Saints will be looking to make it eighteen straight home victories on Saturday when fellow high fliers Middlesbrough visit St. Mary’s.
Boro have looked an impressive outfit under returning local Tony Mowbray, playing nice flowing football and conceding goals has become a rare occurrence. Currently lying in third place, three points behind leaders Saints, the Teesside club have only lost once so far in the league, away at Nottingham Forest,
It is already looking like a key game, as both clubs will be hoping their good starts to the season will see them in the promotion shake up in May.
Amongst the visiting squad, will be one ex-Saint….
The Melbourne born forward started his career in his native Australia, playing for Gippsland Falcons and Cranbourne Comets before Saints snapped him up on a youth contract in 2000.
Despite some impressive performances at youth and reserve level, ‘Skippy’ struggled to force his way into the first team setup at the Dell. Battling with the likes of James Beattie, Kevin Davies, Brett Ormerod, Marian Pahars and errr Agustin Delgado, McDonald had to go out on loan to get regular football. Spells with Huddersfield Town and then AFC Bournemouth followed but he didn’t impress new Saints boss Gordon Strachan enough to retain him and he was released in the summer of 2003.
The tenacious frontman only made three appearances for the first team, and although he looked lively he lacked the quality required to sustain a Premier League place.
After Saints, he was ironically signed for his beloved Celtic by Strachan via spells with Wimbledon and Motherwell, and it was Strachan again who brought him to the North East. The Australian international was in impressive goalscoring form for Boro towards the end of last season, but has only scored once so far in this campaign at Barnsley in August.
I was lucky enough to catch up with Scott Gordon, a former teammate of McDonald’s in the Saints Academy setup. Here is what Scott had to say about his namesake:-
‘I played alongside the ‘wizard from Oz’ about 10/11 years ago. Well when he was there I did. Scott Mc was a talent even at 17 when he first came to Saints, so more often than not he was jetting around the world playing for Australia in various Youth International games and tournaments.
Our first game was away to Charlton on a pitch hidden behind the corner of the Valley Stadium. We lost 1-0 and it was slim pickings that day for Maccers.
Scott was and still is a fantastic player. Small but strong as a bull, he could hold off the biggest of defenders. A great first touch and lightning fast feet got him a few kicks from me in training. But as always he got up and on with it. He was never one for crying at the ref or taking a tumble at the slightest push.
Around our digs he liked to show off his strong Scottish roots by proudly wearing his Celtic shirt. And maybe it was just me, but every now and then I could hear a wee Scottish brogue through his Aussie accent.
We could all tell he was going to make it, and along with Brian Howard and Chris Baird he went on to ‘bigger and better things’ away from St Marys.
Every time he comes on the tv I do make a point of saying “I used to play alongside him you know”.’
Middlesbrough fan David McNally gave me his thoughts on the Antipodean striker:-
‘Scott could be a game and season changing player for Boro. Last seasons top scorer has hit a frustrating patch in front of goal but is still an important and hard working member of the team.
Scott arrived with a big goal scoring reputation from SPL giants Celtic fleeing Tony Mowbray’s revolution to reunite with Gordon Strachan. Both managers failed and as Boro’s season nose dived so did Scott’s chances of making Australia’s world cup squad. Mowbray returned to Boro to rescue his home town club from relegation. Many assumed the players Mowbray had let go from Celtic and then inherited at Boro would be moved on again with Scott a prime candidate.
This was not the case and Mowbray breathed new life in to the team and notably Scott.
Mowbray paired the rejuvenated Marvin Emnes with Scott McDonald. The pairing sparked as Boro destroyed Hull 4-2 away. As Leroy Lita departed Boro fans stayed calm and trusted in the pairs ability and as the start to the season proved the trust was repaid. Scott’s hard work, first touch and link up play has led to goals and chances for team mates while taking his focus off of goal scoring. He has earned himself a recall to the Australian squad since Mowbray’s arrival.’
22nd April 2005, approximately 21:58. Fifteen year old Edward Upson hits the ball first time from twenty five yards. Andrew McNeill is helpless in the Southampton net. Goal Ipswich Town.
A heartbreaking end to a memorable season for the Saints youngsters, losing the FA Youth Cup final with just two minutes of extra time left to be played.
The first leg had been played at St. Mary’s four days earlier, Saints leading through David McGoldrick before being pegged back by a double from Irishman Cathal Lordan, Leon Best netting the equaliser that kept the tie on a knife edge. The second leg had remained goalless despite Saints dominance, Ipswich thankful to keeper Shane Supple that it got to extra time. Seemingly heading for penalties, substitute Upson was the youngest player on the pitch when he stole the headlines, and the silverware for the Suffolk side.
For young lads with the world at their feet, it must have been difficult to take. For some it was to be their career highlight, for others, just the beginning. Football is a cruel world, and as is commonplace, despite being the cream of the crop as young players not all would be destined for the top.
Actually in this instance it was the losers who have fared better, the Saints squad boast four current Premier League players, the Ipswich squad none. While the Saints players have commanded massive transfer fees between them and gained many international caps, the Ipswich team have not. Having said that, not all of the Saints squad has achieved all of their footballing aims.
I decided to find out where they are now, and how different the careers of these players now hitting their peak age of 24/25 have fared.
Andrew McNeil – The Scottish keeper left Saints in January 2006, returning to his native Edinburgh with SPL side Hibernian, he forced his way into the first team at Easter Road, including playing in the 2007 League Cup final win. He was later replaced in the side and released in 2009. He spent a season in the third division with Montrose before signing for First Division Raith Rovers in 2010. He was released by Raith this summer and signed for Livingston where he is currently first choice.
Craig Richards – Local lad Richards was released by Saints in the summer of 2006. He was picked up by Conference side Salisbury City in 2007. Spells at Eastleigh, Bognor Regis Town and Winchester City followed. He now plays for Whitehawk FC in the Ryman League Division One South.
Sebastian Wallis-Tayler – The frenchman left Saints the summer after the Cup Final and signed for Havant & Waterlooville before playing for Bognor Regis Town and Lewes. He is now back in his native France playing for non-league outfit CA Lisieux.
Sean Rudd – After being released by Saints, Rudd had an unsuccessful trial with former club Oxford United before sadly retiring through injury. Now works for a Sports Shoe company.
Martin Cranie – Had already played first team football on loan at Bournemouth and Premier League football for Saints at the time of the Youth Cup final. He played in the Premier League under Harry Redknapp, before finding chances limited under George Burley in the Championship. Cranie had two spells on loan at Yeovil Town before reuniting with Redknapp at Portsmouth for the 2007 season. Spent time at QPR and Charlton on loan before joining Coventry City in 2009 where he is still a regular for the Championship outfit. Has gained caps for England at U21 level.
Lloyd James – The Welsh utility man earned a professional contract with Saints in 2006, and made over seventy first team appearances in the Championship and League One before his somewhat surprise release (having been a regular in the team) in 2010. He soon signed for Colchester United and is now an established member of the U’s first team. A Welsh U21 international.
Tim Sparv – Finnish midfielder Sparv left Saints in 2007 to sign for Swedish club Halmstads BK, he is now playing in the Dutch first division with FC Groningen via a loan spell in his home country. He has been capped fifteen times by Finland.
Nathan Dyer – The tiny winger made his first team debut for Saints at the start of the season following the final. He was loaned to Burnley before coming back and getting more regular gametime at St. Mary’s. He went on loan again to Sheffield United in 2008, before really flourishing at Swansea City, firstly on loan before joining permanently in 2009 and he is now a regular in their Premier League side.
Theo Walcott – Made his first team debut at sixteen and was soon turning heads at a higher level. Chelsea had already shown an interest in him, but it was Arsenal who paid £5 million with a potential outcome of £12 million (although that is seemingly no longer the case) for him in 2006. He has now played over one hundred times for the Gunners. He became the youngest ever full England international in 2006 and was the surprise inclusion in Sven Goran Erikssons’s World Cup Squad of 2006. He has now played eighteen times for his country.
Leon Best – The Irish striker had already played in the Premier League for Saints by the time of the final, and also spent a period on loan with QPR. Further loans with Sheffield Wednesday, Bournemouth and Yeovil Town followed before he rejected a new contract with Saints in 2007 and joined Coventry City, the tribunal setting the fee at £650k. His performances for the Sky Blues were enough to persuade Newcastle United to move for him and is now a first team player with the Toon in the Premier League. He has represented Ireland at senior level.
David McGoldrick – McGoldrick was handed a first team debut in the September following the match at Portman Road, but it would take him another three years and loan spells at Notts County, Bournemouth and Port Vale before he would be considered a regular. He was an ever present in the Saints team that dropped out of the Championship, scoring twelve goals and left for Nottingham Forest for £1 million the following summer.
Kyle Critchell – Defender Critchell was hampered by a serious injury in 2005 and was eventually loaned out to Torquay United in 2006. He was released the following summer and joined Chesterfield. He joined Weymouth in June 2007 before signing for Wrexham the following season, injuries again stunted his progression and he was loaned to York City before rejoining the Terras. He currently plays for hometown club Dorchester Town in the Blue Square South division who he signed for in 2009.
Ashlee Jones – Sub keeper Jones was released in the summer of 2005 and signed for Rushden & Diamonds, he has played for an array of clubs since and eventually made his football league debut for Darlington in 2009, he now plays for Braintree Town in the Blue Square Premier division.
Adam Lallana – The only member of the squad still at St. Mary’s, the creative midfielder is now a lynchpin in Nigel Adkins side and has made one hundred and thirty appearances for the club, now catching the eye of Premier League suitors he has been capped at U21 level by England.
Feliciano Condesso – Portuguese midfielder Condesso left Saints in 2007 without playing for the first team, somewhat surprisingly he joined La Liga side Villarreal but couldn’t break into the first team setup there either. He played for their ‘B’ side in the Spanish third tier before joining UD Logrones and now plays for Ontinyent CF.
Gareth Bale – The youngest member of the Saints squad, aged fifteen, Bale made his first team debut in 2006 and played forty times that season as Saints made it to the Championship play offs. Hot property, the likes of Real Madrid and Manchester United were said to be interested, but it was Spurs who signed the Welshman for an initial fee of £5 million that rose to £7 million and Tommy Forescast. Bale struggled to make an impact at White Hart Lane to start with, but is now considered one of the best players in the world. A notable hat trick in the Champions League against Inter at the San Siro propelling him to super stardom. He has played thirty times for Wales.
Josh Dutton-Black – Winger Dutton-Black left Saints in 2007 and signed for AFC Totton. He has since had spells at Salisbury, Kidderminster, Eastleigh, Bognor Regis Town and Didcot Town. He now plays for North Leigh in the Southern League Division One South & West.
Shane Supple – Retired. Now a Gaelic Football player.
Michael Synott – Released by League of Ireland side Dundalk in the summer of 2010.
James Krause – Now playing for Cambridge City in the Southern League Premier division.
Chris Casement – Now playing for Linfield in the IFA Premiership. Capped by Northern Ireland.
Aidan Collins – Now playing for the University of London FC.
Sammy Moore – Now playing for AFC Wimbledon in League Two.
Cathal Lordan – Now playing for Cork City in the League of Ireland First division.
Liam Trotter – Now playing for Millwall in the Championship.
Owen Garvan – Now playing for Crystal Palace in the Championship. Eire U21 international.
Liam Craig – Now playing for St. Johnstone in the Scottish Premier League.
Daryl Knights – Now playing for Newport County in the Blue Square Premier League.
Danny Haynes – Now playing for Barnsley in the Championship.
Blair Hammond – Now playing for Ipswich Wanderers in the Eastern Counties League division one.
Charlie Sheringham – Now playing for Dartford in the Blue Square South.
Ed Upson – Now playing for Yeovil Town in League One.
Andy Reynolds – Now playing for Lowestoft Town in the Ryman Premier divsion.
Stuart Ainsley – Now playing for Lowestoft Town in the Ryman Premier divsion.
It is clear to see that the losing Saints squad have, on the whole fared better than their Ipswich counterparts. Although it is staggering to see that of the thirty four players involved, fifteen of them are now playing at non-league level.
This isn’t a fate exclusive to these young finalists either, of the 2007 Liverpool winning side, only two players have since played for the first team, and only one (Jay Spearing) is still on the fringe. Their defeated opponents that day Manchester United fielded Danny Welbeck who has now become a first team player, the rest of the names are less familiar. In fact if you were to go through the lineups of all the previous finals, you would find only a handful of players plying their trade at the top of the footballing tree. Another case of foreigners ruining the English game? Hardly. These days half the youth teams are foreign players as clubs look to invest abroad as early as possible, all hoping to discover the next Lionel Messi. The fact is the standard required gets higher every season and more are likely to fall by the wayside with every intake. Also, I always wonder how much difference in ability there is between some players playing non-league and those in the lower echelons of the professional game. Not that much I would wager, and in reality we could probably fill another four divisions of professional clubs if it were possible.
Either way, the differing fortunes of some of these young players is a harsh reminder that the career of a footballer is a privilege to be treasured.
It is an unusual position for a Saints fan to be looking down on the rest of the league after the opening two games. Notoriously slow starters, it is the first time Saints have won their opening two games for twenty three years.
But should we be surprised? Nigel Adkins’ tireless enthusiasm for the job, our relentless end to last season and the additions of some quality players in the transfer window screams of a professional and assured approach to the new campaign. On top of that Adkins focus on fitness, somewhere we seriously failed at the start of last season has clearly paid off, as our lean first team squad look sharp and hungry.
There will be a lot of talk about “momentum” and it definitely plays a part. Steve Grant pointed out on twitter today that Saints have dropped just four points from the last available fifty one, which is phenomenal form. Couple this with the fact that our promoted chums Brighton are keeping up so far, also winning both their games.
What we have at St. Mary’s though, that I believe to be the most important part is a “team” in the truest sense of the word. While Leicester spend big, buying lots of new players, Adkins approach has been to keep the core of last seasons successful side and add to it gradually. Jack Cork has come straight in, and his quality is clear for all to see, while the other new boys Steve de Ridder and Danny Fox look like they will have to be patient to break into what is, a so far this season, an excelling group. The loss of Alex Chamberlain to Arsenal, in the least shocking transfer move of the summer (although perhaps gazumped by Mr. Fabregas and Barca today) hasn’t had any negative effect whatsoever yet, and with de Ridder looking like a shrewd bit of business, there is a fair chance it won’t at all.
There is much talk of new Strikers and Centre halves that don’t look like dying down anytime soon, but with the assured performances of Aaron Martin against Leeds, and Dan Seaborne at Barnsley, coupled with the resurgence of David Connolly up front, I am not sure we are “desperate” for players in any position.
While we can enjoy our 100% start, it is natural as a Saints fan to look for the catch. We simply aren’t used to a good start, and I for one have already scanned the fixture list for the first “back to earth with a bump” outing, and actually tomorrow night’s trip to Portman Road could be it. They are my outside tip for promotion and it will no doubt be a tough place to go. Paul Jewell is no mug at this level, and the acquisitions of Lee Bowyer and Michael Chopra make them an exciting looking team.
The opening two game winning side of 1988, did go on and win their third match to, so we aren’t incapable, but if we are looking for omens, Chris Nicholl’s class of 1988/89, Neil Ruddock, Barry Horne and co finished up 13th in Division One, and I would like to think we are aiming slightly higher than that. In better news, that season, of our current opponents, only Forest, Derby, Coventry and Millwall finished above us.
West Ham United (h) 4-0
Queens Park Rangers (a) 0-1
Luton Town (h) 2-1
Leeds United (h) 3-1
Barnsley (a) 0-1
Ipswich Town (a) ?
Whatever happens, we have already sent a message to the Championship old guard, that we haven’t come here to make up the numbers, and our destination is up.
Where better to get an all round overview of the thoughts of Championship fans on the coming season than the fantastic club specific blogs. I caught up with a contributor/tweeter from each of the twenty four Championship clubs and got their thoughts on the coming season…
What can we expect from your club this season? Expect to see a far more resilient and united team at Oakwell this time out. What we may lack in stand-out names on our team sheet, we will more than make up for in our approach and ethic. Many have Barnsley FC as relegation certainties, I disagree. We feel the time may be arriving when our Academy and shrewd acquisition may just begin to bare fruit.
Who is your most important player? It’s a very fresh (expected first eleven) this season, but I would highlight Jacob Butterfield who has featured last season, but would expect to make it in to automatic selection this season. He has excellent skills and vision, which would make him our natural playmaker to link our attacking force together.
Your predicted finishing position? Mid table.
Who might win the Championship? Big Sam will sort it at West Ham United.
Who definitely won’t? Peterborough United.
Most anticipated fixture? It would probably be Leeds United. Last term we took 4 points off our local rivals and love to destroy their so called mighty status. No Leeds fan would admit they were the weaker team last season and have attributed both results as a poor day at the office on their part. Let’s see!
Most anticipated fixture that doesn’t involve your club? Champions League Final, to see if Barcelona really have re-written the football blueprint. Will Manchester United or any club overcome them soon? It’s an interesting situation.
If you could take one player from someone else’s club (Championship only), who would it be? Kevin Nolan will be different class in the Npower Championship. His willingness to compete and his goals mark him a class apart.
You find yourself stuck in Elland Road. How do you escape unnoticed? Wait until they score first, knowing that their demise will inevitably follow later in the game versus The Super Reds. Pride always comes before a fall and in this instance, there’s always so much smug self satisfaction going on, they would fail to see anything else happening … You only sing when you’re winning!
What can we expect from your club this season? Err, good question. Things are very odd at the moment, not even sure if we have a full squad! I hope some entertaining football though under Chris Hughton.
Who is your most important player? Any who are left? 😉 Difficult to say, but I will be really pleased if we can keep Scott Dann. He is an amazing defender.
Your predicted finishing position? I’ll be happy to be in the play off mix as a minimum.
Who might win the Championship? Got to between Leeds, Forest, West Ham, Leicester and I hope us! (Well you never know!)
Who definitely won’t? Peterborough. Sorry Posh.
Most anticipated fixture? Probably v West Ham as there is no love lost between our present board and our previous board. Also the way we knocked them out of the Carling Cup last season.
Most anticipated fixture that doesn’t involve your club? Leicester v Forest I would have thought.
If you could take one player from someone else’s club (Championship only) who would it be? This is tough, because I didn’t pay any attention to the Championship last year mainly because I didn’t think we would be in it this year! 🙁
You find yourself stuck in The Ricoh Arena. How do you escape unnoticed? I would ask could they tell me where the other two Cathedrals were!
What can we expect from your club this season? More of the same. Gus Poyet is very definite in his views on how the game should be played: pass, pass and pass again. We have some exciting new players offering lots of attacking promise whilst we’ve yet to strengthen at the back. Maybe we’ll win every game 6-5.
Who is your most important player? That’s a tough one given our new blood. Craig Mackail-Smith is the big money big (and long) name but I have a sneaky feeling that Will Hoskins will turn out to be key for us this year. At the back we’ll be looking for Gordon Greer to lead by example, and that includes not picking up needless sending offs.
Your predicted finishing position? Hopes of ‘doing a Norwich’ are perhaps a tad optimistic, but I think we’ll have enough to ensure we remain free of relegation concerns. Mid-table mediocrity? Yes please!
Who might win the Championship? It’s an obvious answer, but West Ham or Leicester should be there or thereabouts with the squads they have.
Who definitely won’t? Crystal Palace. Woeful.
Most anticipated fixture? Crystal Palace at home. For the first time in a generation, we get to compete with our rivals on an even footing.
Most anticipated fixture that doesn’t involve your club? I really can’t think of one. I’m not sure there’s another Championship game I’d pay the entrance price to see. But, given the source of these questions, I’ll say that sampling a derby between those other 2 South Coast Championship clubs probably holds the most appeal.
If you could take one player from someone else’s club (Championship only), who would it be? Glenn Murray. It sounds like he needs a big hug already.
You find yourself stuck in Selhurst Park. How do you escape unnoticed? I’d pretend to be Glenn Murray – nobody will be noticing him in a few weeks time.
What can we expect from your club this season? Hard to say with all the uncertainty still surrounding Nicky Maynard. He really is vital to any potential success we may have. After a turbulent (to say the least) season last time around, I’d expect us to improve upon that with a far more settled side. Mid-table finish after a short flirt with the play offs, maybe sneaking in should Mr Maynard stay the duration.
Who is your most important player? Maynard without doubt. Can produce something from absolutely nothing, something very few players in the Championship can do. If he leaves, then Albert Adomah who had a storming debut season on the right wing, and is on the verge of full honours for Ghana.
Your predicted finishing position? 11th.
Who might win the Championship? Hard to look past West Ham and Leicester at this stage.
Who definitely won’t? Barnsley are perennial top of the bottom 6 material.
Most anticipated fixture? With Swansea gone, our games with Cardiff should be reignited. West Ham at Upton Park will sure to be a popular one as well.
Most anticipated fixture that doesn’t involve your club? Couple of fantastic derby games this year. West Ham Vs Millwall being the obvious one. The two South coast clubs (Pompey and Saints) on even standings should be interesting as well.
If you could take one player from someone else’s club (Championship only), who would it be? As our defence resembles the red sea in biblical times, Matt Mills would plug the hole I’m sure.
You find yourself stuck in the Memorial Stadium. How do you escape unnoticed? I hide myself in the large tent behind one goal (the away end) and wait untill the end of the season until its wheeled away to be used at the Wimbledon Tennis Championships. I mean what sort of tinpot club has a temporary tent?
What can we expect from your club this season? That’s a good question and right now it almost feels as if we are about to step into the unknown. Since the squad reported back for pre-season training no less than three of them have left with a further two, Chris Eagles and Tyrone Mears, expected to leave for Bolton at any time. To replace them we’ve signed two young defenders on loan from Manchester City and as yet, nothing else. There is time yet but it does feel as though we’ve wasted an opportunity by not getting the squad together early enough.
Who is your most important player? Hopefully all of them will be important but the stand out players are Chris McCann and Jay Rodriguez who have both come through the youth system at Burnley. McCann is fit again after almost two years out of the game and at his best is as good a central midfield player as you will find in the Championship. He’s been so badly missed and it will be like having a new signing. Rodriguez, despite the name, is a real case of local boy makes good. He’s just enjoyed his first season in the first team and has become a crucial member of the side. He ended the season as leading goalscorer and not many players in the entire Championship scored more goals than he did. HIs 15 didn’t include a penalty and he could well step up towards 20 goals this coming season. He made an England debut last season at under-21 level and has an exciting future in front of him.
Your predicted finishing position? I would love to say first, but so would any supporter of any club. I’ll be realistic and I think if we could make a good start then we have a decent chance of making the play offs. In 2009 we finished 5th so I’ll go for that again.
Who might win the Championship? Not many eyes are looking too far beyond Leicester at the moment. Only today they have signed Manchester City’s Michael Johnson on loan and they are certainly putting a strong squad together. You know there’s money around once Sven Goran Eriksson shows his face, but for how long? Could it be another club where it all ends in tears? For now though they have to be favourites.
Who definitely won’t? I suspect there are a few who fall into that category. I think Peterborough will struggle and I don’t think there will be too many complaints if they do given they’ve got both Barry Fry and Darren Ferguson there.
Most anticipated fixture? Right now it’s Watford because it’s our first game. We’re stuck with hardly any local games this season with Blackpool as the only other North West club in the Championship. Personally I’m looking forward to going to Brighton and not having to suffer the Withdean but maybe Leeds will be the big games for us.
Most anticipate fixture that doesn’t involve your club? If that’s in the Championship then I’ve no real answer. Nothing stands out above anything else. Outside the Championship, and outside England, I’ll have the Barcelona v Real Madrid games marked in my diary.
If you could take one player from someone else’s club who would it be? It would have to be a goalscorer. They are the players who win the games for you. I’d have liked to have re-signed David Nugent so I’d go for someone like him or potentially Reading’s Shane Long.
You find yourself stuck in Ewood Park. How do you escape unnoticed? That’s easy. I’d just walk out. They’d be too busy tucking into their Venky’s chicken.
Part Two featuring Cardiff, Coventry, Palace, Derby, Doncaster and Hull coming soon…
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