“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.
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