assured the team must remain focussed on their match and getting something at Charlton.

Thursday, 3 April 2008

Saints Hit Lowe Times

The No Longer Mighty Saints

As a committed Saints fan, I have chosen a devastating time to start writing about my club. During my lifetime Southampton FC has never found itself in such dire straits. 22nd in the Championship, Saints face the very real prospect of relegation to the third tier of English football. This represents a staggering fall for a club that finished 8th in the Premier League and were FA cup finalists just five years previously. Off the field, the club’s bi-annual accounts revealed the extent of their financial woes this week also. Before player sales, Saints have been haemorrhaging £38,900 a day for the last six months. A situation where only player sales stand between financial disaster and some form of stability (overall, they were still making a daily loss of £3,800) seems a sure recipe for catastrophe. Since the ousting of Rupert Lowe two years ago (held responsible by many for Saints’ relegation from the Premiership), the club has continued its slide. Fed-up fans see a team they no longer recognise, lacking in confidence, commitment, fitness and creativity. In the recent words of the legend that is Dave Merrington: “The club has lost direction; it’s a very sad situation.” In their hour of need, Saints require a saviour, a knight in shining armour (preferably a Russian one, with a few billions in the bank). However, another knight has come forward. A knight called Rupert.

Rupert's Return?

Yes, old Beetroot cheeks has gone and done it. After teaming up with Michael Wilde, the man that ousted him from the club, Rupert Lowe has launched his bid to overthrow the current Saints regime and install himself back in control at St. Marys. The Saints board has 21 days to set a date for an Extraordinary General Meeting, at which shareholders would vote on a potential return for Lowe. However, with Lowe and Wilde possessing 22% of the club between them and a further 20% of shareholders said to be behind them, the present board surely faces defeat and may choose to resign without an EGM. Either way, it seems that the shares owned by Lowe (6%) and Wilde (16%) would make it difficult to prevent their return to the club. Under their proposition, club chairman Leon Crouch would be removed from office, with Lowe succeeding as PLC chairman, Wilde as football chairman. The news of Lowe’s return has been greeted by Saints fans with dismay and support in equal measure. Would the club be mad to agree to the return of Lowe, or would he be an improvement upon Crouch, who has not proved himself in office?

Lowe-Life? The Case against Lowe and Wilde

The central charge against Lowe is that he was responsible for our relegation. It is certainly true his reign was marked by a culture of managerial instability, with Saints averaging a manager every eighteen months during that time. Blame for the disastrous appointments of Stuart Gray and Steve Wigley can certainly be laid at his door. Wigley’s appointment was especially damaging, coming at the start of our relegation season. However, Lowe was also responsible for the appointments of Glenn Hoddle and Gordon Strachan, managers who brought great success to the club (in the latter case against opposition from other board members). And it must be asked whether we would be in our current predicament had the club allowed the “second coming” of Glenn Hoddle. I for one supported his appointment of Harry Redknapp to save us from relegation; I thought he would be up to the job. However, on the whole Lowe’s managerial record is not an encouraging one and played a part in our relegation. Off the field, though, Lowe ran a very steady ship. It is doubtful whether Saints would find themselves in their current state of financial woe with Lowe in charge. However, Lowe has an unpopular history of selling high-profile players over the years such as Dean Richards and Wayne Bridge. But he was responsible for the financing of our new stadium, without which Saints would not be financial viable. Michael Wilde has a similarly mixed record. His main achievement in the eyes of Saints fans was the ousting of Rupert Lowe, hence the surprise at the pair staging a joint coup. He was singularly unsuccessful at attracting outside investment, and resigned as a result. In light of these facts, it is not hard to understand the unwillingness of many Saints fans to see the pair back in charge.

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon?

But what has the demise of Lowe and Wilde left us? For one, we have Leon Crouch as chairman, a Saints fan through and through, whose efforts were largely responsible for the superb new Ted Bates statue that now stands proudly outside St. Marys. For that he must be given great credit. However, he has been as unsuccessful as his predecessor Michael Wilde at attracting outside investment. His recent statement putting a timeframe of 6-9 months on investment was met with dismay by the vast majority of Saints fans. His appointment of Nigel Pearson as manager was largely greeted by the same reaction. In fairness to Pearson, he has not done a bad job considering the players (and their physical conditions) left to him by Burley; if Saints go down it will certainly not be his fault. However, his lack of managerial experience surely disqualifies him from consideration for the prestigious post of Saints manager. Where was the big name Saints fans were hoping for, such as Billy Davies or Chris Coleman? It seems as if these high-profile candidates took one look at Saints - a club in disarray - and thought against it. Why risk their reputations on a struggling club bereft of the funds to finance new signings? Can this be blamed upon Crouch? Crouch certainly inherited a club on the slide. However, for all his virtues as a Saints fan he has done nothing to halt the slide and appears to lack the business nouse to attract outside investment. Responsibility for the horrific financial state of the club lies with him.

Old Faces, New Start?

I do not buy into the argument that relegation is the kick up the backside Saints need to start again. That was said last time. The priority now is to avoid a relegation that would prove catastrophic for the club. Though relegation seems probable, almost inevitable, there is still a chance of survival and fans must unite behind Nigel Pearson and the players. Off the pitch, the choice between Crouch and Lowe/Wilde is hardly an enticing one. However, I believe a strong dose of Lowe’s financial control is required to restore stability to the club’s balance sheet. With respect to Crouch, his tenure has not been a glorious one. Opting for Lowe however, is very much a case of feeling that he is the lesser of two evils, and has more to offer the club in the long term. Let us hope he can deliver.

Which team will fill the third relegation spot?

Four games left. Will Saints survive?

Would you be in favour of a return for Rupert?