Saturday, 27 February 2010
Saints 5 - 1 Walsall
After such a miserable, expectation-grounding match against Wycombe, this was the result everyone wanted. Pardew labelled it a 'complete performance' after the game, which Saints won despite falling behind within just four minutes. A first goal for winger Jason Puncheon got the comeback under way, with fellow January signing Lee Barnard recording his second brace in three games to ensure Saints were cruising by half time. Not for the first time this season, Adam Lallana and Rickie Lambert got themselves on the scoresheet to put Walsall out of sight and secure Saints' biggest win under Pardew.
Speaking to Radio Solent's Adam Blackmore after the game, Pardew seemed reluctant to read too much into the win, and dismissed Dave Merrington's claim that his side are the best in the division when they perform as they did today. His attitude intimated annoyance that good performances are received in such rapturous terms, while games such as Tuesday's are seen as crushingly bad although they represent little more than an off-day. Either way, Pardew is operating in a high-pressure environment at St Mary's and will have been pleased, inwardly at least, with a performance that lifted it a little.
Attention now turns to Tuesday's important clash with play-off chasing Huddersfield, who currently occupy the slot Saints have their sights trained on.
Thursday, 25 February 2010
Wycombe 0 - 0 Saints
These were two points Saints could ill-afford to drop with Huddersfield continuing their winning form in sixth place. The gap now stands at nineteen points and looks more like a chasm with every game. The pressure is now on for Saturday, when Saints host Walsall for another 'must-win' game.
Here are the 'highlights' from a scrappy game either side could have won.
Sunday, 21 February 2010
Norwich 0 - 2 Saints
Despite an unbeaten start to 2010 prior to Saturday's loss to Pompey, there had been murmurs of discontent in some quarters at Saints' failure to improve their league form and push on up the league. The side's inability to hold onto half time leads away to Millwall, Brentford and Exeter saw the gap between the club and the play-off positions stretch to a probably insurmountable eighteen points - an apparently unacceptable outcome for Cortese following a big January spend. Mitigating factors aside - the complete lack of a pre-season, fatiguing progress in the cups - it seemed as if the chairman's patience was starting to wear thin, despite this being Pardew's first season.
But Saints managed to get their league season well and truly on track again yesterday, as goals in each half from January signing Lee Barnard ensured Norwich would fail to match a club record eight consecutive home wins. It was a comprehensive and professional victory, made all the sweeter by the fact that the goals were Barnard's first for the club following a slow start. The play-offs remain seventeen points away and Saints will need luck and an unbeaten run of form to make them. However, this result was more important in that it carried Saints' cup form into the league and demonstrated they have the power in the squad to beat the best. A strong finish to the season - even if it does not result in a play-off place - is important for maintaining the high confidence level surrounding the club, but wins in their next two, highly winnable, games against Wycombe and Walsall, may see the play-off gap narrow.
Saturday, 13 February 2010
He should know. As one of only two men to have managed both sides, Redknapp has spent enough time on the south coast to know that despite the seventeen miles of M27 separating the two port cities, the clubs share a mutual enmity felt as keenly as any in football. Naval rivalry, fluctuating fortunes and the sheer infrequency of their meeting explain the rivalry, which was given another airing in today's FA Cup fifth round tie at St Mary's.
Portsmouth emerged as the victors on this occasion, eventually running out 4-1 winners in a game in which League One Saints dominated large parts. But their superior work rate and commitment in the challenge in the end proved no equal to the more clinical finishing of their Premier League opponents.
FA Cup 5th round:
Saints 1 (Lambert 70) - Portsmouth 4 (Owusu-Abeyie 66, Dindane 75, Belhadj 82, O'Hara 85)
Davis, Harding, Perry (Holmes 83), Jaidi, Thomas, Lallana, Hammond, Schneiderlin, Antonio, Lambert, Papa Waigo (Barnard 72)
The match began brightly in front of a feverish St Mary's crowd. Before the game Pardew had spoken a lot about the history of the tie and that appeared to have rubbed off on his players as Saints quickly took control of proceedings. The febrile atmosphere, combined with the relentless closing down of the home side, appeared to surprise their opponents and Saints nearly got their reward midway through the first half, as Rickie Lambert looped the ball onto the head of the lively Papa Waigo. The Fiorentina loan signing, however, was unable to nod past David James, who made the first of a string of fine saves that kept Pompey in the game during the first hour.
After such a dominant first half, there was always a risk that a failure to capitalise upon it would come back to haunt Saints. A couple of misses from the ever-dynamic Adam Lallana early in the second summed up Saints' day and they started to be regularly breached by a lightning quick counter attack as the clock wound down. Such attacks were to prove their downfall, and led to the impressive substitute Quincy Owusu-Abeyie sweetly curling home the opener on 66 minutes. The lead lasted just four minutes, however, as Rickie Lambert, who was fortunately not taking this particular set piece, got on the end of a Dan Harding delivery to level the match. But as Saints continued to attack, they became more and more vulnerable to the counter and it fell to Dindane to restore the visitor's lead with fifteen minutes remaining. Saints proved unable to respond this time, with further goals from Belhadj and the excellent O'Hara piling on the pain for the home side. Given the two tiers that divide the two sides, such a result was to be expected; but those at the game and watching on TV will know it was a lot closer than the scoreline indicates.
Big Game: The Significance of the Derby
Despite the first goalless hour, this match will have left ITV bosses with few regrets for selecting it for live screening. But this particular derby will be remembered as much for the circumstances surrounding the game as for events on the field. Four years after the last derby, when a Saints side at the start of their swift slide were dismantled 4-1 at Fratton Park by a Pompey side on the cusp of FA Cup success, this match came at a moment of brilliant poetic irony - only the scoreline remains unchanged from that day. Saints, under new ownership and management, appear to be a club on the way up following a fresh start in League One. What is more, it appears certain that Pompey will be relegated from the Premier League this season and conceivable that they will go out of business altogether following a series of murky takeovers and suspect financial dealings.
Despite the loss today, that is something few Saints fans want. Given the drama on the field and off-field attention surrounding the match, it was perhaps fitting that the defining moment of the day came when the two met. A Saints fan, adorned in the comic Arab dress of a Fake Sheikh, ran onto the pitch towards the Pompey fans and waved a bunch of grubby five pound notes in their direction. Who knows when (and if) the sides will next meet, but it will surely come around sooner than this one did. In spite of the negative activities this fixture always seems to promote (fans faced up on Britannia Road after the game - the most-read article on the BBC website detailed the clashes), it is always a cracker and focuses attention on football in the south like no other. But while all Pompey fans will be dreaming of survival tonight, Saints fans will be having nightmares over a result that has extended bragging rights to Pompey fans for the foreseeable future.
To follow: Match report plus all the fallout from Derby Day
Friday, 12 February 2010
I have started blogging for them too. My first effort can be accessed here - take a look.
Thursday, 11 February 2010
Hopefully Lallana will opt not to repeat the celebration he chose to mark his goal, which involved crawling towards the corner flag while Papa Waigo jumped on top of him in a style which can only be described as unorthodox.
The Daily Echo has reported that Saints may be in line for as many as 40,000 tickets for the final clash. It will be their first Wembley final since 1992, when they lost in the final of the Zenith Data Systems cup to Nottingham Forest. Trivia fans among you may be interested to know that was the last year the Full Members Cup was contested, as it was brought in to give British teams another cup outlet following the Heysel stadium disaster, which banned their entry into Europe.
Wednesday, 10 February 2010
Saints 3 - 1 MK Dons
The final next month provides Saints with the chance to add their first silverware to the trophy cabinet since winning the FA Cup in 1976. Carlisle were confirmed as their opponents after an unlikely two leg victory (finally decided by penalties) over league-leaders Leeds, whose cup form appears to have gone downhill like their league form. Saints will be hoping the next round proves as straightforward as last night. Holding a one goal advantage from the first leg, Saints dominated the early stages and were rewarded with two goals in the first thirty minutes through Ricky Lambert and a fortunate Dons own goal. The visitor's goal came just before the break but turned out to be nothing more than consolation as Adam Lallana put a comeback out of the question with a third in the second half.
The significance of the Johnstone's Paint Trophy
Few fans at the Millenium Stadium nearly seven years ago would have predicted that our next appearance in a cup final would come in the Football League Trophy; still less that we would be happy to be there. But despite the grumblings of some fans who dismiss its importance - it is open only to teams in League One and below - the competition has provided a massive lift to Saints' season. The chance of a day out at the new Wembley is one few fans thought they would get and the chance for silverware should never be snubbed, whatever the competition - especially given a trophy cabinet (right) that has been attracting nothing more than cobwebs for over thirty years. Following relegation and a points deduction that, along with a terrible start, has all but erased Saints' play-off hopes, this cup run has allowed Saints to assert themselves as a winning presence again. Given the losing rut this club has found itself in for the last few years, the importance of that is massive.
Interesting, then, that chairman Nicola Cortese should have chosen to overshadow last night's tie by stating his disappointment at Saints' recent league form during a radio interview. Of course, promotion must be the priority at all times, but given the crippling points penalty and pre-season upheaval it was always a massive ask. He has a point in that Saints should be winning at places like Exeter and Brentford given the immense investment that has been made in players such as Jose Fonte and Lee Barnard. But Pardew himself has needed time to bed in at this level. A cup win and a top ten finish this season should be seen as acceptable and provide the platform for a concerted drive next year. It must be hoped Cortese does not choose to ratchet up the pressure any more.
Her Majesty is a Saints fan
Last night not only saw the finalists of the JPT settled, but also the question of whether Saints would have a side to face in the next round of the FA Cup. An extremely generous decision from Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs granted Portsmouth a further week's stay of execution as they battle to avoid a winding up order. Someone, somewhere, is obviously very keen for at least one more south coast derby to take place. And given Pompey's toils and Saints' cup form of late, she must be a Saints fan.
Saturday, 6 February 2010
Exeter 1 - 1 Saints
Pardew's men are making a habit of gaining the advantage and then letting it slip, and it was Adam Lallana who put them in front today. The game was played on a poor-quality surface, but Saints cannot resort to blaming the pitch for a lack of quality if they are serious about the play-offs this year. The gap between them and the top six is beginning to look more like a chasm with every result of this sort that goes by. Though this week's cup fixtures may divert attention from the league once more, it looks as if Saints are beginning to run out of games if they are to get promotion this year.
Tuesday, 2 February 2010
Daniel Seabourne (undisclosed fee, three and a half years, Exeter)
Jon Otsemobor (free, six months, Norwich) and
Jose Fonte (up to 1.5m, three and a half years, Crystal Palace)
Lee Barnard (Southend, three years, £175,000 and Matt Paterson)
Jason Puncheon (Plymouth, three years, undisclosed)
Neal Trotman (Returns to Preston after loan)
Olly Lancashire (Loaned out Grimsby for six months)
Matt Paterson (Part of Barnard deal, Southend)
Jake Thompson (Loaned out to Torquay for six months)
Marek Saganowski (Atromitos, Free Transfer)
Monday, 1 February 2010
Saints 2 - 0 Stockport County
Such an assessment may be harsh. One postponement and three cup interruptions meant this was their only home game of the month, with their other fixtures away to Millwall and Brentford (both drawn) causing it to be an unbeaten one. Six games in one month is a big ask for any side - and a record of four wins and two draws should not be sniffed at. The increasing gap between Saints and the top six perhaps explains why such a cracking run of form has not attracted more acclaim. It took goals from Ricky Lambert and Papa Waigo to see off Stockport yesterday, after a nervy first half in which the pressure of needing a win appeared to stifle Saints' performance. But Saints came through in the end, piling the pressure on a Stockport side who have not won in more than one hundred days.
February is shaping up to be another colossal month, with four league fixtures and two massive cup ties. Many fans will be looking to the derby match against Pompey on the 13th as the biggest of these games, but this may be a mistake. A good performance in the return leg against MK Dons will see Saints to Wembley again, while if they can take ten points from their league games they will stay in the play-off hunt. Defeat against Pompey would be galling for all at SFC; but it should not overshadow the other games this month which will have a massive bearing on how this season is remembered.