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.

Which team will fill the third relegation spot?

Four games left. Will Saints survive?

Would you be in favour of a return for Rupert?