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.

Which team will fill the third relegation spot?

Four games left. Will Saints survive?

Would you be in favour of a return for Rupert?