Tuesday, 27 January 2009

Wotte gets lucky as Saints hold Canaries

Mark Wotte's reign in charge of Saints got off to an encouraging start tonight, as his side held Norwich at Carrow Road. It was anything but a classic performance from post-Poortvliet Saints, but results, not performances, are crucial now and if Mark Wotte can continue to get points from games in which they are not deserved, his reign will not necessarily be an unhappy one.

Norwich 2 - Saints 2

Those intrepid fans who made the 200 mile midweek trip to Norfolk must have been regretting the decision at half time, as a Saints side devoid of spark and imagination went in two goals down at the break. As usual, soft goals and a lack of attacking potency had cost Saints dear and it seemed as if little had changed from the reign of the new head coach's compatriot, Jan Poortvliet. It terms of performance, even at full time that verdict need not be reassessed- Saints hardly set the world on fire. However, goals from Cormac McClaggon and Marek Saganowski - who was crucially brought on to lead the line at half time - managed to see Saints to a vital away point.

However, aside from the result - Saints are not accustomed to getting undeserved points from games this season - there were no immediately obvious improvements in the team's performance and with all the sides around us apart from Derby winning tonight, we are now further entrenched in the relegation zone. Wotte must concentrate on cutting out the soft goals that have wrecked our season so far if we are to escape from trouble and turnaround Saints' home form, starting on Saturday.

Sunday, 25 January 2009

Wotte the "cheap option"- Le God

Saints legend Matthew Le Tissier commented on the situation at his former club yesterday, stating his "surprise" at the appointment of Mark Wotte and describing it as the "cheap option." The last time Le Tissier criticised the Dutch regime the side went on to upset Reading on their own patch, so maybe these comments will lead to a sudden turnaround.

That, however, seems more than unlikely. Le Tissier may enjoy sitting on the Sky Sports couch and taking the odd pot shot at the Lowe regime, but all Saints fans have a different question on their lips: Is Le God going to take his coaching badges any time soon? I don't think even the notoriously lazy Le Tiss could resist the opportunity to save SFC yet again...

Saturday, 24 January 2009

Wotte are they doing?

Tonight's extraordinary events at St. Marys have taken another twist, with the Daily Echo confirming reports that Mark Wotte has been appointed as Poortvliet's successor on a permanent basis. A typically vague statement by Michael Wilde had failed to clarify matters, but it now seems as if the Dutch Revolution will continue on the South Coast, albeit in a different form.

While this will not be the outcome most Saints fans wanted, at least there has been a change. Under Poortvliet, the season looked doomed to end in relegation. However, there is not so much a mist as a smog of doubt existing as to whether Wotte will be able to turn around the club's fortunes. As number 2 to the failed Poortvliet, his pedigree must be questioned and Saints have a history of disastrous internal appointments. Having said that, pedigree becomes less important when a club is as financially hamstrung as Saints. Wotte is no one's ideal appointment and with 18 games remaining and the same group of players beneath him, he has a mountain to climb.

It will be interesting to see if anything changes tactically. Will Wotte continue with the experimental 4-2-1-2-1 attacking football of Poortvliet or return to a more conventional 4-4-2 style. It would not surprise me if the board has put pressure on him to adopt the latter formation for the rest of the season as much of the fans' resentment has centred on Poortvliet's refusal to change a playing style that is so obviously failing.

Ex-boss Poortvliet, meanwhile, has described his stay at the club as a "beautiful adventure." One must wonder what he has been taking- he is Dutch after all- as most Saints fans would describe his tenure as a nightmare, certainly the worst period of watching Saints in my living memory. However, I do believe he is an honourable man who can walk away having tried his best. With no money, a bunch of kids and Rupert Lowe to contend with, real success was always unlikely- but few expected a failure on this level. Now such failure is the reality and expected to continue. Let us hope Wotte can overturn expectations in the opposite direction and steer Saints to safety. It may be a fool's hope, but we don't have much else at the moment.

Friday, 23 January 2009

Poortvliet resigns

Jan Poortvliet has tonight resigned as Saints manager, his position having been made untenable by his side's dire home form this season. After the club's perilous situation reached boiling point on Saturday- Poortvliet was confronted by fans on the touchline- mounting criticism and anger this week appears to have pushed him over the edge. Though the club's finances seemed to rule out a sacking, it appears that he was jumped before he was pushed, a decision which plays into the hands of the board.

The finances cloud the club's hunt for a successor. Club chairman Michael Wilde struck a worrying note tonight by appointing Poortvliet's right hand man, Mark Wotte, and stressing the need for "continuity." After such a poor season and a real danger of relegation, "continuity" is the last thing the club needs. If the board is to save the situation, it must administer the last rites to the Dutch Revolution before relegation becomes a reality.

I will be writing more on the reign of Poortvliet over the weekend, before Saints travel to Norwich on Tuesday for Wotte's first match in charge.

Sunday, 18 January 2009

As Saints plunge again, what next for Rupert of the Rovers?

Rupert Lowe's decision to replace a painting of Lawrie Macmenemy with one of a steam train given by Doncaster Rovers in November seemed to sum it up. After defeat to their Yorkshire rivals yesterday, Saints, who now lie in 23rd place, now look further away from the glory days of 1976 than ever. Two goals from Martin Woods and James Coppinger handed rivals Doncaster a crucial victory at St. Marys.

Saints 1 - Doncaster 2

Doncaster are hardly world-beaters, but you don't have to be Manchester Utd to get a win at St. Marys these days. Our home record this season (one win from 14) is now beyond ridiculous and it looks dubious as to whether that solitary win can be added to. It was a familiar tale yesterday, as a weak visiting side packed the midfield and put the stoppers on Saints' passing football. After plenty of first half chances for either side, Saints sleptwalked into the second half and were undone by poor defending. Marek Saganowski's injury time goal was nothing other than a consolation, as things reached boiling point at St. Marys.

Given the dire plight of the club, Saints fans had remained relatively supportive this season, but something snapped yesterday. Anti-Lowe chants reverberated around the stadium and Saints fans had to be restrained by stewards as they flooded down to the dugout to confront Jan Poortvliet. The Dutch manager had the pluck to take it like a man and not respond, but he must be left wondering what more he has to give the club (who cannot even afford to fire him). With a terrible goal difference, Saints now effectively lie three points from safety and will certainly be relegated unless they can turn things around at home.

The club is truly in a state of disarray. Amid the chants and vitriol, there were reports of fights between Saints fans in the Northam End and a protest outside the ground afterwards. Levels of anger have reached unprecedented levels. Saints' descent seems bottomless at the moment and one must wonder where it will end.

Sunday, 11 January 2009

Jan's boys show plenty of new year's resolution

Saints in the relegation zone. Recession. Lucy Pinder the first to be evicted from the Big Brother house. It has not been the best start to the new year for Saints fans, but Jan's boys delivered an unexpected surprise yesterday in the shape of three points away at Barnsley.

Barnsley 0 - Saints 1

One win does not drastically improve Saints' chances of survival but does provide sparks of hope, a commodity that has been in short supply at St. Mary's this season. Saints fan Lucy Pinder's exit from the Big Brother house the night before proved to be a good omen, as the side battled to victory at Oakwell. The Saints' fans were well rewarded for making the trip, a single David McGoldrick goal ten minutes from time proving the difference between the two sides. Saints weathered a deluge of pressure from the Tykes, but Jan's boys at last showed the killer instinct that has been lacking this season to punish Barnsley for their profligacy in front of goal.

It may be too early to talk of a revival for Saints- who still lie a point from safety- but the win does provide a timely boost. If new arrivals Lee Molyneux and Jan-Paul Saeij (pronounced "Size," and written so in this blog from henceforth) can continue to shore up the back line in the important forthcoming fixtures against Norwich and Doncaster, the future looks brighter for Saints. And although size doesn't always matter (Pinder's exit from the BB House is testament to that), it could prove very helpful indeed if Saints are to survive this year.

Monday, 5 January 2009

Strolling United give sorry Saints painful reminder of fall from grace

The spectacular fall from grace of Southampton Football Club became known to the nation yesterday as Jan Poortvliet’s young side was put to the sword by a rampant Manchester United in the F.A Cup. The attention garnered by the match, previously a twice a season standard, was another painful reminder of just how far the club has fallen in recent times.

Saints 0 – Man Utd 3

The result came as a surprise to no one, with United fielding a team that included Berbatov, Giggs and Carrick and still leaving Rooney on the bench and Ronaldo out. Though Saints started brightly, they never threatened and there was only a momentary sense of anti-climax when Danny Wellbeck’s rebound opened the scoring from an awfully-marked corner. Any hopes of a comeback were well and truly killed off ten minutes before the interval when Matt Paterson was sent off for a wild and unnecessarily high lunge on Vidic. Though a sense of injustice pervaded St Marys, television replays showed the challenge to be dangerous and worthy of red in today’s climate. Blame must lie with the manager for handing the inexperienced player only his second start in such a high-profile fixture. Saints fans had fair reason for uproar after the interval, however, as a penalty was wrongly awarded to visitors even though Nani’s free kick struck McGoldick’s head and not his arm. Gibson’s third was inevitable; if United had tried, they could have had five more.

Though many, including Jan Poortvliet, have attempted to pin this defeat on the referee, Saints only ever had minimal hopes of success in this game. It is fair to say that Mike Riley’s one-sided performance snuffed out that slender chance, but United won without moving out of second gear. The sad fact is that Saints used to make United sweat; we spent most of the Premiership years as their number one bogey team. There was always a gulf in class, but we had a team spirit and special players that could turn matches. Now, under a struggling Dutch set-up, the club stares into the abyss of League One and an expanding gulf in class. The weakness of our squad of fledglings was nakedly exposed to the nation yesterday. It seems our troubles only continue to deepen; Saints fans must pray for a miracle in 2009.

Which team will fill the third relegation spot?

Four games left. Will Saints survive?

Would you be in favour of a return for Rupert?