I’m not sure I ever expected it to go this quick, but we really have reached the end of the ‘Five Year Plan’. It hardly seems fathomable that the club that lined up on the 8th August 2009 to play out a 1-1 draw with Millwall in League One, would mark the end of the ‘plan’ with a 1-1 draw with Champions of England Manchester United in the same stadium.
What a five years it’s been. Considering the original plan was to get Southampton into the Premier League, the fact that that has clearly been achieved (a year early), a trophy has been won along the way and the final season saw us break into the top eight, I would say we can consider it a complete success.
Three managers, Two promotions, One trophy and Seventy Seven Players! Can the next five years really live up to it?
Saints travel to the Madejski Stadium on Saturday for the Championship 17:20 kickoff, and will be looking to push on with their recent good form having established a five point gap the the top of the table.
The Berkshire club had an inconsistent start to this season but are now unbeaten in their last six games and will be looking to push on.
The Reading squad is a strong one, and in my opinion should be at least play off challengers this season. Amongst their squad, they boast three ex-Saints, two regulars who enjoyed first team football and one who, well didn’t…
‘Fish’ has he was affectionately know at St. Mary’s followed his brother Matt through the Southampton Academy, and is seemingly mirroring his older sibling’s career path.
Breaking into the first team in the 2008/09 season, Mills struggled to establish himself regularly, the likes of Andrew Surman, Rudi Skacel and latterly Lee Molyneux keeping the youngster out in Saints ill fated Championship relegation season. This eventually saw him head off to Scunthorpe United on loan, playing regularly under Nigel Adkins.
The drop to League One looked like it might have been the perfect tonic for a young left-back trying to establish himself, having already shown glimpses of what he could do. Sadly it was not to be, new signing Dan Harding came in and made an immediate impact leaving Mills to remain a bit part player in the 2009/10 campaign. He did make a surprise start at right-back in the Johnstones Paint Trophy final though, as Saints raised the cup with a 4-1 win over Carlisle at Wembley.
Mills found himself further down the pecking order at St. Mary’s in 2010/11 with Saints adding Ryan Dickson to their squad in the summer. Barely used, he was off on loan again, returning to the Championship with Doncaster Rovers. Mills proved himself a quality player at the Keepmoat which saw Reading convinced enough to make a move for him in the summer.
Mills was in the unfortunate position of never being a bad player in a Saints shirt, but always competing with someone better than him, always sharp going forward, I think it were some defensive frailties that saw four consecutive Saints managers not be willing to give him an extended run. At least he left Saints on friendlier terms than his brother!
“The jury’s still out on Mills at the moment, with the left-back having only joined the club at the back end of the transfer window for a nominal fee from yourselves. Ian Harte struggled through the first few games this season and Reading fans were clamouring for someone with a bit of pace to come in and Mills certainly ticked that box with agility that’s been lacking since Ryan Bertrand left after a loan spell in 2009/10.
Mills certainly offers something going forward, as his crosses have been quite good and he’s even managed a few efforts on goal during his brief time in the team. Unfortunately his passing, set pieces and defensive positioning have failed to impress Royals fans. Already some are calling for Harte’s return to the starting XI and the Irishman was on the bench for our recent games with Boro & Burnley.
Still Mills has been part of a defence that’s gone four unbeaten so I can’t see a change happening in the short term but given McDermott’s preference for experienced players I wouldn’t be shocked to see a change if we have a dodgy result or two.
Long term he’s got a long way to go to fill the boots of Nicky Shorey, Chris Armstrong, Ryan Bertrand and Harte last season.”
The Scotsman joined Saints on loan from Championship rivals Reading in 2008 as we looked to shore up our leaky defence. In a rare occurrence for a centre half Pearce scored on his debut as Saints came from behind to beat Preston 3-2, but sadly that was the highlight of his St. Mary’s stay. Saints would win just one other game during his loan spell, ironically against Reading when Pearce was ineligible to play. Saints kept two clean sheets in that spell, both 0-0 draws, both when Pearce was left out.
A player that always looked like an attacking danger from corners, but never looked convincing at the defensive job he was actually employed to do, Pearce returned to Reading at the end of 2008 and went on to establish himself as a first choice player at the Madesjski.
This season has seen more of the same. Initially he seemed to struggle alongside Tottenham loanee Bongani Khumalo but the acquisition of Kaspars Gorkss has seen him improve and he’s looking back to the form that won him a lot of fans last season. There will always be concerns about his pace and agility but if John Terry can get away with it, I’ve no reason to doubt that Pearce can establish himself as a good Championship defender, especially if complimented with the right partner.”
The giant striker (height is between 6’3″ and 6’5″ depending on where you read it) came through the Southampton youth system and made his first and last apperance for the first team in the 2007/08 season against Ipswich Town, coming on for the last minute and not touching the ball once.
Baseya had previously made his professional debut during a loan spell at Crewe Alexandra and was released by Saints in 2009. He joined French Ligue One side Lille before heading to Le Harve on loan and then to AS Cherbourg.
Reading signed him last month and he his yet to make a first team performance, though he will be eager to impress having so far never scored in his professional career, an odd record for a forward.
Dan gave us his thoughts on Baseya:-
“We’ve not seen the Frenchman anywhere near the first team but that hasn’t stopped there being an 18 page thread on him on the popular Hob Nob Anyone? message boards! He hasn’t got a stellar scoring record… well he hasn’t scored at all, but Reading have worked wonders with cast-offs in the past and he’s managed a couple of goals in the reserves already, so some reasons to be optimistic.”
The Saints players are once again in Switzerland for their pre-season preparations, and will be hoping for things to go slightly better this time…
Much was made of last years pre-season efforts, that were followed by a poor start to the season, injuries and accusations of bad practice. The likes of Rickie Lambert took a while to fire, and new boy Frazer Richardson was one of the high profile to suffer injury setbacks, as Saints “favourites” tag looked to be way off as they stuttered to 22nd place after the first five games. So how important are these pre-season trips?
Nigel Adkins says “Vital”. And I agree.
It isn’t just about fitness of course, the need to for any successful team to have a good spirit and camaraderie is as, if not more important. Nigel Adkins looks like he thinks the same, and black sheep Jason Puncheon hasn’t travelled with the squad, for fear of disruption.
So what did Alan Pardew do so wrong? And what will Adkins do differently? Well for a start do we actually know that Pardew did wrong? Let’s face it, had we gone unbeaten in the first five games last season, there would have been no questioning of Pardew’s methods. There were several comments in some of the early season defeats of lethargic looking players. Frazer Richardson was injured on the pre-season tour of 2010, as was Rickie Lambert, who uncharacteristically scored just two goals in the first twelve games, remarkable then that he would go on to be the clubs top scorer with twenty one by the end of the season. Fitness was clearly an issue, something Lambert has talked about himself since.
When Nigel Adkins took over, he was quick to mention fitness and the lack thereof after overseeing a drab 0-2 defeat at MK Dons, and by this point in the season, Saints were gaining a reputation for starting games well and taking control before succumbing to defeat. As Adkins influence became more apparent, the side became more resilient and control became victories.
Adkins, comes from the opposite side of the coaching spectrum to Pardew, the “new breed” if you will, his previous employment as a Physiotherapist is well documented, and he is obsessed with sports psychology, so it is natural to assume that this time round the Swiss trip should produce fitter players, less injuries and even a squad that is better prepared mentally.
Saints will officially start their pre-season tomorrow evening in the Gurzelen Stadion to take on Swiss Challenge League (Championship equivalent) side FC Biel-Bienne, before heading to the AFG Arena to face recently relegated Super League side St. Gallen on Saturday. Returning new boy Jack Cork, somewhat of a coup signing will get his first run out back in a Saints shirt during these games, while it will also be a chance for returning loanees Ryan Doble and Joseph Mills to stake a claim.
The purpose of the Swiss tour and games, may be more about physical shape, team building and even some commercial links than it is about results, but the squad will be truly tested on their return to the South coast. A week of training will be followed by the inaugral “Markus Liebherr Memorial Tournament” and two forty five minute games against European heavy weights Atletico Bilbao from La Liga and Werder Bremen from the Bundesliga. The squad will get to mix it up with World Cup winners and Champions League regulars in the round robin format and against that level of ability any fitness issues will be sorely punished. The technical ability of the likes of Javi Martinez will be difficult enough to deal with, without chasing their shadows.
West Brom and Yeovil Town will make up the rest of pre-season opposition for the first team before the season opens live on Sky (again) against Leeds United at St. Mary’s on the 6th August.
All we can hope is that the lessons of last season’s start have been learnt. We came from the back of the pack to secure promotion last season, despite the less than perfect preparations and the woeful opening run of results. The Championship will not be so forgiving. Every season this is a league that looks more difficult to get out of, and with the likes of Birmingham City and West Ham amongst the Premier League relegated, it is almost impossible to predict an outcome. A lack of preperation and a slow start could be disasterous, and missing out on promotion could be the least of of our worries…..
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