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

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Would you be in favour of a return for Rupert?