Monday, 28 December 2009

Saints fail to end 2009 in style

Despite dominating large periods of the game, two poorly conceded goals ensured Saints failed to pick anything up from their trip to play-off chasing Colchester - a disappointing start to a season-defining run of five matches against sides above them in the league.

Colchester 2 - Saints 1



Pardew opted for a five-man midfield for this trip to misty East Anglia, partly to neuter the threat of an attacking Colchester side and partly because of doubts over whether David Connolly could last a whole game. But despite this numerical advantage in the middle, Saints seemed overwhelmed themselves in the first half and fell a goal behind. Connolly was brought on to support lone frontman Lambert and restore the side's attacking potency, which seemed to do the trick as Saints had the larger part of the chances and dominated possession in the second half.

They failed to capitalise upon this, however, with Papa Waigo having one chalked off for - quel surprise - offside. Colchester put matters beyond doubt with a second fifteen minutes from time, Ricky Lambert's stoppage time penalty boosting nothing but his goal tally as Saints ran out of time. The significance of the result - against, afterall, virtual play-off certainties - should not be overplayed and the forthcoming visit of Huddersfield and trip to Millwall should prove more profitable. It does, however, slump Saints back into the bottom half of the table. Not where Saints want to be, but, given the traumatic circumstances of 2009, they can consider themselves in rude health and look ahead with confidence to 2010.

Sunday, 27 December 2009

Saints box clever to inspire festive cheer

Following last week's defeat against Leeds, Pardew had tasked his side to stay focused on getting the result ahead of today's clash at home to Exeter. Two first half goals ensured that they did, although it was not as comfortable as it should have been in front of a rare full house at St. Marys.

Saints 3 - Exeter 1

James, Perry, Trotman, Harding
Lallana, Hammond, Schneiderlinn, Antonio
Connolly, Lambert

The absence from midfield of Morgan Schneiderlinn had cost Saints against Leeds, with Pardew bemoaning his side's failure to pump the ball out to Lallanna on the wing. He is the sort of player who will always look to play the ball on the ground, although there was little fluency to Saints' midfield on his return to the side, as Exeter dominated the early stages.

Managed by Saints old boy Paul Tisdale, who has led Exeter to back-to-back promotions in the last two seasons, Exeter set themselves up as a solid defensive unit and Saints struggled to impose themselves, perhaps put off by the season record crowd (their loss at home to Brighton earlier in the season occurred in similar circumstances). But Antonio, who combines pace and a good touch to useful effect, always provided a threat down the right and it was from that flank Saints won themselves an undeserved lead thanks to a deflected strike by Lloyd James. The lead was doubled soon after as Neal Trotman rose highest in the box and the game looked to be over before half time when the ever-lively Adam Lallana attracted a high challenge that had the perpetrator sent off.

But few members of the capacity crowd, one buoyed by Saints' form this season, can have forgotten the golden rule with Saints: it's never that easy. As the second half wore on, the ten men of Exeter started to play some fluent passing football and began to look as if they may get back into the game. The jitters now afflicting the fans intensified on the hour when Adam Lallana was taken off with a dead leg. His importance to the side was proven minutes later as the Grecians got one back from a - you guessed it - poorly-marked set-piece, setting the scene a nervous final twenty minutes that the oddly quiet home fans, perhaps still digesting yesterday's turkey, could have done without.

Lallana's replacement, Joseph Mills, toiled away for a miserable 23 minutes before himself being replaced by the more imposing presence of Paul Wotton, who was tasked to sit and protect an increasingly jittery back four. But all major worries were put to bed minutes from time when the impressive Papa Waigo slipped in round the back to slot home. Also deserving of mention is Ricky Lambert's injury time 30 yard wonder strike which hit the angle - the woodwork was obviously not in a festive mood.

The win lifts Saints into the top half for the first time this season and lays an important foundation ahead of important games against Colchester, Huddersfield and Millwall. The difficulty with which the side eventually dispatched the lowly Grecians also serves as a wake up call - Saints are still finding life difficult at home to the lesser sides, who see St. Marys as a big day out and a stage on which they have nothing to lose. But Pardew was right to place the onus on it being a case of "job done, move on" in his post-match interviews. Points are the main thing for Saints presently - and how many they pick up from the next three will be a good indicator of how they should fare this season.

Tuesday, 22 December 2009

Unbeaten away record ends as Leeds prove class

A late goal from Robert Snodgrass was enough for Leeds to see Saints off on Saturday, ending their impressive unbeaten away record which had lasted since August.

Leeds 1 - Saints 0

It was probably a fair result and Saints cannot stretch their luck after the fortunate circumstances of Tuesday night's cup win over Norwich. That Saints managed to hold off the league leaders until twenty minutes from time was an achievement in itself, though they had missed a few gilt-edged chances. With any luck, the result should not hinder this season's progress to any great extent, with providing Boxing Day's game at home to Exeter providing their next opportunity to climb up the table.

In other news, chairman Nicola Cortese has delivered this charming Christmas message to Saints fans. What a lovely guy. Makes his fall-out with the Daily Echo last week seem all the more bizarre.

Thursday, 17 December 2009

Wembley on the horizon as Saints continue march to the arch

If you haven't already, stick March 28th in your diary now. For that is the date on which Saints, barring defeat over two legs against Paul Ince's MK Dons, will be appearing in their first Wembley Final for over fifteen years after Tuesday night's win over Norwich.

Saints 2 - Norwich 2 (Saints won 6-5 on pens)

It was more of a stumble than a march to the arch, however, as Saints put in a mixed display at odds with their recent performances. 2-1 down with seconds to go, it took a stoppage time equaliser from Papa Waigo, who had already put Saints ahead in the first half, to force penalties after a poor second half. Alan Pardew admitted Norwich may have deserved to win, but more than a measure of luck is necessary to all sustained cup runs rely and it went Saints way on the night as the side recorded their second penalty shoot out win of the competition thanks to Bartosz Bialkowski's heroics.

Saints 3 - Tranmere 0

The cup win came hot on the heels of Saturday's match against Tranmere. Goals from Ricky Lambert and Dan Harding eventually saw off the League One strugglers, who had made life difficult for Pardew's men in the first half. The two victories mean Saints have now won five on the trot in all competitions, just the results, even if not matched by form, required if Saints are to make their play-off dream a reality this year.

Friday, 11 December 2009

Daily Echo banned from St Marys

Events at Saints took a curious turn today, with the Daily Echo revealing today that they have been banned from St Marys.

It appears this draconian measure has been taken by Nicola Cortese after the paper, which has never before been banned from a Saints ground in its 121 year history, published a fairly innocent report concerning the proposed training ground developments on Tuesday.

This was a day before the official website put out its press release, although the news was picked up on by local radio and the BBC website carried the story on Wednesday.

It does not seem as if the Echo broke any laws as details of the planning application had already been published by New Forest District Council and the article does not contain any malicious or defamatory content. If this act is the result of a fit of pique on the part of Nicola Cortese at not getting to get the news out first it seems a very odd and unimportant issue to get wound up about.

It will be interesting to see how this develops over the next few days. The Echo has its critics amongst fans but no one wants to support a football club that is going to take such a dictatorial stance with the media. One gets the impression there is more to this than meets the eye. Watch this space...

Sunday, 6 December 2009

Movin' on up - Walsall win sees Saints rise to 15th

Until yesterday only Leeds had managed to turn Walsall over on their own patch this season. But on a blustery day in the Midlands Saints proved their quality to become the second team to do so with a win that propelled them up to fifteenth place.

Walsall 1 - Saints 3

With four wins on the bounce, Pardew's team is really motoring now and starting to look as formidable as any opposition in this League. Goals from David Connolly, Dean Hammond and Ricky Lambert (his ninth in eight games) dispatched the in-form Walsall with half and hour to go and set the stage for a busy December with Saints next facing tests in the League against Tranmere and the JPT against Norwich.

Thursday, 3 December 2009

At last - Saints look to the skies as drop zone left behind

For all the talk of play-offs this year, the stark reality is that Saints have been stranded in the drop zone for the entire season. But that millstone was mercifully lifted from the club's neck on Tuesday night as victory over Wycombe dragged Saints into the relative heaven of 20th place. Now, with over half the season still to go, Saints can really start to look upwards in their pursuit of a play-off place.

Saints 1 - Wycombe 0

It wasn't the prettiest of wins, but that will not have come as a disappointment to Pardew, who seems to relish it most when Saints win ugly. That, however, would be a harsh assessment of a game Saints dominated from start to finish under the floodlights at St. Marys. It was a case of getting the job done for Pardew's men, who missed a host of chances against their relegation-threatened opposition. Ricky Lambert surprised no one by getting the crucial goal before the break, his worth to Saints being proven on nights like these when others fail to convert their chances. In the end it was not the performance but the result that mattered as Saints left their opponents behind in the drop zone.

Form guide

Beside the boost received by escaping the drop zone, an analysis of Saints last ten games and where that would leave them in the League offers more hope for the remainder of the season. A league table based on the last ten games would leave Saints in fourth place (20 points), firmly entrenched in the play-off places. If they can maintain that form over the next few months finishing up there in May is more than possible. Saturday's trip to Walsall should provide an interesting acid test of the likelihood of that happening, with the Saddlers also collecting 20 points from their last ten games.

Cup half full

Away from the league, Saints continued their impressive cup form on Saturday, navigating a potentially tricky trip to Northampton.

Northampton 2 - Saints 3

The scoreline flattered the hosts in this FA Cup second round tie, as Papa Waigo, Lallana and Hammond goals put the tie beyond doubt within an hour. Sunday's draw handed Saints a home tie against either Rotherham or Luton, making a potentially lucrative and high profile fourth round match against Premiership opposition a distinct possibility.

Which team will fill the third relegation spot?

Four games left. Will Saints survive?

Would you be in favour of a return for Rupert?