Saturday, 29 August 2009

Back in a fortnight

Red and White Bill is finding all this stress a bit much and will be back in a couple of weeks. India will not be the ideal place from which to report upon Saints, but I hope to return to find the squad bolstered and the points deficit cut in half.

If I meet any Holy Men, I'll get them to put in a word.

Pardew perplexed by daylight robbery

Sure, surely it is time for the gods to give us a break. They have been conspiring against us for long enough. After relegations, administration and a points deduction, you would have thought they would back off. Whatever we have done, we have been punished enough. But the footballing powers in the sky ain't done yet, as Saints were today denied their first win of the season by the last kick of the game.

Stockport County 1 - Saints 1

It was a cracking display, with Trotman, Lallana and Mellis impressing and the side having ample opportunities to build on Ricky Lambert's first half penalty. Only a shocker of a refereeing decision could deny them the three points which would have at last given them a lift off in this league. Pardew and his players were left fuming as the man in the middle spotted an infringement in the area at the end of stoppage time.

Five games in, it is too early to panic yet, but Saints need a win, and fast. If they carry on playing like they did today, it will come soon enough. We just need the gods onside first.

Friday, 28 August 2009

Is it rational to support Saints?

Supporting a football club is a nutty thing to do, but we do it anyway. That was the conclusion of a chat at work yesterday about why we tie ourselves to the fortunes of our home clubs when they are arbitrarily allotted to us through chance.

Let's face it, despite our club being saved, we Saints have not had the best few weeks. We lie stranded at the foot of League One, our points penalty placing us over twenty points behind the leaders after just four games, with our best players apparently on the verge of leaving. And yet, a lot of my Saints-related conversation recently has been overwhelmingly positive in nature, I and others waxing lyrical about Alan Pardew and our recent performances despite their poor returns.

Not very rational. Yet still we turn up, week after week, to support a fairly poor team failing to get results - and enjoy it too. Where's the logic in that? We couldn't find any, but did it matter? When we thought about this complete lack of sense, were we dissuaded from supporting Saints? Well, no. It didn't matter one bit. Soon the most important thing on the agenda was Saturday's trip to Stockport. We haven't won this season but was an away victory against an in-form side after a week of upheaval thought beyond us? Of course not. Football has no logic - and that is why we love it.

Thursday, 27 August 2009

The round-up: Pardew's cup still half full

Tuesday night saw Saints slip to their third competitive defeat of the season, but the 11,000 strong crowd at St Marys was not too disheartened by the display.

Saints 1 - Birmingham 2

Saints led for much of the game after Adam Lallana's cracking opener - annoyingly opening the floodgates for Premier League transfer interest ahead of the transfer window slamming shut - but were turned over by two late Birmingham goals. The side put in a solid shift and outplayed their Premier League opponents for much of the game. Despite a moderate moan at the referee, Pardew will not be too perturbed at this club exit - there are more important matters at hand at present. Most concerning will have been Graham Murty's stretchered removal from the field - a knee problem could rule him for a spell of weeks. Given Lloyd James' horror show on Saturday, signing a right back could now be a priority.

The other news of the week has seen donkey frontman Gregorsz Rasiak sign for Reading. Can't think why he would want a move - no one has seen him score, let alone play with any passion, for over a decade now. Presumably the abundance of Polish plumbers in Southampton made a sideline in waterworks difficult and forced the move.

Sunday, 23 August 2009

Saints 1 - Brentford 1: Saints progress but win still proves elusive

Saints took a few more jittery steps in their recovery yesterday but were thwarted in their attempts to secure a breakthrough victory.

Saints 1 - Brentford 1

Nearly 20,000 flocked to St Marys to show their support for Pardew's new era, most of whom would have returned home with mixed feelings after another patchy display. Saints did well to capitalise upon a period of sustained pressure in the second half, but, as against Millwall, defensive frailties proved costly.

Good signs Though the result was not ideal, positivity with the new signings and progress made carried the day, showing that fans are willing to give Pardew as much time as he needs. He will be thankful for that, as the inadequacies of last year are taking a while to shake off, especially given the short pre-season he had to work with. The manager was probably right in saying the pre-season process is spilling into these opening fixtures, with new signings fitting in and pieces still falling into place. Key man: Dan Harding again excellent at left-back and got the goal to boot.

Pard times If Graham Murty had played we would not have lost this match. Though he is no gazelle, he would have had the nouse to take down Brentford's midfielder before he could get to the touchline and tee up their equaliser. Lloyd James, the perfect example of Saints' policy of blooding youngsters before they are ready, did nothing. He was captain for a game pre-season. Crikey - he really is atrocious.

Comedy moments Brentford manager Andy Scott lit up the touchline, with his long-sleeve shirt striking a shade of peach melba few can have seen before. It was more imaginative than anything we saw on the pitch - but Gok Wan would not have been impressed.

Friday, 21 August 2009

Transfer round-up and Brentford preview

It has been an interesting week for Saints, with Pardew bringing in reinforcements designed to increase the side's aerial presence and ability to deal with dead balls. On Wednesday, Colchester captain Dean Hammond signed for an undisclosed fee and he is likely to head straight into centre midfield for tomorrow's match against Brentford. Defensive colossus and Chelsea youngster Neal Trotman, who signed on loan on Thursday, is likely to do the same. However, after a dodgy start and against an in-form Brentford side, it will be a tough ask for Pardew to engineer a turnaround of Saints fortunes on the scale that Stuart Broad managed in the cricket today for England.Encouraging to see fresh blood brought in though - here are the view's of Somerset's finest, David Attwood.

Atto's tips

Recent form Having come up from League 2, Brentford have had a solid start to the season, remaining unbeaten in the league so far. In mid-week they came up with an excellent performance to beat Norwich City at home and this could be the foundation for an excellent home record - a trait which saw them claim the League 2 title last season.

The squad They have added to their squad but have nothing compared to the quality of Saints.
However, their excellent win away from home at Carlisle on the opening day of the season was down to new buy Weston getting both goals.

Prediction I fear that this weekend could be tricky. I can see this being a very tough test for Saints and surely Pardew would settle for a point so I predict 1-1.

Tuesday, 18 August 2009

This is going to be a loooong season

Just one corner was enough to send Saints home pointless tonight as Pardew's men were again undone by their failure to defend set-pieces.

Swindon 1 - Saints 0

Good signs Pardew thought it was a better performance than Saturday, although that is not saying much. Against shaky opposition, it was important they picked something up and their failure to do so piles the pressure on to Saturday's game.

Pard times Set-pieces. It has been a problem for too long now and needs to be sorted out. It seems Saints do lack a commanding presence in the box to take control - it would make life for everyone so much easier if we never conceded from set-pieces. If his work permit problems can be resolved, Rahdi Jaidi would be a god-send.

Comedy moments Hard to look on the bright side of Saints' slow start to the season. One point from nine and the deficit still a millstone around their prospects this season. At least we still have a club, even if it looks like another relegation fight could be looming...

Monday, 17 August 2009

Swindon preview with our new resident tipster

What do the following - Ricky Lambert, Ray Stubbs and Michael Owen - all have in common? Any ideas?

Let me put you out of your misery. They are all potentially great signings that have been made in the last few months (well, maybe not Owen), and the time has come for Red and White Bill to join the party! In the light of my own somewhat scratchy knowledge of the third tier I have scoured the world of football punditry to bring you an analyst who will be bringing you his thoughts on Saints' opponents and games over the next few weeks.

Imagine a sort of west-country fusion of Lee Dixon and Steve Claridge and you are nearly there. My very own signing of the summer is Yeovil die-hard and national Bowls player David Attwood. He will be putting his neck on the line to offer predictions, form guides and ground reviews to add a layer of expertise to the R&W Bill stable.

Just three games in and tomorrow's encounter away at Swindon already feels like an important match. The boys have to bounce back from Saturday's disappointment and start picking up points to stop the gap between us and the pack widening. Here are the thoughts of our new resident tipster.

Atto's tips - Swindon Town

Recent form They are an erratic team and that has shown this term - in between a cup win they lost their first game 5-0 and drew 0-0 last weekend.

Up front They will struggle up front this year having lost their top scorer Cox to West Brom for 1.9million, proven by their inability to score any goals in the league. They have only brought in a youngster from Bolton who is unproven.

The Boss They had been tipped to finish very well this year after sorting out their long term financial troubles but I would question this. Their squad is not that strong and I have serious reservations about Danny Wilson's ability. He did get Barnsley into the premiership but look where they have ended up now!

Away fans' guide As for the ground, you had better hope that it doesn't rain because you will be exposed high up on a terrace. It's a bit old but the rest of the ground is passable. Swindon is also famous for possessing the daddy of all roundabouts, about 7 roundabouts in one and very scary to negotiate. It's best if you can park about 10mins in a local retail park to get away quickly but make sure your cars are locked!

Prediction This time of the year is a great time to play them as they have not got themselves sorted yet. I would be very surprised if Saints couldn't turn them over! Swindon 0 - Saints 2

Video highlights from the weekend

Not for the faint-hearted, here are the highlights (or rather lowlights) of our defeat on Saturday.

Still, you may be cheered up by Crystal Palace's goal-that-never-was against Bristol City. I know the ref can get it wrong, but this must be some sort of record...

And even funnier is manager Neil Warnock's response - he hasn't calmed down a few hours later.

PS. I don't think the BBC are allowing their highlights to be embedded on external sites yet - I am looking into it.

Saturday, 15 August 2009

Pard times as Saints given reality check

After a positive week, it was something of a rude awakening for Saints this afternoon as they slumped to Pardew's first defeat as boss.

Huddersfield 3 - Saints 1

Positive Signs: Two things stick out from a roundly disappointing display. Firstly, Ricky Lambert scored again, putting away the only proper chance Saints had the entire match. Very encouraging. Also, Kelvin Davies was inspired once more, saving another penalty. If these two carry on performing, we will be fine. After all, few were expecting a win here - it is just a rather deflating result.

Pard Times: A generally poor performance, about which Pardew was struggling to contain his anger in the post-match press conference. We resorted too quickly to the long ball and our midfield didn't turn up. My major worry is that a large part of the team got used to losing last season - it may be hard to change that mentality. That is probably Pard's biggest challenge. Result leaves us stuck on -9; important now to pick something up at Swindon.

Comedy moments: To the Final Score studio for this one, where new head girl and ringmistress Gabby Logan was trying heroically, without success, to maintain order amongst the squabblesome trio of Garth Crooks, Les Ferdinand and Mark Bright. I felt for her as they bickered about some mundane point, with Garth Crooks threatening to throw the toys out of the pram as he sulkily stood his ground, reducing a sensitive Mark Bright to the verge of tears. Big Les, meanwhile, just looked as if he fancied taking a swing at the babbling Crooks. Without Ray Stubbs, I fear for the future of that programme. In fact, I worry about the mental state of Garth Crooks.

Friday, 14 August 2009

ShotGunn dismissal leaves Canaries reeling

In fairness, when I tipped Norwich for the title - just a week ago - I did say that my predictions have a tendency to end in tears. But I didn't expect this one to go tits up quite so quickly.

After just a game of the new season, the Canaries have ditched their manager Bryan Gunn. Given their terrible start - they were beaten 7-1 by Colchester at home on Saturday - this decision will surprise few. Despite restoring some pride with a cup win on Tuesday, having supporters throw their season tickets at you on the opening day puts you in a rather irrecoverable position and he had to go. So much for them emerging as champions in May - although the bookies had favoured them too, I add in defence.

Raises an interesting point, though. Out of all the relegated teams - us, Norwich, Charlton - who would you rather be supporting? Norwich's season may have ended before it started and while Charlton look solid, there is nothing to set the world alight. Down here on the south coast, however, we have a solid manager who is doing and saying all the right things, a couple of respectable results and some very positive signings. We may still be 9 points behind but the feel-good factor is back. Give me Saints any day.

Wednesday, 12 August 2009

Cup success sees Ricky off the mark

Saints got their first competitive win under Alan Pardew last night as they beat League 2 Northampton in the first round of the Carling Cup.

Saints 2 - Northampton 0

A crowd of over 10,000 watched as Ricky Lambert's debut goal was added to by Adam Lallana's second half strike. It marks another step in the right direction for Saints and should fill them with confidence ahead of Saturday's trip to Huddersfield.

Monday, 10 August 2009

Ricky! Rickayyy!!

Good work Pards. The Saints boss has wasted no time in adding a proven goal scorer to the ranks, with Bristol Rovers striker Ricky Lambert joining today. The 27 year old (right) was joint top scorer in League One last year with 29 goals and got off the mark this season on Saturday. But a deal was wrapped up today for a fee that could rise to £1m - but if he can keep on banging in the goals it looks like money well spent.

Another positive step for the Pardew era - COYR

Sunday, 9 August 2009

Solid start to Pardew era

Saints got off to a rumbustious start in the third tier yesterday, earning a point in an exciting season-opener at home to Millwall. With St Marys bathing in rich sunshine, a crowd of over 20,000 came to witness the real start of the Pardew regime and left feeling confident about the season ahead.

Saints 1 - Millwall 1

Chances were shared fairly evenly in a match where a combination of heat and fatigue meant players were truly puffing by the end (Graeme Murty certainly was). But it was Saints who got the lead early in the second half as Matthew Paterson latched onto the loose ball following a goal mouth scramble. It was a sloppy but not undeserved goal and the perfect start to the Pards era. But in characteristic Saints fashion, the defence - which had been strong throughout - then suffered a wobbly ten minutes. The colossal Wayne Thomas was unlucky to concede a penalty and Kelvin Davies came to the rescue with a fine double save. But the excitement cost Saints dear as a lack of defensive organisation two corners later saw Nadjim Abdou rise unmarked to head home. Millwall had chances to win it as Saints ran out of steam but the side held on to move a point nearer to 0 points.

Positive Signs: A great atmosphere and good to have the crowd back. Aside from the 10 minute panic, our defence looks very solid, as good as any in the league. Dan Harding and Wayne Thomas both excellent and Graeme Murty, well, entertaining.

Room for improvement: Once injuries kick in, the cupboard is bare. Rahdi Jaidi was a big miss, but we also badly need another striker; we only have Pats and Saga, and the latter is probably off anyway.

Comedy moments: The distinctly unintimidating Millwall crew wore shirts with the phrase "we fear no foe" printed on the back. I bet midfield behemoth LLoyd James had them quivering in their steel toe-capped boots.

Friday, 7 August 2009

Prediction Time

Like it or not, the time has come for me to make an idiot of myself once more by sharing with you my predictions for the forthcoming season. To limit the likelihood of a series of great footballing eggs decorating my face, I will be restricting my predictions to tiers one and three. And if you think I sound overly negative about my predictive powers, remember - I thought we had a shout for the play-offs last season.

Premier League:

Winners: Chelsea Runners-up: Liverpool 3rd: Man U 4th: Arsenal
Relegated: Burnley, Portsmouth, Wolves

I think Chelsea have the strongest, most balanced squad of the top four and that United fans will have a frustrating season after a poor summer. Liverpool, meanwhile, will have a strong season but finish up the bridesmaid once more (a good shout for Champs League though). Arsene will again deliver wonders given his resources - gooners should show some respect. Mark Hughes to be fired by Christmas as City prove that clubs need time, as well as great players, to compete at the top. At the other end, things look gloomy for Pompey (hurrah!) as takeover uncertainty continues. I expect them, along with new boys Burnley and Wolves, to be for the chop.

League One:

Winners: Norwich Runners-up: Leeds Also promoted: Huddersfield
Relegated: Yeovil, Stockport, Tranmere, Walsall

If you want to make some money from a season-long bet, put your house on Stockport going down. Rookie manager, weak squad, club in chaos. Got this tip from my mate - and he supports them. Norwich and Leeds should dominate this league and as for Saints, if only, if only, we weren't starting ten points behind. Holding on to one of Rasiak and Saga is crucial, along with a commanding ball-winner in midfield and centrehalf - missing out on Jaidi was a big blow. Given the handicap, it would be foolish to put Saints anywhere higher than 12th.

Pink Article: After Dutch Revolution, Swiss Evolution?

On the eve of another new season, my thoughts on the months ahead were printed in local sports weekly The Pink on Sunday. Here is the article in full.

It has been a tough twelve months for the St. Mary’s faithful. But, with investment secured and an experienced manager in place, Saints fans have reason to be positive this season, writes Will Wainewright.

So much for a relaxing summer! Pre-season is supposed to be a restful period for football fans, a couple of months free of worried Fridays, stressful Saturdays and gloomy Sundays. Not for Saints supporters.

Even after the season from hell, the takeover saga was something else as the club flirted with armageddon. Despite plenty of bellicose talk from Mark Fry of his hopes for a sale, flogging the once mighty SFC turned out to be a tougher task than initially thought. Even Matthew Le Tissier, our saviour so many times before, failed in his attempts to find the club a buyer.

But now, despite entering highly in the pantheon of football failures, Saints could have a brighter future. The purchase of the club by Swiss Industrialist Markus Liebherr has secured the future of SFC and allowed fans to emerge from behind the sofa.

And it seems there are reasons to be (whisper it) hopeful. Though the shotgun dismissal of manager Mark Wotte is redolent of the Lowe era, the appointment of Alan Pardew is an encouraging sign. The English coach has a strong track record of steering sides to promotion in the lower levels and ranks as a managerial heavyweight in League One. That he would only manage at this level at Saints makes it pretty clear how highly he respects the club – and where he sees its future lying.

Just as encouraging was Kelvin Davies’ decision to remain at the club. Like Pardew, he would not be out of place in the Championship or higher and his loyalty to the club shows his belief in the club’s future, especially after performing so well in such a dire season. Both will be a class above in League One.

Pardew now has the job of building a side that can flourish at this level – by no means an easy task after the years of instability that have resulted in such a ramshackle look to the squad. But with all the off-field drama settled he has a clean slate to build a side worthy of promotion. Thankful to still have a club, fans will give him time to do this and will not be expecting miracles – particularly given our ten point handicap.

It may take two or three seasons – or even more – but that is not the important thing. After the chaos the club has gone through in the last few years, what fans want most is to be able to turn up on a Saturday and know their team will be well-managed and work their socks off. That is something for which Pardew’s sides have been renowned and bodes well for the future.

After the rushed desperation of the Dutch Revolution, we are hopefully in for a period of calm Swiss Evolution. A tandem of stability on and off the field has not been had at Saints for many a year and that is why fans are so positive now. After coming so close to losing their club, all are doubly keen to preserve and support it now. It’s strange, but if you had asked me in 2003 whether I would ever look forward to a season in League One, the answer would have been no. Not any more. Yeovil away – bring it on!

Tuesday, 4 August 2009

Jones revelations shed new light

Away from pre-season worries, it has been interesting to get the chance to read parts of former Saints manager David Jones’ autobiography, No Smoke, No Fire, which was serialised in the Daily Echo last week. He never struck me as the writing type – but if anyone has had a life to write about, he has.

I always thought he was a good manager, and his achievements with Wolves and Cardiff since his spell at Saints have demonstrated his ability to bring stability and success to middling clubs. He kept us up twice, finishing twelfth in his first season – a feat that recent events have shown to be harder than once thought. We will never know what he would have achieved at Saints as his stint was tragically interrupted by unfounded charges of child abuse from his days as a care worker in Liverpool. Jones was given time off to clear his name and Glenn Hoddle came in, setting the stage for our relative success in the early noughties.

But Jones’ successes on a small budget should not be forgotten. He was particularly effective in the transfer market, making a huge profit out of Kevin Davies and bringing in James Beattie and Dean Richards. Particularly interesting have been his thoughts on key figures at the club.

On Le Tissier –

Jones thought Le Tissier was a little too comfortable at Saints as a big fish in a little pond and should have moved to a bigger club. Oh, that and he “did like his hamburgers too much.” In a weird passage, he recalls being told by members of SISA (Southampton Independent Supporters Association) not to drop Le Tissier in any circumstances. Oddly, he says he replied by saying he would get “two bus loads of scousers down there to sort them out if that was a threat.”

On Lawrie MacMenemy –

Saints legend Lawrie apparently told Jones that “finishing fourth from bottom constituted success.” How’s that for ambition? Another example of old Macca dwelling on past glories for too long.

On Rupert Lowe –

Jones pokes fun at Lowe for “thinking he was one of the boys.” He marks him out as a “patrician” figure; backing it up with Lowe’s claim that he picked potatoes as a child. But unlike one of the coaches who did the same, Lowe “drove the tractor.” How fitting. More damaging is the revelation that Lowe claimed Saints were “going to burn up the Championship” last year with the kids they had. Not sure about that one, Rupes.

Which team will fill the third relegation spot?

Four games left. Will Saints survive?

Would you be in favour of a return for Rupert?