Monday, 29 March 2010

Saints at Wembley: Player Ratings

Kelvin Davies - 8

Reliable all afternoon and as dependable as ever when called into action. Could do nothing with the goal. A special win for him given his decision to stay in the summer - the West Ham bench would not have been a nice place to be this weekend.

Dan Harding - 8

Special credit must go to Harding for playing out of position at right back. Dealt comfortably with whatever threats Carlisle posed down that side.

Jose Fonte - 7

A couple of dodgy headers early on were only noticeable as they were a change from his normal assured performances. As normal, a cut above the rest.

Rahdi Jaidi - 8

The definition of solid. Seemed really up for it and is clearly loving life at Saints at the moment.

Joseph Mills - 7

Coped more than competently with his day on the big stage - he must have been feeling the pressure at being asked to 'do a Chris Baird' but put in a mature display. Even tried to get a goal for himself as he darted inside late on.

Michail Antonio - 8

A quality return from a player Saints have missed in recent weeks. His goal topped off a superb performance in which he posed a threat whenever the ball was sent up to him on the right. He could be relied upon to either hold it up or make inroads on that side.

Paul Wotton - 7

A big ask to come into the side and replace Morgan Schneiderlin on such a big day but coped. Has little of the Frenchman's finesse or distribution but got stuck in and provided gutsy cover for the backline.

Dean Hammond - 8

A captain's performance. The pressure was on without his normal midfield partner but linked up play well from the centre. Sent the Wembley turf flying (as well as some Carlisle players) with some interesting late challenges.

Adam Lallana - 8

Great to see him get a goal on the big stage. He fully deserved it, putting in another all-round display with a maturity that belies his years. His post-match comments about staying at Saints and taking them to the Premier League were very welcome.

Rickie Lambert - 8

Proved as dangerous as ever and clearly loved his first day out at Wembley with Saints. Took his penalty superbly in front of a frenetic Carlisle contingent.

Papa Waigo - 7

A performance characterised by his two central traits - scoring tap-ins and being caught offside. May need a new celebration for when he next steps out at Wembley.

Subs: Gillett (76), Connolly (85), Perry (90+2)

Carlisle 1 - 4 Saints JPT Final Match Report

2010 Johnstone's Paint Trophy Final

Carlisle 1 (Madine 84)

Saints 4 (Lambert 15, Lallana 44, Papa Waigo 50, Antonio 60)

Attendance: 73, 476

Two things were made clear yesterday as the highest domestic crowd of the weekend turned up to see Saints demolish Carlisle at Wembley. First, that there is more to English football than the Premier League - the strength of fan support, together with quality of players such as Rickie Lambert and Ian Harte plying their trade in the third tier, combined to pay testament to life in the lower leagues. And second, that Alan Pardew's Saints may be on the verge of something very special as they seek to make reality owner Markus Liebherr and Chairman Nicola Cortese's dream of top flight football within five years.

"This is a start - a good start," admitted Pardew after a game in which his side had run out comfortable victors over a below-par Carlisle side. After a shaky start, in which Dan Harding was lucky not give away a penalty for tussling in the area after six minutes, it was the actions of Carlisle defender Peter Murphy which gifted Saints the perfect start. His bizaare decision to handle Antonio's cross from the right may have succeeded in preventing the ball falling to Rickie Lambert, but he was lucky to remain on the pitch for a blatant foul. It only delayed the inevitable, however, as Rickie converted the resulting penalty to score his first goal in three appearances at Wembley. Saints' nerves were immediately relaxed, and although Carlisle continued to create some pressure, the ever-dangerous Adam Lallana had a total of three clear chances in the first half alone, the third of which he converted to all but tie up the game before half time.

A two goal half time cushion was beyond the hopes of most Saints fans, whose side are notorious for doing things the hard way. Pre-match pressure on the favourites was increased by a pile of injury problems, which saw experienced midfielder Paul Wotton drafted into midfield to replace Morgan Schneiderlin, who was unfortunate to be ruled out by a hamstring strain he picked up on Tuesday. The absence of Wayne Thomas was also a blow, and meant young full back Joseph Mills was granted a start on the left for only his seventh start of the season, with Dan Harding switching to the right. The side dealt admirably with the changes, however, as more poor defending from the northerners gifted Papa Waigo his first Wembley tap-in. Antonio, whose return from injury was a massive boost to the side, turned the result into a rout with a fine swivel shot on the hour - a great way to celebrate the midfielder's 20th birthday.

The inevitability of the result combined with a lack of match fitness from players brought in and playing out of position meant a pedestrian end to the game, and it would be harsh to begrudge Carlisle fans their side's consolation six minutes from time. Neither side had played their best football on the day but the open nature of the game combined with the five goals ensured it was quite a spectacle. As were the celebrations that followed Saints' win, which saw Pardew and his men climb the 61 Wembley steps to lift the surprisingly large trophy in front of their digital camera-wielding employer Liebherr. There were hugs all round between management and players, and a particularly pertinent one between Pardew and Cortese, who can hopefully reach more of an understanding on the back of this win. Do not be surprised, however, if the whip continues to be cracked with zeal - Cortese is clearly impatient for success. This win, however, demonstrates that Pardew has the appetite for it too, and he clearly wants more; as he admitted afterwards, the play-offs remain the aim this season.

Sunday, 28 March 2010

Saints triumph in Johnstone's Paint Trophy Final

Saints won their first piece of silverware for 34 years on their first ever trip to the new Wembley this afternoon, as at least 44,000 fans travelled to the capital to witness the team dispatch an uninspired Carlisle side with ease.

Carlisle 1 - 4 Saints

For full reaction to the final, including tactical analysis, player ratings and photos from Wembley, don't miss R&W Bill this week.

Friday, 26 March 2010

New football trivia forum

Thought some of you may be interested in a new football trivia service created by the brains behind Football Filter. Aimed to be 'a place to ask and answer football questions,' it is a sort of cross between Digg, Wikipedia and your basic forum. It is still in its early stages, and Ben and the team are looking for more people to get involved.

After creating an ID you can pose questions and answer other people's, building 'reputation' in the process. Get involved, here is the link.

Wembley preview

With the JPT Final just two days away, it's time to have a look at the likely line-up for Sunday.

News from the treatment room

The biggest boost to the side came with the news that Adam Lallana will be fit to play. He missed Tuesday's game against Hartlepool and is under doctor's orders to take it easy for the rest of the season but will play. Morgan Schneiderlin will also make it after coming off midway through Tuesday's game with a tight hamstring. Longer terms absentees Graeme Murty and Lee Holmes will not be back in time, while there is little chance of Antonio, Lloyd James or Jon Otsemobor making it. The biggest question marks hang over David Connolly and Wayne Thomas. The striker came on for twenty minutes on Tuesday but may not be risked from the start. Equally important will be whether Wayne Thomas can come on at right back after being injured on Friday. There was talk of him making a surprise recovery for Sunday but this has to be unlikely with a recent calf injury. All in all this leave Pardew without a natural right back and with a massive selection headache

R&W Bill's Wembley line-up:

(right to left)


Perry Jaidi Fonte Harding

Waigo Hammond Schneiderlin Lallana

Connolly Lambert

Perry at right back seems the obvious choice, although it may also be a job Paul Wotton could do. It seems quite a big risk to start with Waigo and Connolly as Papa can drift out of games while Connolly will certainly not last the whole ninety, but it just shows the lack of attacking options Pardew is faced with due to Antonio's injury and Barnard being cup-tied. It all heaps the (already not inconsiderable) pressure on Rickie Lambert ahead of Sunday. Placing Wotton in midfield or even recalling Simon Gillett to the side could be alternatives, but that would require significant adjustments as neither are natural widemen.

Having said all that, after a long season of 50+ games already, Pardew should be thankful to have the spine of the side intact for Sunday. Saints have not lost many games this season when Davies, Fonte, Jaidi, Hammond, Schneiderlin, Lallana and Lambert have all played. It is a formula Pardew will be hoping holds true for Sunday.

Wednesday, 24 March 2010

Football Filter Blog

I have written another piece for the excellent Football Filter website. Starting with Thierry Henry's imminent clash against his former employers Arsenal, it looks at five cases of footballers returning as enemies to the clubs where they made their name.

You can read the entry here.

Saints 3 - 2 Hartlepool

Some Saints players appeared to have already started their march to the arch judging by their performances last night, but the side still dug in to record another important win.

Saints 3 - 2 Hartlepool

After a disappointing pair of results last week, back-to-back wins against MK Dons and Hartlepool could not have come at a better time with Wembley on the horizon. Saints will now enter Sunday's final clash with form on their side, although Pardew faces mounting injury concerns that were added to by Morgan Schneiderlin's removal from play with a tight hamstring last night.

Saints shared five goals with the 'monkey-hangers' in a relatively open game, going behind within ten minutes to a soft opener. Pardew took responsibility for the goal, blaming a tactical mix-up, but the result was never really in doubt as Saints asserted their dominance on the game. Goals from Lee Barnard and Rickie Lambert ensured Saints went in with a lead at the break. That was added to early in the second half as Jason Puncheon broke down the left and delivered a strike that was saved off the line- it fell to Papa Waigo, in characteristic fashion, to take advantage of the rebound. A thunderbolt strike from Austin ensured a nervy finish but Saints were well worth their win, one which takes them to just eleven points from the play-offs.

Monday, 22 March 2010

MK Dons 0 - 3 Saints

Rickie Lambert took his goal tally for the season to thirty with a hattrick that handed Saints a comfortable victory over MK Dons on Saturday.

MK Dons 0 - 3 Saints

It was the side's fourth victory over the Dons this year after recording wins in both legs of the teams' JPT clash after beating them at home. Lambert's third strike was a spectacular 35 yard lob and a sweet way to complete his first hattrick for the club. Two defeats in the last three games had left Saints out of the play-off hunt, but with the gap now down to 14 points, the club's management obviously still think it is on. A win at home to Hartlepool tomorrow night would help that cause no end, and should be played in front of a packed St Marys after the Chairman released special details of a ticket offer.

Here are the highlights.

Thursday, 18 March 2010

Saints 0 - 1 Swindon

Saints lost at home in the league for the first time this year against Swindon on Tuesday night, in a result which leaves their hopes for a top six finish in tatters.

Saints 0 - 1 Swindon

Pardew's men failed to capitalise upon their first half dominance and were left to regret it in the second half when Charlie Austin sent the hosts behind. Despite hitting the bar late on, Saints could not find a leveller and, although it is still mathematically possible, they would need an incredible run of wins and a lot of luck to reach the play-offs now.

Here are the highlights.

Sunday, 14 March 2010

Saints 1 - 0 Leeds (plus reaction to Cortese interview)

Saints demonstrated their ability to beat the best in League One and put last week's woes at Tranmere behind them yesterday by recording one of their biggest wins of the season against Leeds.

Saints 1 - 0 Leeds

Dan Harding's first half strike was all that ultimately divided the two sides in a game that saw Saints gain revenge for their defeat by the same margin against Leeds in December. Alan Pardew made some interesting comments in his post-match interview about Saints' progress over recent weeks. An impressive string of performances have seen them prove themselves at home against opponents as diverse as promotion-chasing Leeds and Huddersfield and the lowerly Walsall. The only question mark over the team, he claimed, hung over their ability to win scrappy games away from home on boggy pitches. The play-offs remain a massive 16 points away and even correcting this flaw will probably not result in a top six place. But he is right that his team is starting to prove its dominance in nearly every area at this level; with that shortcoming corrected for next season, prospects for promotion bode very well.

Nicola Cortese Interview

Prior to kick-off, Radio Solent aired an extensive interview with Saints Chairman Nicola Cortese. In it, the elusive Swiss figure - handed the reigns of power at SFC by club owner Markus Liebherr, the Swiss Industrialist who took over the club in the summer - answered fans' questions on a range of issues. Here is the link, but in the meantime, here are the headlines:

Promotion this season

The Chairman dismissed claims that he and Pardew had fallen out over his public statement of dissatisfaction with results since January. He reiterated, however, his belief that results should have been better and that promotion was a realisable aim at the start of the season. Perhaps disingenuously, he compared Saints' prospects with Norwich and Charlton, who, he said, were 20 or 30 points ahead. Although he factored the ten point penalty into his claim, it should be remembered that Saints was a club on its knees in the close season and Pardew had little time to sort out his squad. The signings in January could not have been expected to deliver instant success. Cortese is obviously impatient to leave League One.

The future of St Marys

Cortese lingered for a while on questions surrounding the stadium, stating his desire to sort out match day issues such as parking and make more use of the ground on non-match days. He obviously sees the surrounding area as a hindrance and made the following bombshell statement: 'I would not exclude the possibility that we are going to build a stadium somewhere more convenient.' Nothing more that a pipe dream surely - few fans would want to leave St Marys anyway. But it again indicates his ambition to build the club in all directions, both commercially and on the playing field. Expect big changes to the area around the ground in the future.

JPT Ticket situation

Cortese stated his dissatisfaction at ticketing levels and the prospect of seeing over 20,000 empty seats at the final in a fortnight. He revealed he had even offered to provide and pay for stewarding to support the extra fans. However, he conceded it was probably too late to expect any changes now as the FA would not want to 'lose credibility.'

Sunday, 7 March 2010

Tranmere 2 - 1 Saints

After the party, the hangover. Saints' blistering run of form was brought to an abrupt end away at Tranmere yesterday, in a result that will do no favours to their late dash to the play-offs.

Tranmere 2 - Saints 1

Scoring ten goals in two games at St. Marys sent shockwaves around League One last week, but Pardew's men again failed to establish the same level of performance away from home. A late Tranmere penalty - dubiously awarded by a rookie referee who appeared out of his depth - decided matters yesterday, after Saints had wasted a string of chances to go ahead in the second half. But to say Saints dominated would be unfair, as Tranmere were worth at least a point from a game in which they had their share of the chances.

The result leaves Saints 15 points from the top six with Pardew still in search of a formula to serve Saints on these tricky away days.

Friday, 5 March 2010

Who is going up from League One?

The above question provides the BBC's Paul Fletcher with much to ponder in this excellent article. Focussing on Saints' prospects, he describes Tuesday's performance against Huddersfield as among the best he has seen from a third tier team.

Written from a neutral perspective, it sums up our predicament pretty neatly and is well worth a read.

Thursday, 4 March 2010

Saints 5 - 0 Huddersfield

Saints moved to within fourteen points of the play-offs in emphatic style on Tuesday night, knocking five goals past an in-form Huddersfield side.

Saints 5 - 0 Huddersfield

As Pardew highlighted after the game, this win was in a different league to Saturday's thrashing of Walsall, coming as it did against a side unbeaten since December. The visitors also occupy the treasured final play-off place, but a goal each for Lambert, Barnard, Puncheon, Hammond and Papa Waigo secured a huge win that signalled Saints' intent to be in possession of that spot come the end of the season.

Here are the highlights of an awesome win.

Which team will fill the third relegation spot?

Four games left. Will Saints survive?

Would you be in favour of a return for Rupert?