Thursday, March 23, 2017

Premier League Match 27 - Tottenham 2 Southampton 1


"Not a Penalty, Not a Penalty.... Oh it's the big club... Penalty!"

Spurs away today and that isn’t easy.  They haven’t lost at home all season and though people are pointing out that we were the last side to beat them at White Hart Lane – that was when they were on the beach after Leicester had won the league last season.  It’s annoying but Mauricio Pochettino has turned them from perennial 5th placers to a team that is there or thereabouts, right at the top of the league.  An incredibly hard working team with very physically strong players like Vertonghen, Alderweireld and Dier in defence, Wanyama and Dembele in midfield and a sprinkling of stardust from Christian Eriksen, Dele Alli and Harry Kane.  They are a very difficult team to play against and we got our arses handed to us at St Mary’s earlier on this season to the tune of 4-1.  They absolutely dumped on us in midfield that day so that’s one area we’re going to have to compete strongly in if we are to have any chance today.  They have a bit of a nasty streak in them as well with Vertonghen, Dembele and Dele Alli all capable of being complete shits.  Good players but horrible fuckers.  Something we are lacking in our team.  As well as our ex-manager, they also have some of our ex-players in the aforementioned Toby Alderweireld and Big Vic who would both still be Saints players if most of us had our way.  Can you imagine a back four of Bertrand, Virgil, Toby and Cedric with Big Vic and Romeu in front of them.  Goals conceded – very few.

The full ridiculousness of our fixtures this season came into full view when Chelsea won their FA Cup tie last week and we had yet another postponement as a result, meaning that three more games now have to be shoehorned into April and May.  It suddenly occurred to me how predictable this was in that on the weekends of the FA Cup 5th Round, 6th Round and Semi-Finals, we had pencilled in League Fixtures against Arsenal, Manchester United and Chelsea who are three huge clubs who are almost guaranteed to be still in the FA Cup on those dates.  Ok, we knew the Europa League would give us a game every three days at the start of the season but we got needlessly shafted with the 3 games in 5 days at Christmas and we’re going to get shafted at the end of the season as well.  All entirely preventable is the FA had any nous.

There was some positive news with the England squad announcement in that JWP and Nathan Redmond both got their first call-ups for the full squad, joining Fraser Forster and Ryan Bertrand in Southgate’s first squad as permanent England manager.  That word ‘permanent’ seems to have emboldened Southgate with him binning Walcott and Rooney from the squad.  Walcott is a strange one as he’s been playing this season and doing well but Rooney has had it coming on form grounds for a while.  Then the spoilt it by picking Luke Shaw who has played about 3 games since he left Saints two and a half years ago.

To the teams today and Claude has gone with the same side again, again pairing the calamitous Maya and Jack at centre back.  Harry Kane being injured might not mean it’s as bad as I fear but I reckon the chances of letting in less than two goals are slim.  I always had a go at Pochettino for not having a Plan B but he seems to have now, going 3 at the back with Walker and Davies playing as wing backs.  Referee today is Andre Marriner, who we last had at Wembley when of course, as far as we’re concerned, he didn’t cover himself in glory.

We don’t start that well and Tottenham’s Kane replacement, Son Hueng Min has the first chance.  It’s a brilliant ball from Eriksen out on the right which curls in behind the flailing Yoshida and Son hits it first time only for Fraser to be in the right place to block well.  We’re just holding on at the start with no real presence in midfield but Redmond attempts to break on the left and gets to the ball well before Dier who comes launching in and carts Redders up in the air.  It’s a bad one and you’d be fearing a red card if it was one of ours but of course it’s just a yellow.

We still haven’t really done anything in the game when we go 1-0 down. Dembele, under no pressure gives it to Eriksen and he cuts in from the right into a gaping hole where one of Davis or Romeu should be protecting the centre backs and just passes it into the net from the edge of the box.  It looks like a really good goal but fuck me, how easy did we make it for him?

We learn from this mistake by trying it again as Vertonghen passes it into Alli.  The nearest player is Stephens who is scratching his fucking arse about 5 yards away and marking no one but luckily, Alli’s shot on the turn was scuffed and straight at Fraser.  Apparently, Dele Alli doesn’t want to be called Alli anymore and wishes it to be first name only but he’s such a twat I’ll carry on with Alli.

From our first bit of positive play, JWP’s cross is headed up in the air and JWP does well to win the header.  It drops to Romeu who tries a sort of scissor volley which he hits well and it deflects of Alderweireld and just wide for a goal kick.  Yep, you read that right.

The Romeu effort is a bit of a brief interlude as a long diagonal from Alderweireld is won easily in the air by Alli as Stephens didn’t get off the ground and eventually we smuggle it away for a corner.  From it, Alderweireld has a free header and Fraser gets down well to claw it out.  How one long ball caused this much grief is plain for all to see.  Be big, be strong, mark your man and just head the fucking ball.

We finally have a bit of pressure and some link up play with Bertrand finding Gabbiadini, to Tadic and a pull back and Gabbi swings his left foot, catches it superbly on the run and it curls just wide and into the side netting.  Good effort but oh fuck, it looks like he’s pulled something.  Gabbi carries on – another attack and Cedric hoists in a huge cross which looks like it’s out but Redmond manages to keep it in beyond the back stick.  The lino has flagged for a goal kick and anyway, Tadic creams it over the bar from 6 yards with an open goal.  On the replay it’s nowhere near out so why the fuck has the linesman flagged.  I guess we’ll never know if Tadic knew the flag was up or whether his finish was just shit.  What we do know is that if he’d scored like he should then Marriner and the lino between them would have disallowed it.

Whilst the fume is rising about all this, Gabbiadini is done for the day and Long is on but not yet as Spurs attack again.  Vertonghen plays it into Son and there’s some Keystone cops pinball carnage involving Cedric, Romeu and Yoshida who tries some sort of wanky scorpion kick clearance thing and as it comes out towards Davis, Alli comes in, dives over his leg, crumbles and Marriner does the rest.  Cunts.  There’s contact and I can see why it’s given but he’s completely bought it.  With Kane missing, is Alli going to score?  Of course he fucking is and 2-0 it is.  We’re then allowed to bring Shane Long on to give us 11 players to play against the 12.

So 2-0 down and our main striker off and for a moment it looks like we’re getting buried with Eriksen pulling the strings and nearly putting Son through again.

Right on half time, Redmond attacks on the left and there’s a decent chance but Dembele cynically blocks him off when he tries to go past him.  It’s a ‘good’ foul from a Spurs point of view and 100% deliberate and no attempt to play the ball but Andre the Cunt decides it’s not a yellow card.  We make a laughable bollocks of the free kick with JWP rolling it to no one but Cedric makes something of it by smashing in a shot which Lloris funbles out to Tadic.  Ben Davies takes a swing to try and clear it but misses the ball and whacks Tadic who takes a step before throwing himself.  It’s the same as the Alli incident basically in that the defender didn’t mean to make contact but he did and the forward makes a meal of it.  Needless to say, Andre the Cunt thinks this one is fine and so it’s play on.  What’s the fucking point?  Half time.

To be honest we deserve to be behind as the midfield and defence haven’t competed.  Big Vic and Dembele are just shitting all over Davis in particular and in my opinion we need more presence in there in the shape of Hojbjerg.  Anyway, whilst I’m still trying to come up with a substitution and a tactical switch, the second half starts and Bertrand gets away on the left, fires over a low cross which Alderweireld misses and there’s JWP at the back post to control and ram it into the net.  2-1 – game on!

We are suddenly at least having parity in midfield as Romeu has woken up and we’re getting the ball to Tadic and Redmond but forays forward keep getting halted by Shane Long either mis-controlling or being offside.  Fucking hell man – you’re the fastest player on the pitch and they are leaving half a pitch for you to run into.  Just time your fucking run….  He eventually does time a run and Davis slots him through but his shot from an angle is comfortably saved by Lloris who then for some reason, drops the ball and falls over it.

Boufal is on for Tadic who has again struggled to make much happen and Harry Winks, another little shit in the attitude stakes, is on for Spurs.  Whilst we’re having a decent amount of the play, we not creating much as a combination of Long being offside, being flagged offside when he’s not and Boufal playing like a man who is playing football for the first time, is hampering things somewhat.  The last throw is J-Rod on for Redmond and us going 4-4-2.  I don’t see why J-Rod doesn’t come on for Davis or maybe even a defender.  We’re 2-1 down and not going to get another goal unless something changes.  Like for like – basically replacing a player with an inferior one who was sub for a reason – is unlikely to cut it.

We try going long with Cedric pinging it but J-Rod can’t be arsed to jump and it’s headed back with the lumbering Janssen knocking it past Stephens who doesn’t commit himself when he really should be taking everything out and he eventually hammers in a powerful shot at the near post which Fraser again saves well. 

90 minutes are up and we do have one chance as good play by Long and JWP tees up Boufal on the right hand edge of the box and he cuts infield, it all opens up and then he shanks it wide.  Arse.  The end.

To be honest, I'm not that gutted when it's over and our defeat has been confirmed. I honestly didn't expect to get anything out of today. The only thing gnawing away at me yet again is that we have definitely had the shit end of the important refereeing decisions. The two penalty shouts are so similar it's crazy. Neither Steve Davis or Ben Davies meant to commit a foul but both caught the forward and brought them down without touching the ball.  Yes, Tadic made a meal of it but so did Alli as he always does but they get the penalty and we don't.  The one that really gets me ultimately didn't matter because Tadic whacked the ball over the bar from 3 yards. Southampton cannot go away to places like Arsenal and Tottenham and not get a fair shake of the refereeing decisions and expect to win. It just isn't going to happen.  It probably all seems like sour grapes and to be shitting on about the referee after the game but this is Andre Marriner and maybe he shouldn’t have refereed us this soon after the EFL Cup Final

It’s interesting reading the columns by ex-pro referees in the papers the next day. Graham Poll was incredulous about us not getting a penalty for the Tadic incident and Mark Halsey was up in arms that Eric Dier didn't get sent off for the launching of Nathan Redmond in the first half which would have made a bit of a difference if Spurs are been down to 10 men after 10 minutes.

Claude afterwards was moaning that we let in two goals despite not being under any pressure. That's what happens if you keep playing the same players in central defence and expect to get different results. It’s the definition of madness.  I don't understand why Martin Caceres isn't playing yet? We are wedging out loads of cash to have him here as a non-playing a substitute at the moment whilst the players in his position continue to fuck up on a daily basis. He must be fit enough to start a game now and he must play for the last 11 games of the season. The only thing that I can think of is that we haven't yet another two week break before our next game so he really has to be 100% fit by then.

With the unfortunate injury to Gabbiadini we are now back to where we were before the January transfer window which means playing at the permanently offside Shane Long upfront or J-Rod who still looks nothing like the player he was before his injuries. When you've seen Gabbiadini for a few weeks, you realise quite how limited Shane Long is. Yes he is quick but this is nullified by his brainless running into offside positions.  It should've been tailor made for him today with Spurs playing such a high line but he was caught offside about 6 times and on the one occasion when he wasn't offside, he got flagged anyway, probably because the linesman took one look at who it was running after the ball and decided that he must be offside on the balance of probability.

We started to slowly today and let Spurs dictate the game. The first goal was down to our old favourite of no one closing down the player on the edge of the box and the second was of course a soft penalty. We only really started playing with any intent after half time, got our goal back but I never really sensed that we were going to get another at any point. 

Annoyingly, Spurs are a very good side with a good balance of steel and flair. They are definitely the second best side in the Premier League this season.  Big Vic did a good job in winning the ball though he did often give it back to us if he tried anything more ambitious than s 5 yard ball.  Dele Alli is of course a very good player but a horrible little shit and it seems that Harry Winks is determined to follow in his footsteps. He is not as good a player yet but he seems to have a bit of an attitude about him and is the sort of player that you would like to see get fucking slapped by someone.

There were good performances for Saints from the usual suspects, Romeu in the 2nd half, Cedric, Bertrand. All of Redmond, Tadic and JWP had their moments but were all a little too in and out of the game. Steve Davis really struggled against the physical Tottenham midfield and this is something that I've noticed when we come up against the big sides in that he seems to get out run and outmuscled and caught in possession which doesn't happen to him against the more rank-and-file members of the Premier League. He's had a bit of a ropey old season so it was nice to see Fraser Forster pulling out a few good saves today and looking more like his old self.

Next up, guess what, a two week break but at least this time it's everyone as its international week. After that we return to Premier League action with a home game against Bournemouth who much to my surprise have managed to haul themselves away from the relegation zone with two recent narrow home wins. With Gabbiadini in the team I was really looking forward to playing them but hopefully J-Rod will be able to reproduce the form that he showed at Dean Court or the Vitality Bowl or whatever the fuck it's called these days.

After today’s defeat, the league table says we are still in the top half with two games in hand so it's not all bad, as opposed to Andre fucking Marriner who is very bad indeed.  He doesn't have the personality of Clattenburg in that you want to punch him in the face but he is proving to be just as incompetent.


Thursday, March 9, 2017

Premier League Match 26 - Watford 3 Southampton 4


Fuck Defending, Let's Attack!

Watford are one of those teams who you look at and immediately think that you should win.  They really aren’t that good but like a few others, they seem to keep their head above water.  They’re not a team that grabs the attention of the neutral observer.  Last season it was Deeney and Ighalo banging in the goals but Ighalo turned out to be a one season wonder and they packed him off to China (I think).  Deeney meanwhile has had another solid season and is a decent player and seemingly the only constant with Watford from one season to the next.  He’s certainly the main threat today being the physical striker playing against our non-physical centre backs.  Elsewhere they have the goalkeeper Heurelho Gomes who is absolutely allergic to catching the ball as he looks to punch absolutely anything.  They also have Sebastian Prodl at centre back who is a big lump and more notable for looking like an 80s Porn Star who has just turned up to fix the washing machine.  Oh, and he’s crap.  The manager now is Walter Mazzari who looks like an extra from a de Niro / Pacino / Sporanos type production.  He came in at the start of the season, replacing the popular Quique Sanchez Flores who had done a decent job.

Saints have collected a lot of plaudits since losing the Cup Final last week – there have been more calls for video technology at games but it’s no consolation really.  We can only hope the players will have got it out of their system and put on a decent show today.  In order to win today we’re going to have to go for it as I can’t see us keeping a clean sheet.  We lined up unchanged with Claude having indicated that Martin Caceres would play for the Under 23s on Monday.  So, for today we have another chance for the Maya and Jack show.  Following on from Wembley, today would be an important indicator to how the rest of the season was going to go so let’s see.

In addition to Troy Deeney, Watford appear to be a uniformly massive team so I can’t imagine they’re going to be doing anything much other than going long and trying to pick up second balls etc.  It’s a fairly even start and then Watford win a throw in out on the right.  Up lumbers huge ex-Skate donkey (who they could never afford) Younes Kaboul and a long throw is obviously incoming.  In it comes, Deeney wins it against Yoshida and knocks it on, it ping about and is deflected back to Deeney who has lost the ball-watching Yoshida and he expertly guides it into the far corner with a left footed cushioned volley.  Arse.  Not a great start.  It’s another rolling of the eyes moment when replays show that his foot was miles over the line when he took the throw.  Fucking Skates, always cheating.

So, we’re 1-0 down and they’re not very good and earlier in the season we’d have had no shots and lost 1-0 but we’re a bit of a different proposition now as we carved them open with Tadic playing in JWP who hits it near post and Gomes pushes it wide.  The next attack is all Gabbiadini with a one touch lay off and a sprint to get onto Redmond’s return pass, all the time pointing where he wants the ball.  He gets the shot on target too but Gomes blocks.  Redmond is on fire as well, picking up the ball on the left and firing just wide from distance.  It’s coming but when…?

It looks like a matter of time before we get back into it as we build up well and Cedric passes it into Redmond who flicks a ball to Tadic, goes for the return but runs into traffic.  Watford poke it clear to the edge of the box and Tadic drills it first time across Gomes and into the far corner.  Get in.  If we’d had the prick of a hair-trigger linesman from last week or if we’d been playing against United, then this would have been disallowed as Redmond was farthest forward but not interfering with the play.

With half time approaching I’m quite happy to go in at 1-1 and batter them in the 2nd half but it gets better from another lightning attack.  Redmond into JWP, onto Tadic and he gets his head up and plays it back to Redmond whose first time shot is across Gomes and nestling in the far corner.  Get the fuck in! this is a great team goal from start to finish with a huge contribution from Gabbiadini who doesn’t actually touch the ball.  His movement is so good and his runs so unselfish that the defenders are so occupied with him it opens up everything.  He was even there in case Redmond’s shot came back off the post.  Half time and a good turnaround following the piss poor start.  There is no doubt though that we’ll have to score again to win this as we’ll certainly be coughing up another goal at some point.

The first action of the 2nd half is Gabbiadini skinning Britos down the left cuts in and then tries to find Tadic but they clear it.  He has a weakness – he didn’t want to shoot with his right foot.  Another chance on the break as JWP carries it forward and it’s 3 on 2 with Tadic left and Redders right.  One overhit pass later and it all goes to shit but we win a corner which is headed out as far as Tadic who smashes it from 30 yards and Gomes flies across the goal and tips it over.  The next corner is cleared and Holebas decides to complete the job with a combination of a clothesline and a wrestling throw on JWP.  Tadic’ free kick is well met by Yoshida but Gomes once more gets across smartly to prevent us maybe putting the game to bed.

You know we have a defensive fuck up in us so it’s no surprise that it happens but it’s Romeu who gives it away, sending the always shit Tom Cleverley through.  He finds Okaka but Fraser is in Wall mode and blocks with his foot.  On 70 minutes, Watford throw on the amusingly named Isaac Success and he immediately runs into the massive 5 foot 7, 8 stone unit that is Cedric and collapses like he’s been shot.  Less Isaac Success, more Isaac Hunt.  Claude has a sub of his own to make and it’s Boufal for JWP which is really going for it as we’re still 2-1 up.

Redmond makes his one mistake for the day and gives it away, Watford build up for a change instead of banging it and fuck.  Okaka knocks it out to Issac Hunt who goes down the wing and crosses it in and no one has tracked back with Okaka who brushes aside a half-arsed challenge from Stephens and crashes it into the net.  How the fuck are we not beating this shit? 

Fair play to us, we don’t change mentality and we just go for it but first, we have a go at going behind as Davis dawdles in midfield and Okaka is away but we’re bailed out by a good Stephens tackle.  He finds, Davis and a good cross-field ball to Redmond.  Redmond finds Boufal in space infield and he lines one up and hits it – not terribly well it has to be said but Gomes’ affliction to catching the ball kills him and it bounces off his chest and there’s only one man who is going to be in the right place to knock it in – Gabbiadini with his 6th goal in 4 games, knee-slide and Les Read’s smile gets a little broader and off goes the goalscorer to be replaced with Shane Long.  Your job is done young man.

It’s still us doing all the attacking with Redders picking it up on left after some ridiculous skill from Boufal and running at the fat pornstar who lets him get to the edge of the box and invites him to hit it and Nathan says thanks very much, hits it and leaves Gomes clawing at fresh air as it rips past him and high into the centre of the goal.  4-2 and game over….
Fuck defending, let’s just attack and Boufal gets to line up Kaboul and there’s only one winner there as he’s megged the Skate but loses composure and lashes wide of the near post when a roll across the box would have given Davis a tap in which he probably would have missed.

94 minutes and do we have time for some more defensive shithouse?  Of course we do, allowing a cross to come in from our left, neither centre back covering themselves with glory and it arrives at the back stick where one Watford player finds himself in between Clasie, Long and Cedric and needless to say, Dacoure manages to bundle it into the net.  Luckily the whistle goes for full time before we have the chance to complete the mother of all fuck ups.
To those only viewing the highlights, reading the report on the internet or Garth Crooks picking his team of the week with no knowledge of the game whatsoever, this will look like a tight game and a narrow win but it really was anything but.  Don’t listen to the Watford manager who thought they deserved a point as he’s talking out of his arse.  We were the better side by miles in midfield and attack.  The defences were both pretty ropey to be fair with our issues being well documented and theirs being Kaboul who is an absolute donkey and Pornstar Prodl who is a Sunday League player.  What’s with Holebas on the left as well, some nice touches but he’s seriously got a screw loose.

The 4-2-3-1 formation and the way that the players are responding to it is certainly getting the best out of us going forward.  The combinations of Bertrand and Redmond on the left and Cedric and JWP on the right are clicking and we all know how good tadic can be when he’s on it.  Today he was and he made the whole thing tick with two assists and a goal.  Redmond is further up the pitch than he was a month ago and finding more space and being more direct and also having more players in his vicinity.  He’s got a lot of confidence right now and his one touch play has improved and today he was all one touch, spins and darting runs and a real handful.  Both he and Ryan Bertrand should be certs for the next England squad but they probably won’t be. 

There are issues with a few players in this formation – Steve Davis is deeper than he was previously and in both the cup final and today, he has let his player run past him and the ball has ended up in our net.  He lost Rojo at Wembley for Lingard’s goal and Okaka today.  Maya and Jack were as they always are – they look ok without looking dominant but there’s always a feeling with every goal conceded that they should have done better.  The ‘goals against’ rate has gone through the roof since Jamie Vardy was a wanker at St.Mary’s.  Every time we have played against a team with a big physical centre forward it’s been horrible….  Swansea 2, Watford 3, United 3, West Ham 3. 11 from 4 games.  Clean sheets against Liverpool and Sunderland playing against Sturridge who is whatever the complete opposite of physical is and Jermain Defoe.  Martin Caceres is going to play for the Under-23s on Monday and if he gets through that he simply has to play in the next game – Tottenham away with Harry Kane, currently scoring two at least in every game he plays.

I haven’t mentioned Manolo Gabbiadini because I’m leaving the best til last.  He has single handedly transformed the attacking aspect of the team.  Six goals in his first four games says a lot but it’s only part of the story.  He’s strong, he holds it up, he knocks it off, he spins defenders, he has enough pace, his first three yards is in his head, his movement is different class, he’s always ‘just’ onside and defenders don’t have a fucking clue how to play against him.  Because he’s such a handful it of course gives more space to everyone else and we’ll see more goals from the likes of Tadic, Redmond, Boufal and even JWP.  It’s amazing what a difference one player can make.  He has got so much more to his game than the other strikers we have been using this season.  That’s not saying they don’t have some of the attributes that Gabbiadini has, but they are easier to play against because they don’t have as many of the attributes.  He makes the difference between dominating against poorish sides and losing (which we have done so many times this season) and getting the results – today would have been another of those games.  He will also win us points in games where we maybe don’t play that well.  He of course won’t play this well forever and will have dips etc but this team with Virgil and Caceres (maybe) at centre back and Gabbiadini in this form would be quite something.

As stated, the next game is Spurs away as we’re out of the FA Cup, meaning that our home games against Man United and Arsenal still have to be scheduled, probably to a time that suits them best.  After the Europa League fixture pile up and the 3 games in 5 days at Xmas, it’s been a strange old season in that regard.  Where can we finish this season? – realistically the best we can hope for is 8th as we’re 11 points behind Everton who are 7th.  7th is a Europa League spot this season and it would be absolutely beautiful if we could somehow overhaul them so Koeman is regarded as a failure.  Unlikely but you never know.




Tuesday, February 28, 2017

EFL Cup Final: Manchester United 3 Southampton 2


Don't Make Faces At Him, Try and Save It

After yet another crap night’s sleep it is finally here, EFL cup final day, Southampton against Manchester United. It does seem to have taken absolutely ages to come around and I guess this is because we haven't had a game for two weeks. We had a late substitution last night as the car we were going to travelling decided that it needed to be squad rotated and so my car was requisitioned. I have no problem with driving as my days of alcohol at football disappeared when I had to start being responsible for my kids. My son who is going with me, was born a year after the Cardiff FA Cup final against Arsenal which really puts into perspective how rarely we get to cup finals. Our regular triumvirate is usually made up by my dad but he's managed to book a holiday and is on a boat, floating around somewhere in the South China Seas is desperately trying to get an Internet connection. My eldest daughter has been the beneficiary of rotation on the ticket side of things.

Travel sickness on the coaches has been an issue in the past so unlike the JPT in 2010, it's a 10.15 start to drive to Uxbridge. Despite England playing rugby at Twickenham with a 3 o'clock kick-off there is no issue at the top of the M3 and around the M25 to the M40 and parked in the shopping centre in Uxbridge by 12. A brief stop for food and then on the tube and I think this is quite possibly the earliest I have ever got to a football ground in my life, over three hours before the game kicks off and an hour before the turnstiles open.  It's pretty cold so into Costa to grab a table and evaporate a cauldron of over-priced coffee for an hour. It was quite good watching the queue of pissed off looking Manchester United fans. Hopefully this would not be the first time today to the United fans would look pissed off.

Into the ground and I've been to Wembley a few times but every time I go in the initial view of the pitch is quite breath-taking. The ground it just looks fucking huge and it's hard to get your head round the fact that it holds virtually three times what St Mary's does.  The kids ask me why Saints only got 31,000 tickets when the ground is clearly much bigger than 62,000 people. A brief chat ensues about the corporate level and I try not to use the words “wankers”, “freeloaders” and the phrases “rich bastards” and “those areas will be full of fucking United fans”.  I do use the phrase, "about as far away from the working man's game as you can possibly get" which I'm quite pleased with.  I have nothing against fans sitting in those areas but I just don't like that entire side of things and why there has to be nearly a third of the ground given over to it.

Our team news is as expected. It's the same team that played against Sunderland. Martin Caceres is on the bench as is Sofiane Boufal and the unlucky player who doesn't make the bench is Jordy Clasie. I'm not often right but I called that. José Mourinho has surveyed his embarrassment of riches and picked Chris Smalling at centre back and shifted Marcus Rojo out to left back. Michael Carrick isn't playing so Mata, Herrera and Carlton Pogba make up of the midfield and up front they have Martial, Lingard and the big man, Zlatan Ibrahimovic.  Stop the big man and we have a chance today.

The atmosphere is really good in our end as we approach kick off with some serious renditions of 'Oh when the saints go marching in' and the Markus flag gets a rare outing as we all pass it over our heads from one side of the lower tier to the other. I don't know if it's an illusion because I'm stood right in the middle of it but the Saints fans appear to have got here early to make the most of the day where is the United fans seem to be leaving it to the last minute before entering the ground. This is exactly what happened in Cardiff with the Arsenal fans in 2003. No matter what anyone says, this means a fuck load more to us than it does to them.


A View From Under the Markus Flag

A quick blast through the national anthem which we sing at a much faster pace than the lass who is in the middle of the pitch with a microphone and we are ready to go.

The first ball up to Ibrahimovic sees him against Yoshida and he fouls him and Stephens is straight over and pushing him in the chest.  Good man – don’t be intimidated.  We look ok from the start but it’s United who have the first effort as they pass through midfield and Pogba has all the time in the world to take aim but he hits it straight at Fraser who parries it away.

One of my fears was that we would not have a go but we are having a go but we look a bit open when we lose the ball.  Mind you, so do they as their midfield doesn’t seem arsed about tracking back.  Bertrnd gets on the gallop down the left and gets the ball over but no one’s there and Rojo picks it up but is immediately disposed by Cedric.  Rojo dives in but Cedric keeps going, slides it over and Gabbiadini steers it into the net.  Flag up straight away and there’s not too much angst from our end because it’s up the other end and there’s no TV replay.  Later on though… fucking hell.  It’s a diabolical decision.  The lino’s flag has shot up against Bertrand but the ball never reaches him and he make no movement towards it.  Gabbiadini is onside and it should have counted.  All the times you see llinesman wait until the forward has touched it before they flag and we get the wanker with a hair-trigger.

 Not Offside

 Not Offside

Offside

Like I say, there’s not a huge sense of injustice at the time and Herrera picks it up about 25 yards out and Romeu launches in and clatters him.  Yes it’s a foul it’s not that bad but the Rat Faced Little Prick is rolling around, throwing his arms in the air and imploring Andre Marriner to book his fellow Spaniard which he does.  Up steps Ibrahimovic and bang, over the wall and curling past the falling tree that is Fraser and into the net, about a yard from the post.  Fuck off.  Big screen replay and our wall is a disaster – someone turns their back, someone doesn’t jump and the keeper doesn’t react quickly enough.  Balls.

We react well and are still the better side.  Gabbiadini’s disallowed goal seems to have brought him to life and he expertly tees up JWP and he hits a decent low effort which de Gea gets down very well to save with a strong one handed effort. Herrera then reaps what he sewed earlier as he hauls down Redmond but because the ref has set a precedent due in the main to Hererra’s theatrics, he has to book him as well for what it a nothing challenge.

So, we’re still the better side but we switch off again horribly.  A throw in on the United left is worked infield and Rojo just runs off the back of Davis and squares to Lingard who is in acres.  Yoshida doesn’t throw himself at the ball and just stands there, perfectly screening Fraser’s view and Lingard just passes it into the net.  Shockingly easy schoolboy defending goal to concede.  Oh shit we’re going to get battered four or five.

I’m hoping we can get to half time without anything else going wrong and then Stephens goes on a run upfield, overruns it and piles into Martial who rolls around and all the United players are round the ref.  Oh shit this is going to be a red card isn’t it and then we are completely fucked.  Marriner only hands out a yellow and somehow we get the free kick.  Turns out Lingard (who is also booked) has tripped Stephens which has thrown him off balance and he’s then piled into Martial.  For those worried, despite looking dead, Martial is perfectly ok.

45 minutes are up and Redders is allowed to play a simple ball infront of JWP on the United left and a low cross in and Gabbiadini appears to knock it through de Gea’s legs to make it 2-1.., Get the fuck in… a look to the linesman and this time it stands.  Come on!!!  So, half time and we’re back in it and still very much in the game if we can keep playing as well as we are going forward.  Jose Mourinho is obviously a bit concerned about the lack of tracking in his midfield so on comes Michael Carrick for Juan Mata.  We’re unchanged and away we go.

JWP wins and early corner as his cross deflects of Rojo, over it comes and Yoshida knocks it back in and Redmond lashes a first time volley from an angle which is a great strike but to close to de Gea who react and knocks it over for another corner.  Chris Smalling really should be a wrestler.  Remember that rule we had at the start of the season where referees actually gave penalties for shirt pulling.  Smalling is a joke in this regard.  Anyway, JWP’s corner is headed out and back in again and Gabbiadini swivels with Smalling at his back and hits it first time past de Gea and into the net for 2-2.  It’s right up there with Matt le Tiss in the last game at The Dell and Franny’s one goal.  Our block has gone absolutely mental and Who the fuck are Man United, an explosion of noise and whirling scarves and Seven Nation Army rewritten with Oh, Gabb-i-a-di-ni!  Fucking awesome.


Mental!

There’s still no response from United and Lingard goes in late on Redmond as he breaks forward but the Saints man rides the tackle and keeps going because fo which the ref does fuck all.  Compare and contrast with Shitbag Herrera earlier.  United’s next chance is all of our own making as Fraser has the ball and instead of smashing it, clips it right to absolutely no one in a white shirt and has to redeem himself by rushing out at Ibrahimovic’s feet.  What the fuck was that?  We don’t make it hard for them.  We’ve rocked them right back and we pick them up again and just give it to them.  When we don’t give them stupid chances, all they’ve got is a long ball to the big man.

Meanwhile, Gabbiadini superbly makes something of a pass drilled to him and Davo’s clever backheel puts Cedric in and his low cross is cleared away by Valencia in front of Bertrand who has not quite got in there enough.  JWP fires in another excellent delivery from the left and Romeu is up above Carlton who adds jumping to the list of things he can't be arsed to do and his header smacks off the post and away with de Gea beaten.  Fuuuuuuck!  


Goaaaaaaaaa.....shiiiiiiit!!!!

There’s a scare at our end and again it’s our own doing as Stephens gets under a cross and just misses it and Lingard at the back post has time but fucks it up and lashes over.

Boufal on for the disappointing Tadic on 70 and Long is on for Gabbiadini on 80.  To be fair he’s looking knackered but who do you want in the box if the ball bounces?  Five minutes to go and Boufal sends Bertrand away on the left, a low cross and Long misses it whilst being kicked up in the air by Bailly and the ball fizzes across and safe.  Again it’s a half hearted appeal so it isn’t going to get given.  We win a corner and despite Smalling still doing the Nacho Libre wrestling thing, Stephens heads at goal and Ibrahimovic clears from in front of the goal.  Another corner, this time from Boufal and it’s cleared up and Yoshida fucks up and sends Herrera away on the right.  The build up is slow-ish and we get players back and they’re all back when Herrera delivers the cross but no one is marking the 6 foot 5 centre forward and he buries the free header from 6 yards.  Heart breaking and gut wrenching.  You can’t really blame the keeper when there’s a free header from 6 yards but there was a time when he’d have made himself huge and the ball would have hit him.  Not this season though.

Herrera still has time to try and get Romeu sent off as he gets caught and can’t decide which part of his face to hold which is a common problem when none of it actually hurts.  We throw J-rod on for the last few minutes but we’ve gone and we don’t create another chance.

Game over. Gutted. Left with a sour taste in the mouth and the feeling of being ripped off. It's quite a common occurrence when you're playing one of the big clubs - Arsenal away this season for example.  I'll get into the disallowed goal later on but right now there is pride in my team, pride in our supporters mixed in with the sick feeling in my stomach. How the fuck were we the better team for virtually the entire match and manage to lose? We come so close against the multibillionaires of Manchester United and it's fucking horrible. In 2003 we all stayed in the stadium and watched Arsenal pick up a cup but there's no fucking way I'm staying here to watch these cunts.  Our boys have already come over to clap the fans so as soon as they've gone up the steps to receive their losers medals, we’re out of there.

In the queue for Wembley Park tube station, I'm surprised/not surprised to find thousands of United fans who have obviously left the ground before I did. Another throwback to 2003 where a lot of the arrogant fans of the winning team can't even be arsed to stick around long enough to watch their precious commodities pick up the trophy.  It means that little to them.  If we'd won the Wembley staff would have had to kick us all out about two hours after the finish.  The unexpected bonus in all this of course is that we get to stand there and listen to United fans singing songs about Liverpool and Manchester City. They really are a bunch of pricks with absolutely no clue whatsoever. I have to make a distinction between Manchester United usual away following who are a very good following but I guess a cup final in London brings out all the plastic twats. There is one song that changes the lyrics of ‘Something Good’ and the United version has a line which says “Jose playing the way that United should”. Yeah right. Hit the long ball up to Zlatan - great football that!  I know it’s only a song but do you genuinely believe that?

Back to Uxbridge and home. The junction at the top of the M3 is a fucking nightmare so it's onto the A3 and home. I managed to keep in a fairly good mood was driving home in the pissing rain but when I get home it's like a throwback to the old days where a bad result would ruin it for the entire weekend. I don't wanna talk about it and thinking about it comes later of course, when I'm trying and failing to sleep.

It was always going to be the case that how well we dealt with Ibrahimovic was going to define how the game went and the bottom line is that we didn't deal with him. We lost because of the defending as all three goals had elements about them that was very poor from our point of view.  The first goal was a slightly needless foul, shambolic defensive wall and the goalkeeper not getting down quick enough. The second goal was just too open, not tracking a runner and a defender not throwing himself at the ball. The third, I know we were stretched but defenders were back and giving him a free header from 6 yards is absolutely criminal.

In my opinion the centre back issue killed us. Maya and Jack passed around nicely but at the key moments they went missing so all the pretty football and occasional good defending doesn't make up for that I'm afraid. We as a team are not nasty enough which is one of the reasons why I thought Caceres should have played from the start. We cannot allow the well-publicised centre back issues to happen again in any area of the team if we are serious about trying to compete for trophies against the likes of Manchester United.  I’m not feeling too charitable towards José Fonte at the moment.

With the disallowed goal, we should have been all round the referee and made him go and talk to the linesman. If he had then it's a quick conversation to work out that Gabbiadini has scored and Bertrand is not a factor because the ball hasn't reached him. Okay, it might not have played out that way but we should've made a massive fuss about it as you can be damn sure that United would've done. Likewise, with the wall on the first goal. Chris Smalling was barging us all out of the way and someone should've been digging him in the back. This is our wall now fuck off.  In an ideal world, we want the referees to be better but without that, do you have to accept that if you can't beat them, join them.  If Nathan Redmond goes down screaming like a little bitch instead of staying his feet then Jesse Lingard probably gets sent off. Again, you can be sure as shit that if Herrera, Pogba, Ibrahimovic or Martial had been clipped by a player on a second booking they would've been over in the ground straight away and we would be down to 10 men.

I understand the reluctance to flood the game with technology and endless stoppages but surely if the ball is dead. Like it is when it actually hits the back of the net then it really wouldn't be too much to ask to check. It would've taken five seconds to find out that that was a goal. When I looked on Twitter at half time, there was a picture which showed Gabbiadini was clearly onside.  It was posted about 30 seconds after the actual incident.

I thought our standout players were of course Gabbiadini, ably supported by Redmond and the two fullbacks who are both excellent. I was also very impressed by a Oriol Romeu despite playing most of the game with the booking, thanks for that little bitch Herrera. You could tell he was really concentrating on what challenges to going for and what not to go in for which I think will augur well for the future as it shows that he does really think about his game and he will only get better. I’d also like to big up JWP’s contribution as I thought he was excellent today – one of his best games in a Saints shirt.  For me, Tadic and then Boufal didn't really do it. I've seen some reports that suggested the Tadic had a good game so it may be down to interpretation but I'm afraid I didn't see it and I thought it was an obvious substitution to make when he went off even though it didn't have much effect.  I can’t really find too much fault in what Claude did.  He got the formation and tactics right but mistakes cost us.  Taking Gabbiadini off could be seen as a mistake but I could see the logic in it.  There’s no guarantee that Caceres would have made a difference but I suspect he might have done and I expect him to be in the side for the next league game.

Forster 5, Cedric 8, Bertrand 8, Yoshida 5, Stephens 5, Romeu 8, JWP 8, Davis 7, Tadic 6, Redmond 8, Gabbiadini 9.  Long 6, Boufal 6.

There are a couple of moments to really stand out for me in the whole game. When the second goal went in it was fucking amazing. We had come back from 2-0 down and they were rocking and at that point, I really thought we were going to win. As the game kicked off again and we were all still going mad, it was with great amusement that I had my son piling in to the ‘Who the fuck are Man United’ chants at full volume. Don't repeat that school young man.

As for United, well they did enough to win so I guess you have to congratulate them on that. Ibrahimovic is completely carrying the team are and whilst I respect that he is a great player, I found it quite surpising that for somebody who prides himself on being a bit of a tough guy, he really hit the deck easily, especially in the second half.  It was a bit pathetic to be honest. As for the others, well Ander Herrera is my new hate figure - what an absolute shit bag. Diving around and screaming like a little bitch whenever anyone gets near.  Absolutely fuck off. Then there is Carlton Pogba. The Carlton Palmer comparison really isn't too far fetched. When there’s a situation in midfield and Pogba has to use strength and power then he's pretty good and he batters players out the way and keeps possession and that's good but when he's trying to be creative, fucking hell. There are a couple of occasions when he looked up and chipped the ball out of play and there wasn’t a United player within 30 yards so what the fuck was the aiming at? Still, he has a new haircut and his own emoji on Twitter and he is very marketable. José Mourinho's interview after the game was quite magnanimous in that he admitted that the better side lost which was quite good of him. He of course talked up the influence of his main man but then he tried to talk up Pogba which was a bit of a laugh because everybody knows that he was shit and he's just trying to deflect away from it but all he really did was highlight it.

So, it's a glorious defeat. Fuck that, I hate glorious near misses. It would be nice be the bride instead of the bridesmaid so to speak. One thing I've been reminded of in the day or so since the game is that you can tell the class of supporters of other teams by how they react to you after that was basically an extremely gut-wrenching defeat. The supporters of our own team today were absolutely magnificent from start to finish and I loved every second of being in amongst it all at Wembley Stadium. Gut-wrenching and heart breaking. Maybe next year, maybe not but whatever happens, I was reminded today what a great club I am proud to support.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

EFL Cup Final Preview - Manchester United vs Someone Else


I Think I'm Sitting Roughly Where the 'B' is.

Here we go then.

EFL cup final at Wembley against Manchester United. To my mind, we are serious underdogs in this game and therefore have nothing to lose. Let's go for it.  It's the first leg of a United Treble though so we'd better not spoil it for everyone as that would never do.

After the fixture carnage throughout the season and especially at Christmas, we have been in the strange position of having two weeks off before the final which is a fact not lost on our moaning bastard of an opposing manager, José Mourinho. Over the past few weeks he has taken every opportunity in every interview he has had to point out the fact that we have had two weeks off whilst Manchester United have had three games. Two are against a mid-table French side and one against a team from the bottom of the championship. He made no mention of our three games in five days over Christmas but then you wouldn't really expect him to would you? I feel really sorry for you Jose because you feel the need to get your excuses in early despite the fact that Manchester United have more money than the rest of the clubs on the planet put together. They've actually spent quite a lot of it to this season with the admittedly ludicrously overpriced Paul Pogba, Zlatan Ibrahimović and Henrik Mkhitaryan joining for a combined outlay of about £150 million plus about a million a week in wages. Yet still, the moaning twat can only complain that it's a not a level playing field.

Things are so weighted in our favour that our captain decided to make it more even by flouncing off to another club for more money. That doesn't happen to Manchester United that often does it? Then, our best player gets injured and we have absolutely no choice but to promote someone from the Academy. In the build up to this particular game we are weighing up whether to play the academy lad or to play a newly signed player who hasn't played for over a year.  If United lost one of their first choice centre halves then they could bring in the England International Chris Smalling or a choice of Dutch international Daley Blind or £30 million worth of Eric Bailly. It's really tough being Manchester United and Jose Mourinho.  They also don't have to deal with the continual exodus of players who see the bright lights and follow them transfixed into the promised land.  Only it’s not often the way it turns out.

Two of the players they've taken off of Saints in the last couple of seasons are Morgan Schneiderlin and Luke Shaw. Morgan has moved on after being fourth choice defensive midfielder for a season and a half and Luke is currently their fourth choice left back, which Mourinho pointed out in an interview a couple of days ago.  Like I said, it's really tough being Manchester United with all the advantages the other teams of got. Shut up you wanker.

Predictably, it has been quite quiet in the Saints camp apart from us finally completing the signing of Martin Caceres on a free transfer. Personally, if he proves his fitness in training and totally bosses it in an 11 aside friendly then I'd be tempted to start him but only because Maya and Jack have looked dodgy as fuck whenever confronted with a big physical centre forward. I don't give any thought about the notion that Jack Stephens deserves to play because he's played the last few. This is top level sport we are talking about and whilst Stephens played well against bottom of the table Sunderland last week, he was abysmal against Arsenal, dodgy against Llorente and Swansea and he shat his pants every time Andy Carroll came near him against West Ham.   If you want sentimentality to play a part in selection and you want to pick players who have got us here then Gabbiadini doesn’t play and either Shane Long or J-Rod gets the nod and no one in their right mind would do that. Having said all that, it would be a hell of a risk to play Caceres and I can't see Claude taking that risk so I am fully anticipating Maya and Jack to start.

The other unknown is of course what formation we will play. We simply have to play 4-2-3-1 as in the wide open spaces of Wembley, we will get absolutely picked apart if we play any variation of the diamond formation and we will need to be protecting the two centre backs with two midfielders in front of them. Assuming Claude does go with that formation then the rest of the team more or less picks itself. Fraser in goal, Cedric and Ryan Bertrand will be the full backs, Davo and Romeu will be the defensive midfielders. The attacking three in midfield will be Redmond Tadic and JWP with Manolo Gabbiadini up front. 

The bench will contain a goalkeeper, probably Mouez Hassen, Caceres, McQueen, Hojbjerg, Clasie, Boufal, Long, J-Rod. Actually, that's eight and out of these eight, I'd leave Clasie out but maybe Boufal’s injury will mean there’s no decision to make.

United I assume will pick De Gea, Valencia, Blind, Rojo, Bailly, Carrick, Pogba, Herrera, Mkhitaryan, Ibrahimović, Martial. Subs bench including any of Romero Schweinsteiger Smalling, Fellaini, Darmian, Shaw. Young, Rooney, Lingard, Mata, Rashford.  An embarrassment of riches - Still, level playing field and all that.

Having said all this about the level playing field argument and the fact that they are favourites, I still believe we have a real chance on this game and I don't believe they are that good. If we let them play and they play well then they are going to win but like with our two relatively recent wins at Old Trafford, we have to make life uncomfortable for them. Their first obvious weakness is the defence with Blind being slow and Rojo & Bailly being prone to concentration lapses. I see the movement of Gabbiadini being a problem for them and at the pace of Shane Long being a problem for them later in the game. Assuming Carrick plays then we of course need to pressure him the entire time and that will probably be a job for Tadic. Playing on the break is going to give us our best opportunities as none out of Pogba, Mkhitaryan, Martial or Mata if he plays, fancy running towards their own goal too much.  We can do this.

Cup finals have a habit of throwing up on likely heroes so for us I guess that leaves you looking at Maya Yoshida, Oriol Romeu or JWP. Shane Long has also got to be a good bet for first goalscorer even though he is likely to start on the bench and let's hope the game pans out like Liverpool away in the semi-final.

In terms of us being the underdogs, it's not quite 1976 as we are a much better team today than the Boys of 1976 were in the league at least.  It's not quite 2003 either as we were playing against the Invincibles from Arsenal.  It is however quite similar to our last league cup final in 1979 when we were playing Nottingham Forest who at the time were one of the best teams in the country whilst we were a mid-table side. I remember quite a lot about that game at the old Wembley even though I was only 10 at the time and we had a right go, deservedly been 1-0 up at half time before the roof fell in in the second half and we letting three goals in pretty rapid succession. Our rally at the end and Nick Holmes’ thunderous consolation goal probably made it look a little bit closer than it was.

Also from 1979, I remember the walk up Wembley way towards the twin towers and of the general awesomeness of the old stadium both from the outside and when you got inside. The new ground just doesn't have that feeling as you walk up to it but it is incredibly impressive once you get with in view of the pitch. One thing I recommend from watching England a few times is don't bother to go for a pie or a pint or some fucking Gastro bollocks at half time because by the time you got down there got served and got back you would've missed a good 10 minutes of the second-half. My advice is to just proceed straight to toilet, go for a piss and get back to your seat as soon as possible.

Up until the JPT final in 2009 I had never actually seen Saints win at Wembley. A Charity Shield defeat to Liverpool in 1976, League Cup defeat to Forest in 1979 and during Wembley’s rebuilding we had the 2003 defeat at the Millennium Stadium to Arsenal. I will enjoy the day no matter what happens but I know that I and everyone reading this will enjoy it a fucks sight more if we win. Bring it home lads and let Jose bleat about fixture congestion all the way back to Manchester.  Give us an even playing field - and by that I mean a decent refereeing performance - and we can do this.

To paraphrase an ex-Saint – I would love it if we beat them, love it!

1-0 to Saints, Shane Long 85 Minutes.