Tag Archives: Madjeski Stadium

All the makings of a classic….

After reading some great buildup pieces yesterday, notably by Sam Dobson and Sean Gonzalez-Lambert, it got me thinking that the whole Adkins/Pochettino/Cortese situation read quite like a Shakespearean tragedy. What do you think?

5th November 2012. Southampton is mutinous. The citizens protesting at their rulers incompetence and a lack of points.

‘What’s the matter, you dissentious rogues,
That, rubbing the poor itch of your opinion,
Make yourselves scabs?’

8th December 2012. Senator Adkins has appeased the citizens, but rumours persist that behind the scenes that he is a puppet and speaking on behalf of another.

‘They threw their caps
As they would hang them on the horns o’ the moon,
Shouting their emulation.’

18th January 2013. Senator Adkins is banished from Southampton by the King and immediately replaced by Senator Pochettino.

‘His nature is too noble for the world:
He would not flatter Neptune for his trident,
Or Jove for ’s power to thunder.’

Blue tie? Weird.
Blue tie? Weird.

21st January 2013. Senator Pochettino arrives in Southampton, a small (very, very small) number of Southampton citizens protest with the waving of their white hankies (hankies? It’s 2013…).

‘You common cry of curs! whose breath I hate
As reek o’ the rotten fens, whose loves I prize
As the dead carcases of unburied men
That do corrupt my air,–I banish you.’

9th February 2013. Senator Pochettino’s men defeat the horde of Manchester, repelling them from the city.

‘Would you have me
False to my nature? Rather say I play
The man I am’

30th March 2013. Senator Pochettino’s men, having already defeated the Scouse army, successfully defend the city and points against the conquerers of Europe. The aggressive relentless style of his army gaining praise the land over.

‘Had I a dozen sons, each in my love alike and none less dear than thine and my good Marcius, I had rather eleven die nobly for their country than one voluptuously surfeit out of action.’

6th April 2013. Senator Pochettino will lead his men to Reading to face off against the army of former Southampton leader Senator Adkins. What will be the result?

‘Nature teaches beasts to know their friends.’

Ooooooooooh When the Saints...
Ooooooooooh When the Saints…

Whatever happens on Saturday, my own position on this is that, though as fans we have a lot to thank Nigel Adkins for there comes a time when the ‘period of grief’ has to stop. For me, MoPo has proved now that he is capable of the job and the football we are playing is impressive to the point of unbelievable. He should, no longer, have to fight for our affections with Nigel. He should have them fully.

The three points is vital on Saturday, we can put ourselves on the brink of safety, and that above all else is the most important thing. The club has moved on. We can show our appreciation for Nigel at the Madejski with polite applause when he walks out of the tunnel, but does there need to be anymore than that? And it should be followed by a rousing rendition of ‘Pochettino’s Red & White Army’. We have to live in the now.

Come the final whistle, should we have the three points be in the bag, then why not give Nigel a send off and let loose with ‘One Nigel Adkins’. Closure.

In an ideal world Saints and Reading could both stay up, but the world isn’t ideal, especially in football, and if our safety means condemning the man who brought us a lot of joy over the past couple of years then so be it. The King is dead, Long live the King.

‘What is the city but the people?’

Chris

p.s. All quotes from the brilliant Shakespeare play ‘Coriolanus’. Watch the film with Ralph Fiennes. It’s great.

Relegation Ramblings: The Opposition’s View

No matter how well we might be playing it is difficult to get away from the fact that we are 6th from bottom, with just 12 games to play (at the time of writing this humble blogger expected us to get nothing from the City game, and is now feeling suitable guilty. Hence no Newcastle fan – Chris). Four points are all that separate Saints from the drop zone, and everyone will have their own opinion as to who will suffer the ultimate disappointment.

I asked a blogger of each of the four clubs below us to see how they see the battle for survival panning out. Here they are in league position order:-

15th Southampton

Points:- 27

Name:- Chris Rann

Blog:- George Weah’s Cousin

Did you expect to be in this position when the season kicked off?

‘I thought we might be a bit further up than this, but knew it was also a distinct possibility  I still think our league position reflects our dreadful start rather than our true standing.’

What has been your biggest problem and why are you not picking up as many points as you would hope?

‘A mixture of terrible defending, a crazy amount of goalkeeping errors and most importantly not being able to defend a lead. Our performances aren’t being reflected in results, we are playing like a side who are much higher in the table.’

Are there any other teams from above you think could get dragged into it?

‘I’m sure at least one will, I have been saying all season that West Ham would, as if you look at their squad it looks very poor, but they are continuing to prove me wrong. Norwich look vulnerable too I think.’

Colours to the mast. Who will go down and in what order?

‘I will be amazed if Villa don’t finish rock bottom, they just look like a truly dreadful team, lacking in ability and experience. They seem to be relying on Benteke too much, who looks very hit and miss to me. I think this season will be one too many for Wigan and they will finish 19th, and despite the hoards of money, I think after a stint of improvement ‘Arry will get found out again and QPR will finish 18th’

Why will you stay up ahead of those chosen (unless you chose yourself then why them ahead of you)?

‘As I said, we are playing incredibly well, and although we aren’t converting that to as many wins as we would like, we are improving with every game. We have   a squad that is more talented than it gets credited for and we have a goalscorer. The next two games could be crucial for us, we have Newcastle and QPR (both winnable) while those around us have some tough fixtures. We could pull away.’

If you could take one player from the other relegation battle sides who would it be?

 ‘Julio Cesar. Without doubt. Although Boruc has been great recently for us, Cesar has already rescued QPR a number of times. A goalkeeper as good as him, who can be relied upon at all times could be crucial in a relegation battle.’

17th Aston Villa

Points:- 24

Name:- Matt Turvey

Blog:- Aston Villa Life

Did you expect to be in this position when the season kicked off?

‘I think many fans expected a little more than what happened last season, especially given the stature of Paul Lambert but, truth be told, I don’t think many fans can be too surprised given the past two seasons before this one have been spent close to or in the relegation zone.’

What has been your biggest problem and why are you not picking up as many points as you would hope?

‘Set pieces – for some reason, Villa have been atrocious at both defending and attacking set pieces. The amount we concede at present is frankly ridiculous, and you only need to have a basic grasp of probability to know that if you concede 16 corners (as we did against Everton), then sooner or later, you are going to concede goals. Not only that but Villa can’t seem to take advantage of scoring from set pieces either. Couple that with the lack of ability to defend, and it is hardly a surprise the club are where we are.’

Are there any other teams from above you think could get dragged into it?

‘I think most of the club around the drop zone are, in one way or another, already in the fight. For example, Newcastle are away from immediate danger – so to speak – but they are far from “safe”.’

Colours to the mast. Who will go down and in what order?

‘I’ll start at the bottom where I think it’ll be QPR. Harry Redknapp may well be seen as an excellent manager (he isn’t – Chris 😉), but he has been relegated before. Couple that with this strange, constant state of flux that the club seems to be in due to their swathes of transfers, and it seems likely that they are going to fail to survive.

After QPR, it gets very hard. Reading seem to be having a mini-renaissance in the past few weeks, epitomised by the fact that Villa fans were having to keep track of their results to see if we would be in/escape the drop zone during matches. However, with all that said, I’m not sure they can keep it up for the whole season. Sure, they are doing progressively better than they were earlier in the season but, let’s be frank, it would be hard to do much worse.

As for the last place, it is really difficult. Truth be told, this place could include any one of Wigan, your good selves (Southampton), and us. I’d like to think that given our ability to play football (when it goes well), that we’d be able to finish above 18th. The choice comes between newly promoted team with a new manager with Southampton, comparatively hardened relegation battlers in Wigan, and us.

It’s really close to call at present so I’ll go with who I’d prefer to go down – Wigan. Why? Truth be told, I’ve never got the hype surrounding Roberto Martinez. Sure, he did well at Swansea as part of the Martinez-Sousa-Rodgers-Laudrup progress they have made, but I’ve seen nothing that puts him up at the top of the tree that Dave Whelan keeps talking about. He does play attractive football, yes, but is a commitment to style over substance genius or idiocy? A lot of the time it seems like the latter when contrasted with how Stoke have developed, or even Swansea – Martinez’s old club.’

Why will you stay up ahead of those chosen (unless you chose yourself then why them ahead of you)?

‘As stated above, it is far from clear cut in terms of us staying up. If I had to give a reason, it would be that we have more gears we can go through, but we are just playing badly at present. Look at the comparative teams and you’ll see that we should, on paper at least, dodge the drop, even if it isn’t by many points.

I know that is far from a watertight argument but, in my eyes at least, I think – whether from hope or logic – that we can survive if, and this is a big if, we rise to the challenge.’

If you could take one player from the other relegation battle sides who would it be?

‘I’d go for Christopher Samba. Now, I know that sounds quite crazy when I’ve said about the belief I have that QPR will finish rock bottom, but Samba has been, and is, a fantastic player. Villa could do with that kind of solidity in defence alongside Ron Vlaar. However, due to the (lack of) money available in the January transfer window, the club are playing a dangerous game not investing back there.’

Chris Samba - QPR's big money man.
Chris Samba – QPR’s big money man.

18th Reading

Points:- 23

Name:- Dan Wimbush

Blog:- The Tilehurst End

Did you expect to be in this position when the season kicked off?

‘Sadly so, though I didn’t think we’d be quite in this much trouble. I thought we’d have picked up 3 or 4 more points by now but I knew we were in for a long season, so having a chance of survival with 12 games to go is fine.’

What has been your biggest problem and why are you not picking up as many points as you would hope?

‘Before Christmas it was a mixture of poor signings, under-performing players, injuries and bad tactical choices… so just about everything really! In the main a poor start and midfield injuries forced us to play 4-4-2 and while it was entertaining (think of the 7-5 & 5-2 with Arsenal, 4-3 with United, 3-3 with Fulham) it wasn’t getting us results and we were looking cut adrift. Thankfully players returned to fitness and Brian went back to 4-5-1, sacrificing entertainment for staying in games as long as possible and effectively trying to turn matches in 25 minute contests at the end of play, when we’d bring on Adam Le Fondre. So far the change has worked and a run of 14 points from a possible 24 has lifted us right back into the right and given us a real chance of survival.’

Are there any other teams from above you think could get dragged into it?

‘At the time of writing it’s looking very much 3 from 4, or 3 from 6 if you think QPR have a chance of survival and that Saints and Newcastle are still in the mix. Other than those six then I still don’t think Norwich are totally safe but they should have enough in the tank to stay clear.’

Colours to the mast. Who will go down and in what order?

’20. QPR  19. Wigan  18. Reading

I think Reading have got a great chance to stay up but I just think we’ll come up slightly short as Villa somehow sneak out of trouble. Reading have left themselves with a set of fixtures that are either six pointers or relative no-hopers against top 8 sides that you can’t realistically hope to get things from. With that in mind anything less than 10-12 points from home games against Wigan, Villa, Saints and QPR will send us down and I don’t know if we’ve got the quality to ensure we get three wins and a draw. I’d love to be proved wrong and I’m naturally a pessimist but I just can’t imagine a survival party taking place this season. I’ll never be happier to be wrong though!

QPR seem doomed, particularly if Remy doesn’t make a very, very swift return. They too have big games against all of their fellow strugglers but clawing back six points when you’ve only won two games all season seems too much to ask, particularly when you’re a team trying to gel and with little momentum.

Wigan could also survive but I think this is just one season to far for Roberto Martinez and after eight drop-defying years, it’ll be time up for Dave Whelan’s club.

Why will you stay up ahead of those chosen (unless you chose yourself then why them ahead of you)?

‘I suppose I should mention why Saints, Villa and Newcastle will stay up! Newcastle have obviously added great quality in January and I think they’ll have enough at home to stay up comfortably. Southampton have also invested heavily and have a real ability to score goals, something that’ll always keep you in games and pick up points. Your back five finally seems to be coming together and you’ve just got so many weapons that you’ll be fine. With Villa I’m really torn because while it’s a young side, they do have really quality players such as Benteke, that the three I’ve tipped to go down don’t seem to have. I’ve also got a nasty feeling Darren Bent might come in from the wilderness and score some key goals. If any team does replace Reading in those relegation places, it will be Paul Lambert’s side.’

If you could take one player from the other relegation battle sides who would it be?

‘Maybe Adam Lallana to add that creative player we’ve been missing behind the front man.’

Adam Lallana - Creativity could keep Saints up.
Adam Lallana – Creativity could keep Saints up.

19th Wigan Athletic

Points:- 21

Name:- Alan

Blog:- This Northern Soul

Did you expect to be in this position when the season kicked off?

‘Now, I seem to spend half my time preaching to that we should expect to be in a relegation battle each and every year we’re in the top flight but, if truth be told, I did get drawn in by the finish to last season.  Up until that point Roberto Martinez’ Wigan always seemed to be an ounce of confidence or a dash of je ne sais quoi away from doing well and everything seemed to click running into the final stretch last year, it wasn’t a case of us fighting with our backs to the wall, we were making great strides and playing with a style and confidence that was more befitting of a top-six side.  Which could only lead to one thing…

… High expectations and a massive crash to the ground.  I wasn’t on my own in thinking that we’d pick up somewhere near where we left off, but I really should have known better.’

What has been your biggest problem and why are you not picking up as many points as you would hope?

‘Our biggest problem has been a tendency to give teams a two goal start.  Underneath that lie injuries to two key players, Ramis and Alcaraz.  Apart from during the first ten minutes of the season against Chelsea, Ramis has looked a class above and Alcaraz was a massive player for us last year, had we been able to keep them together then who knows where we would be.  After all they would still have a proverbial vampiric goalkeeper behind them (he doesn’t like crosses, geddit?) and be supported by wing backs who are ten times more comfortable in the attacking final third than their defensive one.’

Are there any other teams from above you think could get dragged into it?

‘Last Friday, I thought that there were seven or eight teams in it, but with your win against Man City, I’m starting to feel the pressure.  In terms of the overall battle, then maybe that figure is still the same, with Sunderland and Norwich, in particular, looking over their shoulders.

For us though, I’m only interested in getting back above Aston Villa.  That’s the only realistic target for us right now, and then let’s see what happens.  We’ve got a massive game against Reading in a couple of weeks and after that it could be all over bar the shouting for Latics (of which there’ll be plenty as the Wigan Wide Web eats itself whole).’ 

Colours to the mast. Who will go down and in what order?

’18. QPR

19. Reading

20. Wigan’

Why will you stay up ahead of those chosen (unless you chose yourself then why them ahead of you)?

‘Simply put, because we can’t defend.  No team can keep conceding like we do and win games.  It wouldn’t be so bad if you could see changes that could be made that would make the team more solid, but with Ramis out until next year, Alcaraz permanently two weeks from a return, Boyce joining them on the sidelines and all hopes pinned on Paul Scharner we’re not only restricted with personnel, we’re also tied tactically

There are clear changes that could be made that could strengthen us at the back (a change in left wing back and goal keeper being the most obvious ones) but the manager has seemed reluctant up until now.  The manager needs to pull something out of the bag akin to last season’s switch to 3-4-3, but the nearest we’ve had is a flirtation with the 1930s in a W-M line up.  There’s probably some social commentary based witticism I could throw in at this point (30’s depression vs 2010’s recession, austere football for austere times) but, frankly, I’m too depressed.’

If you could take one player from the other relegation battle sides who would it be?

‘After all I’ve said, I should be after a defensive king pin, or a top notch goalie, but I’d have to go for Charles N’Zogbia.  Not only does he know the club and the situation we’re in, but he’d bring a bit of panache that we’ve sadly missed this season.  More so, I reckon his loss would weaken Villa more than the loss of other players would hurt other teams and maybe more than Villa fans realise.  He’s a real man for the moment and when given the stage can really turn it on.’

Charles N'Zogbia - They'd love him back at Wigan!
Charles N’Zogbia – They’d love him back at Wigan!

20th QPR

Points:- 17

Name:- Tony Gibson

Blog:- Lofty Heights

Did you expect to be in this position when the season kicked off?

‘Certainly not.’

What has been your biggest problem and why are you not picking up as many points as you would hope?

‘Simple, Mark Hughes and his team of overpaid mercenaries that he assembled. Also the lack of firepower, Cisse off form and now of course gone, major, long term injuries to Johnson and Zamora. The same could be said of new signing, Loic Remy, who is now also, injured. The simple fact that our stand our player was a 34 year old Kiwi says it all. That of course is Ryan Nelsen, who has also now, sadly left us.’

Are there any other teams from above you think could get dragged into it?

‘Anyone from Fulham downwards really.’

Colours to the mast. Who will go down and in what order?

‘After last weekend, I think there is every chance now we may go, we are just not picking up the points, other teams are starting too and the games are running out. Will be Reading, Villa and Ourselves bottom.’

Why will you stay up ahead of those chosen (unless you chose yourself then why them ahead of you)?

‘I travel home and away with QPR and this prediction is simply what I have seen from the other sides. Reading and Villa are simply the worst I have seen this season.’

If you could take one player from the other relegation battle sides who would it be?

‘Tough one, seeing as it goals that is the problem, your own Rickie Lambert or Benteke from Villa.’

So there we have it, a mixture of views there from inside our rival camps! Thanks to Lasse Burri Gram-Hansen who mailed us to suggest the article and theme. If one thing is clear it is going to be an interesting final 12 games!

Chris

As featured on NewsNow: Southampton FC news

Premier League Preview: Part 3

Welcome to Part 3 of our Premier League Preview!

QPR:-

Name:-  QPR Report

Team:- Queen’s Park Rangers (QPR)

Website:- Blog;  www.qprreport.blogspot.com and  Messageboard http://qprreport.proboards.com

Twitter:- @qprreport

What can we expect from your club this season?

A safe season, one without all the off-the-field drama of so many previous seasons.

Who is your most important player?

Cisse.

Where do you predict you will finish this season?

10-12th.

Who might win the Premier League?

Sadly Manchester United, Manchester City or Chelsea.

Who definitely won’t?

Wigan

What is your most anticipated fixture?

Chelsea and Manchester United at Loftus Road.

What is your most anticipated fixture that doesn’t involve your club?

Manchester United vs Chelsea.

How do you think Southampton will fare?

Stay up (15th) (made some good, early signings).

You find yourself stuck in The Madjeski Stadium. How do you escape unnoticed?

Wear my blue and white hooped scarf!

Reading:-

Name: Dan Wimbush

Team:-  Reading

Website:-  The Tilehurst End  http://www.thetilehurstend.com

Twitter:- @thetilehurstend

What can we expect from your club this season?

After last year’s unexpected title win we’ll be very happy to secure a second season back in the Premier League.  Brian McDermott has worked wonders at the club so far, despite having to sell the likes of Gylfi Sigurdsson, Matt Mills and Shane Long and now that we’ve got new ownership it’s been great to see him able to strengthen the squad for once. Despite signing six players you won’t see that much of a difference style wise from us this year. We’ll still look to work very very hard closing down the opposition, allowing them long spells with the ball before breaking out wide through Kebe and McAnuff, or getting the ball up top to Roberts or Pogrebnyak. As Southampton fans know only too well Reading were the masters of counter attacking last season and given the jump in quality I can’t imagine we’ll suddenly start pressing from the front!

Who is your most important player?

It’s looking like being Pavel Pogrebnyak. Much as the signing of Jason Roberts helped win us the title last year, it’s going to be vital we get good production from the Russian if we hope to stay up. He’s shown his quality wherever he’s been and if we’re getting a striker anything like the one we saw at Fulham last year, we’ll be in for a good season.

Where do you predict you will finish this season?

Tough to call until you see how the other teams shape up. We’ve seen good teams relegated due to the strength of others and likewise weaker teams survive because there’s just been three awful sides. Right now if I had to gamble I’d say about 15th, but anything from 10th to 20th wouldn’t shock me.

Who might win the Premier League?

Hard to look past City again. The strength and depth they have at the Etihad is just staggering and while I think Chelsea and Manchester Utd will both be strong again, neither can match the power that City posses right now.

Who definitely won’t?

Liverpool, Arsenal, Reading or Southampton 😉     While Rodgers has been lauded for the job he’s done at Swansea, Reading fans will be able to tell you that he’s not infallible and can get things very badly wrong. When he came to Reading he tried to do too much too soon and left us in a relegation dogfight but landed on his feet at Swansea who were already playing a passing game when he arrived. Liverpool weren’t exactly playing like Swansea last season so it will take a while to turn it around. As for Arsenal well if Van Persie goes as expected its difficult to see them having the quality to really mount a decent challenge.  Can’t see anyone else gate-crashing the title picture either to be honest.

What is your most anticipated fixture?

Wigan away obviously….  😉

Everyone has their favourites but for me, cliché as it sounds it’s got to be Manchester United away. I was unable to get to the games the last time we were a Premier League side so this time around I’m determined to see Reading take on England’s most successful side on their own patch next season. Trips to Anfield, The Emirates and White Hart Lane are also ones I’m anticipating while the home games against teams like yourselves, West Ham, Swansea and Norwich will be fun as we’ll actually be able to turn up knowing we’ve got a chance of winning.

What is your most anticipated fixture that doesn’t involve your club?

City v United will once again be a tussle worth watching. I expect those two to finsh first and second and Fergie will be fired up more than ever before to put one over the noisy neighbours.

How do you think Southampton will fare?

I’m really not sure to be honest. Like Reading, you’ve been quite active in the transfer market and I’ll be interested to see how Rodriguez makes the step up. If Sharp, Lambert and Rodriquez can translate Championship goals to the Premier League you’ll be laughing, while Lallana is another top player who I expect to do well. I do fear for Norwich, Swansea, Fulham and Wigan this year so I think the Saints will end up roughly around the same place we are so 12th-16th.

You find yourself stuck in The County Ground. How do you escape unnoticed?

‘Can you direct me around the magic roundabout please?’

Pave-ing the way for Reading success?

Southampton:-

Name:- Ben Stanfield

Team:- Southampton

Website:- http://www.saintsfc.co.uk/

Twitter:- @benstanners

What can we expect from your club this season?

I think, as ever being a Saints fan, we can expect a mixture of the sublime and the ridiculous. Saints have nothing to really lose this season. We are at least one, if not two, years ahead of where we’d thought we’d be as a Club but that doesn’t mean that we are going to give up the hard work of the last two years by being the whipping boys of the Premier League.

We have a young, astute and intelligent manager and a team that, to be honest, would die for each other on the pitch. The spirit in the Club is as good as I’ve ever known it in the 25 years I’ve supported and watched Saints and I really feel that we will shock a lot of people this coming season.

Who is your most important player?

Many would argue that it is a straight race between Rickie Lambert and Adam Lallana. I’d agree!

For me, although Lallana is a class player who can turn defenders inside out and create goals for the team with almost every passage of play, Lambert is our most important player.

Pretty much all of our success over the last 2 seasons has come from building the team around Rickie Lambert, getting the ball up to him and then feeding off that. Not to mention his goals of course that have helped fire us to the Premier League.

Lambert proved people wrong last season by scoring goals consistently in the Championship and I feel he will score goals again this season, but obviously not to the level’s of 20’s and 30’s that he is used to!

He is the modern day “talisman” of the Saints team and we don’t look the same side when he’s not playing. So much will revolve around his presence up front and the ability to hold the ball up against the better teams to give our defenders a breather! Like Saints themselves, I don’t think Lambert has anything to lose this season but the importance of him being in the side and playing well will play a key role in our success.

Where do you predict you will finish this season?

If I’m honest I’d take 17th place now! We have to be realistic, there are a lot of experienced Premier League teams in the league that have quality and know how to get results. But we also know that the brilliant thing about English football is that the teams at the bottom can beat the teams at the top on their day.

In my opinion the Premier League is very much two divisions in one. Saints need to aspire to get off to a good start if they can, although the fixture list hasn’t helped with doing that much, and then build on that. As long as we survive I will be happy but finishing higher up the bottom half of the Premier League is certainly not unrealistic, especially if some strong signings can be made between now and the end of the August transfer window.

Who might win the Premier League?

For me its a straight race between the two Manchester clubs. City have taken the pressure off of themselves by winning the title last season – they always say that the first one is the hardest – but that doesn’t mean that the fans or owners will accept second place this season! Mancini has probably the best squad of players in the World – as you’d expect for the amount of money he has spent – and really they should win it again.

Having said that you can never right off Fergie and there hasn’t been a Premier League season in the history of the competition where United haven’t been up their challenging. The signing of Robin Van Persie could be the difference between United finishing second and winning the title. His potential partnership with Wayne Rooney has me salivating even as a non-United fan.

I think City will nick it this season, but I think it will go to the wire again.

Who definitely won’t?

Tottenham and Arsenal I’m afraid. They’ve both huffed and puffed the last few season’s but realistically they don’t have the winning-mentality that United and City have. Several times last season both Clubs lost games against teams that City and United wouldn’t have. Arsenal and Spurs both put a lot of emphasis on their attacking play but defensively aren’t in the same league as City or United.

Arsenal losing Van Persie is key for me. He pretty much single handedly got them to third last season with his goals and although they have bought in Podolski and Giroud I can’t see them scoring 30 goals between them, let alone individually. Goals wins you league titles and I don’t think Arsenal have the fire-power to topple City or United.

With Andre Villas-Boas in charge at Spurs now it will be interesting to see how he does. He didn’t have a very successful time with Chelsea last season so the pressure and spotlight will be on him from the first game of the season. Spurs are a good side and they will finish in the top-6, I have no doubts but, again like Arsenal, I don’t think they have the mental belief to go that one step further to the title and dig results out regularly the way that United and City do.

What is your most anticipated fixture?

Thats a good question! The last couple of seasons we’ve had local games against Portsmouth, Brighton and Bournemouth to look forward to, but not anymore. For me, just being back in the Premier League means that every game has to be an anticipated fixture now. When you look at the fixture list every single match gets you excited – OK, maybe not Wigan away!

But I guess, after the trial and tribulations of last season, playing against Reading and West Ham will be good. We certainly owe Reading a defeat this season after they pretty much won the title at St. Mary’s last season!

What is your most anticipated fixture that doesn’t involve your club?

I think the two games between Manchester City and United are the fixtures that I will be looking forward to watching. The power has shifted from red to blue in Manchester now and I don’t think Fergie and everyone connected with Old Trafford are enjoying that much. I’ve no doubts that United will be looking for revenge this season and I think these two games will go along way to determining the title.

Traditionally they are cagey affairs although City did score six at Old Trafford last season. There is no love lost between the two managers or the sets of fans and, with arguably the two strongest squads in the Premier League, they should be cracking matches to watch.

How do you think Southampton will fare?

As stated above, I genuinely think that we will have a good season. I know there are going to be a few times we walk off the pitch having been given a lesson by players a lot more experienced than ours but I also know that Saints can play with little fear and have a go at sides as well. We’re expected to get relegated by all the pundits so what have we to lose?

We have the talent and commitment to win each time we go on the pitch, but the biggest issue for me will be taking our more limited chances at one end and stopping them going in at the other end An important factor for any football club!

Offer me 17th now and I’ll snap your hand off!

You find yourself stuck in Fratton Park. How do you escape unnoticed?

The thought of being stuck in Fratton Park is one that has probably woken me up a few times during the night in cold sweats! How do I escape unnoticed? Well as they hardly ever get that many people to watch Pompey anymore, as they only turn up when they’re doing well with a team of players they can’t afford to buy or pay, I’d probably walk to the end of the row (without having to ask anyone to get up!), up the stairs and then out the exit with them none the wiser……….

Stoke City:-

Name:- Hannah Burrows

Team:- Stoke City

Website:- Delilah’s Voice

Twitter:- @HBscfc

What can we expect from your club this season?

At the time of writing this, our lack of transfer activity is worrying. However, we’re well known for our late transfers so I’m not panicking, yet. With our current squad, I can’t see us finishing much above 12th. Having said that, if the likes of Sunderland, Fulham and the newly promoted teams fail to perform, we could find ourselves fighting near the top half. On the other hand, if the notoriously weaker teams have a decent season, it could be disaster, no chance of relegation though, I hope.

Who is your most important player?

Anyone who follows me on Twitter knows that I’d love to say Wilson Palacios here. His new found fitness levels in pre-season could see him become a big, big player this season but right now I’d say Peter Crouch, although I still can’t believe he’s a Stoke player!

Where do you predict you will finish this season?

I’d like to think we can achieve a top 10 finish for the first time since promotion but whether we do or not hinges on our away form. Failure to improve it could be fatal but an added win here and there could shoot us up the league.

Who might win the Premier League?

I hope City manage to defend the title, that Aguero goal will live with me for a very long time to come and it’d be great to see another end to the season like that – basically, anyone but United and Arsenal.

Who definitely won’t?

West Ham – a ticking time bomb.

What is your most anticipated fixture?

Arsenal at home simply because of the atmosphere. Arsene Wenger’s made his bed so to speak and now he has to lie in it every visit to the Britannia! His comments about our style of play and Ryan Shawcross will never, ever be forgotten and it always seems the players give a little extra effort in this one!

What is your most anticipated fixture that doesn’t involve your club?

Probably the Manchester derby. With the clubs so evenly matched now it makes for mouth-watering clashes and a fixture I always look out for.

How do you think Southampton will fare?

It’s hard to say really, the transfer window seems yet to kick in and obviously one or two signings could be crucial. Compared with the other promoted teams though, West Ham will be their usual cocky selves so that could back fire and Reading seem to have made a few decent signings. I think Southampton’s fate will be determined by the weakness of current lower PL teams, the likes of Wigan, Swansea and perhaps even Stoke!

You find yourself stuck in the Emirates Stadium. How do you escape unnoticed?

Put on a cockney accent and suggest the very long wait for a trophy will be over this year. Also, suggest Aaron Ramsey is a world beater and claim Cesc Fabregas has taken a step back in his career by signing for Barca!

The odds on Crouch being Stoke’s top scorer?

Sunderland:-

Name:- Mark Harrison

Team:- Sunderland AFC

Website:- www.seventy3magazine.co.uk

Twitter:- @harrmn

What can we expect from your club this season?

To build on the progress made since Xmas last season and with this a push for top half but our target should always be ‘winning’ the mini league of all those teams outside the top 6.

Who is your most important player?

Sessegnon was our star last season so if we can keep him away from a top four team I expect him to be prominent again, but for me the two centrebacks need to be an injury free partnership and be the backbone of the team. Attack from the back!

Where do you predict you will finish this season?

8th

Who might win the Premier League?

Man city to triumph again.

Who definitely won’t?

Spurs, I just don’t think AVB can handle the pressure and the players the way Harry did.

What is your most anticipated fixture?

Arsenal away, the start of the season cannot come soon enough for me.

What is your most anticipated fixture that doesn’t involve your club?

Man Utd v man City, I love a derby and Utd will not want to lose face to their neighbours again.

How do you think Southampton will fare?

I am afraid to say they will struggle and relegation is a concern.

You find yourself stuck in St. James’ Park. How do you escape unnoticed?

I would struggle, I cannot make my face as bitter and twisted as the locals.

Thanks to all the contributors.

To read Part 1 (Arsenal, Aston Villa, Chelsea, Everton & Fulham) click here:- http://georgeweahscousin.com/2012/08/15/premier-league-preview-part-1/

To read Part 2 (Liverpool, Man City, Man Utd, Newcastle & Norwich) click here:- http://georgeweahscousin.com/2012/08/17/premier-league-preview-part-2/

Chris

Permanent Fixtures?

Daunting. ‘Baptism of Fire’. Tough….

This was the hyperbole and conjecture that greeted Saints fans on reveal of this season’s coming Premier League fixtures. I looked at it a slighty different way.

Exciting. ‘Back where we belong’. Challenging….

After all, there is no easy games in the Premier League, you have to play every team twice, and our fate will be sealed based on our performances in those games the same as it is for everybody else. Admittedly, having to play last season’s top three in our first four games isn’t ideal, but this lends itself to a plethora of speculation. It may be the best time to play them. They are likely to have new players, and be tinkering with new systems for example. But, actually what it has meant is that, should, God (or whichever fictional deity you choose to worship) forbid, we are in a scrap at the business end of the season, our last seven fixtures (on paper at least) couldn’t be kinder.

But there is that saying again. On paper, and that is all these fixtures are at the moment, a list. Nothing more, nothing less. There are only two teams we can really base our predictions on, those that joined us from the Championship, Reading and West Ham, the rest we haven’t played for at least two seasons.

But what if we took our head to head record (based on the last two competitive fixtures) against the rest of the clubs in the Premier League as a start point. How would we fare in the coming season?

First up we travel to the City of Manchester Stadium to take on the reigning champions. It was January 2007, the last time we made this trip, Kenwyne Jones found the net for Saints, but Man City ran away 3-1 winners with goals from Darius Vassell, Joey Barton and Damarcus Beasley. The last time City visited St. Mary’s it would end goaless in the Premier League fixture of October 2004. Points – 1.

Saints will open their Premier League home campaign with the visit of Wigan Athletic. It was January 1986 when the clubs last met on the South Coast, and in fact is the only competitive fixture between the two in their history! Glenn Cockerill and a brace by David Armstrong saw Saints through to the fifth round of the FA Cup. Points – 4 (A draw  was allocated for the away game).

Manchester United will then make the trip to Southampton, despite a famous run of victories against the Red Devils, it will be 9 years and a day since we last beat them when we kick off on the 1st September. Our last meeting with Sir Alex and his men saw goals from Michael Owen and Javier Hernandez cancel out Richard Chaplow’s opener in the FA Cup 4th Round. Our last trip to Old Trafford ended in a 3-0 reverse at the hands of Scholes, Rooney and Ronaldo in December 2004. Points – 0.

An unlikely hero emerged on our last visit to Arsenal. Rory Delap got both goals in a two all draw, Henry and Van Persie on target for the Gunners! Peter Crouch scored at St. Mary’s in the same season to gain Saints a double of draws over the North London side. Points – 2.

Fans will want to forget the last time St. Mary’s hosted Aston Villa. Peter Crouch and Kevin Phillips gave Saints an early lead, only to lose 3-2. Carlton Cole, Nobby Solano and Steven Davis sealing the victory for Villa in April 2005. It was a 2-0 defeat at Villa Park, Carlton Cole and Darius Vassell getting the goals in an earlier game that season. Points – 0.

Everton were famed as a Saints “bogey team” for years, and in that same fateful final Premier League season, they were just as tight. A Leon Osman goal at the death decided matters at Goodison Park, while Saints managed a point at St. Mary’s with goals from Peter Crouch and Henri Camara cancelling out James “I definitely won’t celebrate” Beattie and Marcus Bent. Points – 1.

It was a goalfest the last time Saints hosted Fulham, a brace from Kevin Phillips and an own goal for the hosts, Radzinski, Malbranque and Bouba Diop for the visitors. The reverse fixture that season saw a victory for the cottagers through a solitary Tomas Radzinski strike. Points – 1.

Chaplow and co celebrate the opener v Man Utd.

West Ham are of course more recent opponents, Jos Hooiveld the scourge of East London, scoring the winner at St. Mary’s and then the equaliser at Upton Park last season. Points – 4.

After the trip to West Ham, Saints play host to their North London neighbours, the now Redknapp-less (shame) Spurs lost on their last visit, Nigel Quashie with the only goal of the game. It was a different story at White Hart Lane though, Saints put to the sword, losing 5-1. Jermain Defoe kept the match ball, Kanoute and Keane getting the other two, Peter Crouch got the consolation. Points – 3.

A trip to the Midlands follows, as Saints go to the Hawthorns. Saints last played WBA in the 2007/08 Championship season. Despite Albion going up as Champions that season and Saints needing last day heroics to stay up, it was the South Coast side that got the better of their two fixtures. Adam Lallana scored in the away leg in a 1-1 draw, while a double from Stern John and a Marek Saganowski strike secured all three points at home. Points – 4.

Swansea City will come to St. Mary’s in November, Saganowski earned Saints a point the last time this fixture happened in the 2008/09 Championship relegation season. The reverse game saw an easy run out for the Swans, Pratley, Gomez and Butler getting the goals in a 3-0 defeat for Saints. Points – 1.

In that same season, Saints suffered a heavy defeat at next opponents QPR. Ex-Saint Dexter Blackstock got a couple, Stewart and Ageymang also netted, Adam Lallana got Saints only reply. Later in the campaign, the two clubs played out a 0-0 draw at St. Mary’s. Points – 1.

Saints haven’t faced Newcastle United in a league game since 2004, going down 1-2 at home to goals from Alan Shearer and Titus Bramble, Peter Crouch almost inevitably being the Saints goalscorer in that season. The last time Saints visited St. James’ Park though is more recent. Keiron Dyer got the only goal in February 2006 in the FA Cup 5th round. Points – 0.

Jos Hooiveld heads Saints to three points.

Saints and Norwich City both left the Premier League in the same season, so barring the past two seasons have been regular opponents. It was in the Johnstones Paint Trophy that the Canaries last came to St. Mary’s, A last minute Papa Waigo equaliser took the game to a penalty shootout which Saints won, subsequently lifting the trophy. A Lee Barnard brace saw Saints take all three points at Carrow Road that same season. Points – 6 (I know, I know, technically the JPT game was a draw after 90 minutes, but it’s my game and my rules).

A trip to Anfield beckons in December, just as it did in our last Premier League season. Florent Sinama-Pongolle scored the only goal of the game that time. Saints got their revenge over Liverpool at St. Mary’s just a month later, David Prutton and Peter Crouch ensuring a 2-0 victory. Points – 3.

In a reverse of last season, Saints will host Reading first. In the game that effectively conceded the title to their Berkshire rivals in April, Saints went down 3-1, Rickie Lambert on the scoresheet, but outdone by Jason Roberts and Adam Le Fondre. It was  a 1-1 draw at the Madjeski, Steve de Ridder cancelling out Mikele Leigertwood’s opener. Points – 1.

The last time Saints went to Stamford Bridge, James Beattie scored at both ends, Frank Lampard sealing the points for Chelsea. Lampard scored again at St. Mary’s which coupled with an Eidur Gudjohnsen double meant Kevin Phillips’ goal was just a consolation. Points – 0.

Saints last faced Sunderland in the 2006/07 Championship season, going down 2-1 at home, after Gareth Bale had grabbed a last minute equaliser at the Stadium of Light earlier in the season. Points – 1.

The last club Saints will renew acquaintances with will be Stoke City. Tony Pulis and his merry band of ex-Southampton players will welcome Saints in the last game of 2012, and it was a 3-2 victory for the Potters in their last potteries encounter. It was an exact reverse of the scoreline in the same season at St. Mary’s, Drew Surman, Gregorz Rasiak and Jhon Viafara got the goals for Saints, Parkin and Fuller for Stoke. Points – 3.

Saints on the up.

So, if we can match those results, we will end on 36 points. Sounds bad doesn’t it? But, take into account that the majority of the games come from a terrible Premier League relegation campaign and consecutive horrific Championship seasons, it is surprisingly good.

Also, it is worth noting that 36 points would mean safety in six of the last ten Premier League seasons, though not the last two.

Of course, none of these teams look anything like the last time we played them, and neither do we. So this is all just speculation and conjecture. Of course it is, back where we started then….

You can see the full fixture list at the Saints Official Website here.

Chris

p.s. If you have enjoyed reading the blog over the past year, why not vote for us in the “Club Specific” category at the Football Blogging Awards? Either via Facebook here. Or, tweet the following:- @TheFBAs @crstig #Club

A Royal Visit…

No game this season has been or is likely to  be as big as this.

Just nine goals separate Saints and Reading, and both have a six point advantage over third placed West Ham. There is just four games left to play and on Friday night they face each other.

Realistically, both sides need seven points (six for Saints with their goal difference) from their remaining four fixtures to book a return to the big time so Friday’s match gives both an opportunity to both make a major dent in that and take the advantage in the race to be Champions.

Reading have been on staggering form after a shaky start, and Saints have been in the top two all season. This really is a case of “the unstoppable force against the immovable object”.

Reading have a few players either injured or recovering when they visit St. Mary’s, and Saints will be without playmaker Morgan Schneiderlin, but hopefully this game will live out to be the spectacle that it deserves.

I caught up with Dan from top Reading blog The Tilehurst End and asked him a few questions about the big match:-

So this is the big one, how do you feel it will go?

“It’s weird because for ages this is the game I’ve been most confident about. I thought we’d get a draw at West Ham and get beat at Brighton before nicking a win at your place. Now that we’ve got 5 more points than I thought I’m suddenly more nervous! 

While Tuesday night was a great win it was very much a backs to the wall effort (a bit like your win at Leeds a while back!) and we very much felt the impact of having our first, second and third choice central midfielders out injured (Cheers Colin & Leeds….) . Jem Karacan is out for the season while Mikele Leigertwood and Jay Tabb are both doubts for Friday’s game and without at least one of those back to partner Hayden Mullins we might well struggle to contain you.

Beyond that, with the likes of Lallana, Sharp and Lambert you’ve got the ability to punish us but our defence have risen to just about every challenge so far and I hope they will do again.

I wouldn’t rule out us going and winning 2-1… but my sensible head says 1-1.”

After a less than impressive start, your turnaround has been amazing, what changed?

“Losing at Wembley + No Money + Selling our captain & top goalscorer = a bad Reading side to start the season. 

Losing Matt Mills and Shane Long was always going to be difficult, especially when those are sales to survive rather than to generate funds for new signings. On top of that, some of the team that did so well at the end of the previous season came back injured or just plain out of form. Ian Harte, Jem Karacan and Mikele Leigertwood were all horribly out off the pace and there just seemed a malaise around the place. 

But before the end of the month Brian signed the likes of Kaspars Gorkss, Adam Le Fondre and Joe Mills and we slowly started to grind out some results. We were looking like staying in the play-off race at Christmas but a modest advance of funds from our prospective new owners allowed us to sign the likes of Jason Roberts in the January window and with him we’ve never looked back. Suddenly we had the striker we needed to play 4-4-2 effectively and him, a rejuvenated Ian Harte and rock solid back pair in Pearce and Gorkss have enabled us to be the best side in this league in 2012.”

Jason Roberts has proved a potent force as Reading charged up the table.

Who do you fear in the Southampton side?

“As mentioned it’s hard to look past Lambert, Lallana and Sharp. Some Reading fans have branded you as Lambert FC but it’s clear you’re capable of scoring from all over the pitch and can punish any lapse in concentration. The game at the Madejski last year was clear proof of that, as a Reading side seemingly in control was undone by switching off for a moment at a set peice. You’re top of the Championship for a reason and we won’t be underestimating anyone.”

Your the boss, how do you lineup the side to beat us?

“Without knowing who will and won’t be fit it’s a bit of a nightmare! Based on who MIGHT/HOPE will be fit I’d stick with the tried and tested 4-4-2 that has done us so well this year. 

          Federici

Cummings   Pearce  Gorkss    Harte

Kebe     Leigertwood   Tabb/Mullins   McAnuff

         Hunt        Roberts

Our gameplan is based on soaking up pressure, with our central midfielders sitting deep and winning the ball to release Kebe and McAnuff, or getting it up to Hunt or Roberts to flick on from one another. It’s quite scary to watch as often we’re happy to give the oppossition the ball in our half but we seem to have a lot of control and patience and even going behind doesn’t phase us.

Howevert, with the injuries we have we had to play a bit of a 4-5-1 on Tuesday night so you could well see Cywka, Mullins and McAnuff as the midfield trio with Kebe and Hunt winging it and Roberts up front Solo.”

How will the top 3 look after the last game of the season?

“Hoping it’s 1. Reading   2.  Southampton  3. West Ham.

If I wasn’t a Reading fan I’d have to fancy West Ham to totally implode. Their players looked as if they won the cup when they sneaked a late equaliser against Brum so it was great to knock the stuffing out of them with a win at the AMEX on Tuesday. If Friday ends in a draw as I’m predicting, Reading should hopefully dispatch Forest and Palace while I think Boro could nick a draw off you. That would mean a winner take all final day and in those circumstances I think we can beat a Brum side who will have 1 eye on the play-offs.”

I was happy to return the favour for Dan, read my responses to his questions here.

Chris

Business End: How It Shapes Up…..

Here is a quick look at the remaining fixtures for Saints, West Ham & Reading as the season approached it’s finale…..

So in the grand scheme of things, how do these fixtures shape up?

Well from a very basic point of view if all three clubs match their results from the reverse fixtures this would be the resultant points:-

1st Saints – 90

2nd West Ham – 87

3rd Reading – 84

It is extremely unlikely that results will turn out like that though so what other factors could we look at?

West Ham have one more home game (5) than Saints and Reading (4) but actually this might not be an advantage, as West Ham have the worst home form, dropping points in as many games as they have taken the maximum (9). All three clubs have the same amount of away trips (6), which slightly favours West Ham over Reading with Saints the biggest strugglers on the road.

Red Ribbons Again?

Saints play the most sides in the bottom half of the table (6), with Reading and West Ham facing the same amount each (4). This is a particularly encouraging number for Saints fans, as Nigel Adkins side have only conceded one goal to a bottom half club in 2012!

Reading are the team on form, having won eight games on the bounce until a draw with Doncaster Rovers in their last outing.

Form over the last ten games for all three teams reads:-

Reading:- LWWWWWWWWD – 25 points

Saints:- LDDWDWWWDW – 19 points

West Ham:- WWLWDWDWDD – 19 points

If everyone stays true to the form book, Reading will complete an impressive end to the season and win the league with 92 points, leaving goal difference to separate Saints and West Ham for the second promotion spot (based on a win for West Ham in their game in hand).

Saints Will Be Hoping To Flood The St. Mary's Pitch Again On Final Day...

What will probably decide the fate of the clubs will be the fixtures of 31st March and 13th April when Reading travel to Upton Park and St. Mary’s respectively. Two wins for the Royals would put them firmly in with a chance at the title. Saints have the best record against their title challenging opponents though, unbeaten, having taken five points from three games. Reading are also unbeaten, taking four points from two, while West Ham have let themselves down in these fixtures with just one point from three.

So who will be lifting the football league trophy on the 28th April? Not easy to tell, but one thing is for sure, for Saints, Royals and Hammers respectively it is going to be one hell of a ride!

Chris