Wednesday, 21 April 2010

Saints 0 - 0 Oldham

A stout defensive display, combined with some dubious refereeing, allowed Oldham to leave St. Marys with a point last night, all but ending Saints' late charge to the play-offs.

Saints 0 - 0 Oldham

Lee Barnard's stoppage time winner at Yeovil on Saturday had convinced many previously cynical Saints supporters that reaching the play-offs was possible, but the pressure of sustaining the winning run caught up with their side last night. After four straight wins, Pardew's men knew they would need four more to keep the pressure on Huddersfield, but few fans would have identified Oldham's trip to the Mecca as the stumbling block. The visitors, however - deploying an understandably negative game plan given their lowly position and Saints' recent form - stifled their opponents from the start. Puncheon built on his impressive recent form with a lively display on the wing but the all-important first break never came.

Paul Wotton came into midfield to replace the suspended Morgan Schneiderlin, whose passing ability was hugely missed. Lloyd James replaced Wotton at the interval in order to restore some of the flow to Saints but was himself replaced by Papa Waigo with fifteen minutes to go as Pardew went all out for the goal, also throwing on David Connolly. The Welshman James had a bit of a shocker, while Pardew reacted angrily when questioned about his substitutions on Radio Solent. A gold-plated penalty claim was denied on a night when little went Saints' way, despite twelve shots on target and the lion's share of possession. The result leaves Saints seven points from the play-offs with three to play.


On a brighter note for Saints, the full extent of Pompey's collapse was revealed today in the Report to Creditors produced by the administrators down at Fratton Park.

In it, the sorry carcass of Pompey's financial accounts are laid bare. It makes interesting reading, particularly the list of creditors (pg 33 onwards), which sets out what Pompey owe to who. Saints are even owed £35,000 by the neighbours down the road - how long before Liebherr sends his attack dog Nicola Cortese along the M27 to sort that one out?

Although much of the damage had already been done by last summer (in terms of a huge outlay on players accompanied by some staggeringly generous contracts), it is simply astonishing that Peter Storrie and others did not do more to safeguard the club given what was happening at St. Marys.

Sunday, 18 April 2010

Yeovil Town 0 - 1 Saints

Even if Saints fail to reach the play-offs this season, as seems likely after Huddersfield Town's win on Friday night, no one can fault their determination to make it happen, which was again demonstrated as the side managed to grind out a fourth straight win away to Yeovil yesterday.

Yeovil Town 0 - 1 Saints

After a red-blooded encounter at Huish Park, in which Morgan Schneiderlin was red-carded for the second time this season and assistant manager Dean Wilkins was sent to the stands, Pardew praised his side's spirit for 'seeing us home.' The two thousand travelling Saints fans, perhaps in possession of unrealistic expectations after Tuesday night's trouncing of Bristol Rovers, had to wait until three minutes into stoppage time for Lee Barnard to head home from Papa Waigo's cross.The decisive moment had been preceded by a scrappy game, which had seen the hosts grow in confidence after a strong Saints start went unrewarded. Both sides had clear one-on-one chances in an open first half, but, as Saints grew frustrated, chances for Yeovil multiplied in the second. Saints' frustration was encapsulated by Schneiderlin's dismissal twenty-one minutes from time for a petulant bout of afters. Knowing only a win was enough to keep the fading play-off dream alive, Pardew, who had already replaced Antonio with Lee Barnard at half time, threw caution to the wind with ten minutes remaining, sending on Papa Waigo and David Connolly to leave four strikers on the field.

A game which finishes with Ricky Lambert in centre midfield and Papa Waigo at right back is always going to be remembered as an unusual one, and Saints were left brutally exposed as they risked all for the winner. But Yeovil, despite some fine counter-attacking play, were unable to capitalise on a couple of four-on-three opportunities in the final moments, and were left to rue their inability to finish as Lee Barnard pounced in front of the jubilant Saints faithful.
Though not the most deserved of Saints wins, it keeps them in the hunt with four games to go. Winning their game in hand at home to Oldham on Tuesday night would close the gap to five with three to play. Like the Premier League title race this year, this one looks set to go to the wire.

Wednesday, 14 April 2010

Bristol Rovers 1 - 5 Saints

Saints' late play-off charge gathered pace last night as Alan Pardew's men recorded a huge win against Bristol Rovers that sees them leapfrog 'the Gas' to eighth in the table.

Bristol Rovers 1 - 5 Saints

An impressive travelling contingent of nearly 2,000 Saints fans were rewarded with an immense performance from their side, who recovered despite falling behind in the first half. Jose Fonte was unlucky to fell Jo Kuffour as he attempted to shepherd the ball out of play which gave Rovers an unlikely lead after surviving a barrage of early Saints efforts. It fell to former Gas marksman Rickie Lambert - applauded warmly at the start and end of the match by the home fans - to get Saints level before striking them into the lead before the interval with a deflected free kick.

Though Saints had the balance of the chances in the first half, Bristol hit the woodwork and were close to getting a second. It was a different story in the second half, however, as Saints launched an onslaught on the opposition goalmouth. The three goalscorers richly deserved their share of the haul, with Jason Puncheon and Adam Lallana tirelessly creating openings as the home side tired. A special mention must go to Morgan Schneiderlin, who opened his Saints account in style with a beautifully crafted 25-yard volley, leading to a round of 'we were here when Morgan scored' from the away end.

Huddersfield's late comeback against Walsall was the only dampener on a massive night for Saints, who will be looking for a repeat performance at Yeovil on Saturday.

Sunday, 11 April 2010

Saints 1 - 0 Charlton

Saints moved to win eight points of the final play-off spot with their win over fourth-placed Charlton yesterday afternoon, in a fixture that may be repeated at the end of the season if they manage to close that gap.

Saints 1 - Charlton 0

A solitary goal from Michail Antonio was enough for the hosts to see off their London guests on a sunny afternoon at St Marys. It was far from a classic performance, with Kelvin Davies required to get in the way of three smart efforts from Nick Bailey, but Saints had the balance of the chances and consistently threatened in the first half. The goal was well worked, Jason Puncheon cutting in incisively from the right and feeding for Antonio to smash home from the edge of the area. It was a rare moment of fluency in a game that stuttered at times, neither side allowing the other to get truly into its stride, and nor was it helped by the pernickety decisions of referee Hegley.

Sainst now travel to Bristol Rovers on Tuesday night and Yeovil on Saturday for games they simply must win to keep the play-off dream alive. But at the moment they are making the happy habit of winning games without hitting top form - if they keep that up, anything is possible.

Monday, 5 April 2010

Saints 2 - 1 Leyton Orient

Though Saints' season has been characterised by ups and downs, certain patterns and performance traits have held constant, as their last three matches have shown. While Sunday's Wembley win demonstrated their ability to perform under pressurised cup conditions, Thursday's draw at Brighton again highlighted their vulnerabilty away from home. And though Saints again conceded an early goal in today's game against the newly managerless Leyton Orient, Alan Pardew's side built on their impressive home form this season by coming from behind and getting the result at St Marys.

Saints 2 - 1 Leyton Orient

Just eight points now separate Saints from sixth place Huddersfield Town and Colchester, over whom they have a game in hand. They will need to improve significantly on this performance, however, if they are to win all their remaining games, which will surely be required if they are to have any chance of snatching sixth spot. A goal in either half from Adam Lallana was required to see off the O's on their first match back at St Marys following their cup final appearance. The first, a beautifully crafted goal curved in from just outside the area, drew Saints level minutes before half time after poor defending had let the visitors take an early lead.

The Northam End was in exuberant mood, and needed to be in the face of a sluggish Saints performance, in which only the individual brilliance of Adam Lallana shined through. His second half header was his eighteenth goal of the season, an amazing statistic that could see Championship sides testing the Southampton-born player's often-professed loyalty in the summer. Pardew paid testament to his star player, but also his side's achievement in grinding out an important win despite a poor display.

Next match: Saints v Charlton (Saturday 10 April)

Friday, 2 April 2010

Brighton 2 - 2 Saints

After the glory and glamour of their Wembley appearance on Sunday, Saints came back down to earth with a bump in the uninspiring surroundings of Brighton's Withdean Stadium last night, gaining a late draw that does little to boost their play-off ambitions.

Brighton 2 - 2 Saints

Optimistic fans still harbouring play-off hopes will surely have had this down as a win for Saints in the BBC's score predictor, meaning the side will have to win virtually all of their remaining eight games if they are to bridge the eleven point gap to the top six. It is by no means impossible, but a win last night would have got the ball rolling nicely for a side for whom midweek away trips to grounds with poor pitches have proved costly again and again this season.

And so it was last night as Saints went behind early last night to Elliott Bennett's opener. Captain Dean Hammond drew the sides level just before half time but Saints left themselves exposed at the back as they went in search of a winner in the second half, with Ashley Barnes' restoring the Seagulls' lead. Lee Barnard rescued an important late point for Pardew's men but Brighton hung on to prevent them taking all three.

Pardew's starting eleven (4-5-1, r-l: Davies, Otsemabor, Fonte, Jaidi, Harding-Antonio, Hammond, Wotton, Lallana, Puncheon-Lambert) raised some eyebrows among the travelling contingent, but the attacking nature of the midfield all but compensates for the failure to play two out and out strikers. Having said that, it would be good to go into games against like Brighton with two up front to send an attacking message; it is easy to get stuck in a defensive mindset when you swamp the midfield. But Brighton are an in-form team and going places under Gus Poyet and if you combine that with this being the first game following Wembley, this was probably going to be the toughest game of the run-in. Taking six points from our next two home games is now crucial.

Next game: Saints v Leyton Orient (Monday 5 April)

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