Tag Archives: Matt Mills

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

Saints Academy: Talent Architects…

Hi all, I am pleased to introduce another new contributor to georgeweahscousin.com in the form of former Saints trainee Scott Gordon. Scott hails from the Emerald Isle, more specifically Lurgan, Co. Armagh. He is the husband to Joanna and soon to be father to a junior Saint.

He has been a Saints fan for nearly 16 years, which all started when the club plucked him from obscurity as a 13 year old playing in his local league. After a week’s trial he found himself signing a 5 year deal that would change his life forever. He might no longer be a Saints player, but he is still Northern Ireland’s number one fan!

Over to you Scott! – Chris

Saints Academy: Talent Architects…

Bridge. Baird. Bale. Walcott. Chamberlain. Five names from the modern day football world and all with one massive thing in common… they are all products of the fantastic Saints Academy. Skip back a few years and Mike Channon, Matthew Le Tissier, the Wallace brothers, Alan Shearer and Francis Benali are once again products of our enviable youth system.

The ‘Academy’ as we know it today came into formation in the 98/99 season. This marked the start of the new scholarships rather than the YTS system of old. In effect these scholarships were designed to safeguard the future of the young players, if and when, they did not manage to make it in football. As a product of this academy (class of 2001) I guess I am glad the scholarship was offered. I’m now a PE teacher back home in Northern Ireland and without the investment from the club and the FA, this may not have been a reality for me. But this was not exactly the remit of the club.

As with any smaller club the purpose of an academy is to produce fine young players to come through and represent the first team. The five players mentioned in the opening line of this piece all achieved this goal and I might add, performed admirably for the senior side. They do, however, have another thing in common… All sold by the Saints. For a total of £38million.

I guess that’s where I have a problem with our club and the way we handle our younger players. For too long we have been a selling club. You can add Brian Howard, Matthew Mills and Scott McDonald into the list of players that have moved on. I wonder now that we have returned to the Premier League will we still have the same attitude? If we still had the big 5 players with us, would we have gotten back to the promised land a lot sooner? Who knows. My only hope is that we become a keeping club and not sell on our best products. Lallana is still there and that is a good sign and there are many other players coming through (I’m told James Ward-Prowse and Corby Moore are two to look out for).

Premier League, Champions League, European Championships. Products of Southampton.

In my time, Crewe, West Ham and Coventry were the clubs with the supposed best academy set ups. I firmly believed then and now that we have the best. Back in 2000 we were defeated in the semi-final of the FA Youth Cup 2-1 over two legs by a Coventry side that were then chinned 7-1 by an Arsenal side that contained Steve Sidwell. I can remember reading a quote from our then managers Stewart Henderson and John Sainty. They said that yes, we were on a great run in the competition, but this success did not guarantee any player a professional contract or a future at the club (a statement which was made abundantly clear one season later as I was shown the door).

When I left in 2001, two others came with me and only five (Alan Blayney, Ryan Ashford, Chris Baird, Scott McDonald and Brian Howard) went on to represent the first team. In total we had 25 players across our 1st and 2nd year scholars. None are with the club now and very few are still making a living from the game. It used to be said you had to be best in Europe to make it as a pro footballer. Our year changed that to be the best in the world. Players from all over Uk, Italy, Russia, Africa and Australia represented our youth team during my time with Southampton.

We are without doubt one of the best Academy setup’s in the country. My only hope is that we hold on to our talent and let the other teams be envious of us for a while.

Scott

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

A Saint Amongst Them: Leicester City…. Take 2.

Just before Saints went down 3-2 to Leicester at the King Power Stadium at the end of August I looked at the ex-Saints among their squad (check it out here), playing staff wise not a lot has changed. Matt Oakley has had a loan spell with Exeter City, while Matt Mills has been a regular as the Foxes who have been in indifferent form.

It was perhaps this indifferent form that saw manager Sven Goran Eriksson leave the club by mutual consent at the end of October.

This saw the return of another ex-Saint to Leicester, in the shape of former boss Nigel Pearson.

Nigel Pearson

Pearson joined Saints in February 2008 after the side had suffered poor form under the caretakership of John Gorman following George Burely’s defection to the Scottish national team.

Coming in off the back of just one full time managerial role at Carlisle United in the late nineties, many fans were sceptical about his appointment.

He arrived at St. Mary’s when the job was somewhat of a poisoned chalice. Saints were 18th in the Championship and the soon-to-be well publicised financial issues were bubbling under behind the scenes.

The former England U-21 coach got off to a shaky start, not winning in his first five games, although only one of those (his first in charge) ended in defeat. His first victory, came rather ironically, at home to Leicester City. Stern John scoring an acrobatic volley from Mario Licka’s flick to get a precious three points against their fellow strugglers.

Pearson the Saint.

Saints would only go on to win twice more that season, but the supporters were encouraged by the battling performances that Pearson’s rejuvenated men were putting in.

Saints went into the final day of the 2007/08 season in 22nd place, and staring relegation to League One in the face. Needing to both win at home to Sheffield United (who could grab themselves a play off place) and hope that at least one other above them slipped up.

Saints came from behind to lead 2-1 before being pegged back again, but it was Stern John who converted the winner and Leicester’s stalemate at Stoke meant Pearson had escaped the drop.

After a truly dreadful season, Saints fans were optimistic that with a transfer window at his disposal, and the encouraging performances at the end of 2008 that Pearson would be capable of building a decent side at St. Mary’s. That wasn’t to be though and at the end of May that year Rupert Lowe sacked Pearson and replaced him with Dutchman Jan Poortvliet, a move that would be proved to be both purely financial and ultimately disastrous.

Pearson was appointed manager of Leicester City and led them to the League One title, while Saints car crash couple of seasons spiralled out of control.

Stern John celebrates THAT goal.

Saints welcome back Pearson to St. Mary’s, now in his second spell at Leicester City on Monday night.

Chris

A Saint Amongst Them: Reading

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…

Joseph Mills

‘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!

Mills and Boon? Not that kind of Reading.

Opposition’s view:-

Dan from popular Reading blog The Tilehurst End gave his thoughts on Mills:-

“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.”

Alex Pearce

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.

Pearce. Struggled to get ahead at St. Mary's.

Opposition’s view:-

Dan gave us his thoughts on Pearce:-

“Pearce is someone that still polarises opinion more than three years after making his debut for the first team. I’ve written a big piece about him here which covers most of his ups and downs at the club  http://thetilehurstend.co.uk/2011/07/18/the-ups-and-downs-of-alex-pearce/ 

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.” 

Cedric Baseya

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.

Baseya. A tall order for goals?

Opposition’s view:-

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.” 

Chris

A Saint Amongst Them: Leicester City…

Saints head to the King Power Stadium this Saturday to take on high spending Sven Goran Eriksson’s Leicester City.

The former England manager has made nice use of the summer transfer window, bringing a virtually whole new team in, a clear statement of intent from the Swede, that promotion is the Foxes only goal this season.

Amongst the plethora of talent that Eriksson has assembled, two former Saints with differing fortunes on the South Coast could be in line to face their old club.

Matthew Oakley

A product of the Southampton Academy, Oakley is fondly remembered at St. Mary’s. The central midfielder made his debut for the Saints aged just eighteen in 1995 and went on to play over three hundred times for the club.

In his career highlight, Oakley was named in Gordon Strachan’s starting lineup for the 2003 FA Cup final, somewhere we might never have been had it not been for his Extra Time winner at the Den in a Fifth Round Replay. During this period of his career he was also touted for an England chance by many (of course it was Sven who didn’t pick him).

Having established himself over the years as a first choice and dependable midfielder, comfortable at playing the holding role as well as getting forward and creating attacks, it is no surprise to me that Southampton’s Premier League demise coincided with long term injury woes for Oakley, he played just seven times in the 2004/05 relegation season.

Oakley’s twelve year service at the club ended in 2006 after he rejected a new contract before signing for Derby County. It has always been a mystery to me why Oakley was never granted a testimonial with the club, although, it was rumoured that he was to have one in the 2006/07 season had he not moved on.

Oakley went on to captain the Rams in their promotion season, before heading off to Leicester City in January 2008, exchanging a Premier League relegation battle for a Championship one. The Foxes lost that battle, dropping to League One amongst the final day drama that saw Saints survive.

Oakley was named captain for the following season as Leicester romped their way to the League One title and remained a regular in the side during last season’s campaign. Whether or not he can fight off Sven’s new guard and retain it this season remains to be seen…

Oakley - a true Saint.

Opposition’s View:-

Leicester City fan Mike McCarthy from Foxblogger gives his thoughts on Oakley:-

“Some Leicester fans have just never got on with Matt Oakley. He’s never been the most exciting player but on his day he can still pull the strings in midfield (although one Guardian reporter’s description of him as ‘the Xavi of the Championship’ was perhaps overdoing it).

Oakley’s first team appearances have been limited to the Carling Cup so far this season, and with the wealth of midfield talent in the Leicester ranks it’s difficult to see how the former Saint will be able to force his way back into Sven’s plans. With one year remaining on his contract, we can expect Matt to be looking for another club next summer.”

Matt Mills

In contrast to Matt Oakley’s Saints career his namesake Mills spent very little time on the South Coast. Another product of the Academy, centre half Mills showed massive potential in loan spells at Coventry City and Bournemouth, and also in the few Championship appearances he made for the club. On the verge of establishing himself in the Saints first team, Mills’ head was turned by Manchester City in January 2006, former Saints boss Steve Wigley, alerting his new club to the young defender.

Having played for the Southampton first team just six times, the youngster headed off to Eastlands and the Premier League. Mills found first team appearances hard to come by with City though, and had to settle for loan spells at Colchester United and Doncaster Rovers (ironically dropping to a level below Saints) to get games. He eventually joined the Yorkshire club permanently in 2008 after securing promotion to the Championship.

He was to spend just one more season with Rovers though, before signing for Reading in the summer of 2009. This is where Mills really started to catch the eye, establishing himself as a solid central defender, and playing a major role in the Royals campaign last season that saw them reach the playoff final.

Sven was impressed enough with Mills to part with £5.5 million for him this summer.

Matt Mills showing his potential at Saints.

Opposition’s View:-

Mike gives us his thoughts on Mills:-

“It’s fair to say the jury is still out on Matt Mills. The huge fee Leicester payed Reading for the centre-half was beginning to look like an albatross around his neck. An (unfortunate) own goal against Rotherham in the League Cup and a poor performance against his former employers led Sven to drop his new captain to the bench after just two league games. A more assured display at Nottingham Forest, coupled with much less erratic distribution has calmed some fans nerves and hopefully Mills’ own.

Mills is part of a back five in which only Sol Bamba has survived the summer unscathed, so uncertainty at this stage of the season is understandable. Eventually Mills will need to take command and cajole his new colleagues into keeping more clean sheets, something Leicester have only managed against a toothless Coventry City so far. But if results don’t improve in the medium term expect a few reactionaries to point to his price tag and wonder why the defence isn’t producing the goods.”

Chris

Championship Preview Part 4…

The Fourth and final instalment of the 2011/12 Championship season preview by the fans. Following on from parts one, two and three, the final six Championship fans give their opinion on how their clubs will fare…

Peterborough United:-

Name:- Steve Thorpe

Club:- Peterborough United

Twitter:- @Freekicks

Website:-  Freekicks Foundation

What can we expect from your club this season? Goals galore!! probably at both ends to be honest. Even with CMS gone we still have Boyd, Tomlin and McCann who all got double figures last season. Add to that Nicky Ajose who comes with a big reputation, we should score plenty. In pre season we have conceded an average of 2 a game, we do need to tighten up at the back! There is a great team spirit among the lads, hopefully that will pull us through!

Who is your most important player? Grant McCann the skipper and set piece king, his quality and experience is something we didn’t have at this level last time. Not just the goals he scores but he also got 13 assists last season, goals from set pieces will be very important I think.

Your predicted finishing position? 15th…we will flirt with relegation but save ourselves in February/March.

Who might win the Championship? I don’t think you can see past Leicester really, they seem to be getting quality in all over, if they can gel together as a team early on in the season, they could runaway with it.

Who definitely won’t? MK Dons (If you want a serious answer to this let me know).

Most anticipated fixture? Really looking forward to West Ham away, feels like one of those days similar to Newcastle two seasons ago when loads of Posh fans turnout. Although I hope it’s not the same result and fallout as that game!

Most anticipated fixture that doesn’t involve your club? Brighton v Hull….the Mac Attack on the same pitch again although on opposite sides. Both are great lads and deserve success and still loved by Posh fans.

If you could take one player from someone else’s club (Championship only), who would it be? Mackail-Smith! He is irreplaceable not just for the goals but mostly for his work rate and turning lost causes into chances.

You find yourself stuck in Sixfields. How do you escape unnoticed? Easy! Sneak one of those implements that kids use to split their lego up with and take out a few of the lego bricks from the main stand and Bob’s your Uncle, back on the A45 home!

Portsmouth:-

Name:- The Pompey Pages

Club:- Portsmouth

Twitter:- @pompey_pages

Website:- The Pompey Pages

What can we expect from your club this season? A promotion push is obviously the aim, but it all depends on how Steve Cotterill does in the transfer window between now and the start of the season as we’ve still got a tiny squad.

Who is your most important player? We had a number of key figures last season like Liam Lawrence, Hayden Mullins and Joel Ward and with David Norris, Luke Varney, Jason Pearce and Stephen Henderson all added to the ranks it could be any of them, but our money’s on Varney to light up the Championship next season.

Your predicted finishing position? Top 10 would be ideal however there are a lot of big and strong sides in the Championship next season so a promotion push will be tough. 

Who might win the Championship? Leicester have spent big and West Ham have got a lot of quality experienced players so I think it’s a two horse race to be honest.

Who definitely won’t? Southampton 😉

Most anticipated fixture? It has to be the South Coast derby home and away doesn’t it? The Pompey v Southampton rivalry is back on this season and with some big 4-1 victories over Southampton the last two games, both teams and both sets of fans will be well up for it!

Most anticipated fixture that doesn’t involve your club? I think Leicester v West Ham will be a big one. As I said, I think they’ll both be fighting for promotion and they’ve got some quality players.

If you could take one player from someone else’s club (Championship only), who would it be? Scott Parker’s still at West Ham isn’t he? He’d be pretty useful. Mind you we’re a bit desperate for another striker at the moment. I’d be quite keen on Charlie Austin or Jay Bothroyd to link up with Kitson and Varney. 

You find yourself stuck in St Mary’s. How do you escape unnoticed? That’s a tough one! To be fair I don’t think anyone caught in a Pompey shirt in St Mary’s is gonna be welcomed with open arms. Maybe use Joel Ward and his new found strength (following his conditioning trip to USA) as a bodyguard.

Liam Lawrence. Making a fist of it at Portsmouth.

Reading:-

Name:- Dan Wimbush

Club:- Reading

Twitter:- @thetilehurstend

Website:- The Tilehurst End

What can we expect from your club this season? I think we’ll be pretty solid this season, as we’ve (at the time of writing) retained the core of the side that did so well last season. A lot depends on whether Shane Long goes (and if so how much for) but I’m confident we’ll be in and around the play-offs again. 

Who is your most important player? Again depends if he’s still here but right now it’s Shane Long. The striker’s second half form turned us from a mid-table side to being 90 minutes from the Premier League and his goals will again be crucial. If he goes it’ll be up to Jimmy Kebe and Jobi McAnuff to provide some magic from the wings.

Your predicted finishing position? Right now I’ll say 8th.

Who might win the Championship? Hard to look past West Ham or Leicester right now. Big Sam’s bought wisely and is exactly the type of manager the club needs, while Sven’s been spending cash like mad (including our captain Matt Mills).

Who definitely won’t? Peterborough will struggle. The last time they were in this league they were so far off the pace and even last year they conceded goals for fun. Losing Mackail-Smith is a killer for them and it’s hard to see them surviving.

Most anticipated fixture? Trips to St Mary’s and the AMEX have been looked forward too most of the summer, while our games with West Ham usually entertain. 

Most anticipated fixture that doesn’t involve your club? Some real grudge matches in the league this year, Southampton v Portsmouth, Millwall v Leeds, Brighton v Palace, this division isn’t for the faint of heart this season!

If you could take one player from someone else’s club (Championship only), who would it be? Kevin Nolan. Nolan was fantastic as Newcastle walked the league two years ago and while not the most likeable player out there he’s a  terrific player.

You find yourself stuck in the Kassam Stadium. How do you escape unnoticed?  Quietly make my way to the end without a stand and sneak over the fence!

Southampton:-

Name:- Chris Rann

Club:- Southampton

Twitter:- @crstig

Website:- georgeweahscousin.com

What can we expect from your club this season? Attacking, free flowing, attractive football, quality soundbites from Nigel Adkins and a team on the ascendancy as opposed to the last time we were in this division. 

Who is your most important player? Adam Lallana. Since January all the focus has been on Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, but on the other wing we have a young player who is far more accomplished and far more important to the team. Lallana is a class act, and is liable to tear holes in your defence at the drop of a hat. When Lallana ticks we can beat anybody. Honourable mention for David Connolly too, IF he can stay fit, he is still a fantastic goalscorer at this level.

Your predicted finishing position? 10th. I think we are a couple more players away from being a real contender. So I might be a little bit more optimistic if the expected “two more signings” happen.

Who might win the Championship? The obvious answers are West Ham and Leicester, but I have got a sneaking feeling for Ipswich Town.

Who definitely won’t? I fear that Coventry City are going to be the next of the ex-Prem clubs to drop into the third tier.

Most anticipated fixture? Hmmm. Tough one, but I think I will have to say the two games against our poor relations down the road. They have trounced us the last two times we have played them, but this time we are on a level footing and the blue few have no longer got a team built on other peoples money.

Most anticipated fixture that doesn’t involve your club? I am quite interested to see what Nathan Tyson will do if he scores the winner against Forest…

If you could take one player from someone else’s club (Championship only), who would it be? Nicky Maynard from Bristol City. Fantastic striker, who I think would score bagfuls playing off of Rickie Lambert.

You find yourself stuck in Fratton Park. How do you escape unnoticed? I would open two packets of Scampi fries and put them in my pockets, draw an anchor on each forearm in biro, speak in a fake cockney accent and talk about nothing but “scummers”. This should see me blend in with the locals. Failing that, I will dress like the sheik from Cannonball Run and walk about with a bag labelled “swag”, the Fratton faithful will be so busy putting up “Welcome to Portsmouth” banners on the flyovers of the M27, I will be able to walk out unnoticed…

He plays on the left, he plays on the right, Adam Lallana, makes Messi look sh**e...

Watford:-

Name:- Mike Parkin

Club:- Watford

Twitter:- @rookerymike

Website:- From the Rookery End

What can we expect from your club this season? A low average age! As a result of the club’s precarious financial state, we were forced to field more of our younger players last year than we perhaps would have liked. We’ve made a few additions to the squad over the summer, noticably Chris Iwelumo, but we’ll still be relying on our array of Harefield Academy graduates. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing – they performed admirably last year, but the Championship seems incredibly competitive this year, big teams entering the division from both the Premier League and Division One, so they will need to deliver for us again. Whatever happens, a team managed by Sean Dyche is always going to give 100% so I’d be surprised if we didn’t provide a tough challenge for the majority of teams in this league.

Who is your most important player? Having said we’re largely dependent on youth, we do have a couple of experienced players. Cult hero Lloyd Doyley is entering his testimonial year, whilst fellow defender Martin Taylor is a vital part of our defensive unit. Our most important player is another man with experience – our captain John Eustace. Eustace is a born leader, barking orders on the pitch whilst crunching into tackles, breaking up play and kick-starting many of our attacking moves. The sort of player you hate playing against, but adore when he’s one of yours. The news that John Eustace had signed a contract extension was without doubt the best news of the summer.

Your predicted finishing position? If you’ve ever listened to me on the ‘From the Rookery End’ podcast, you’ll know that I’m not the most optimistic of souls! I do however think it’s fair to say that our single aim for this season is safety. If we can avoid relegation, it will have been a successful year and so anything above 21st will be god news as far as I’m concerned. We certainly have the talent to survive, but a good start to the season will be vital – especially with Sean Dyche entering his first season in management.

Who might win the Championship? Leicester City have been attracting a lot of attention with their eye catching activity in the transfer market, so I’d imagine they will be short odds. Will all the new signings gel though? I’m not sure. Their fans will expect a lot after all the investment, so their will be definite pressure on Sven and his team. Of the relegated sides I think West Ham United will be challenging, whilst Division One champions Brighton will be full of confidence after demolishing their opponents last year. I’d be surprised if they won it, but I can certainly see them making the play-offs. If you were to give me a fiver to back a winner, I’d go for Nottingham Forest. I think they have pulled off a master stroke in getting Steve McLaren on board, he has a wealth of experience and in getting rid of the permanently angry Billy Davies, I imagine the City Ground is already a more pleasant place to be. They get big crowds and have a decent squad – I’m going with Nottingham Forest.

Who definitely won’t? Birmingham City. Things are unravelling at an alarming pace at St Andrews and their fans will be hoping they can simply survive the season. They are losing players left right and centre and have seemingly have no funds with which to bring in replacements. It’s looking bleak for the blues.

Most anticipated fixture? Over the summer, most of our key players and staff departed for Wales. Danny Graham went to Swansea, whilst what felt like every one else followed Malky Mackay to Cardiff City. There was a lot of good will towards Malky after what he achieved in his time as boss at Vicarage Road, but this evaporated when he used his knowledge of contract situations at Watford to pinch Don Cowie, our influential midfielder, on a free. I think a lot of fans will be looking forward to the games with Cardiff and praying that we can prove to those that left they made a mistake. From a personal point of view I’m looking forward to visiting Brighton’s shiny new stadium and finding out first hand if they make good on their promise of lighting the away end in the colour of the visiting team. Intriguing!

Most anticipated fixture that doesn’t involve your club? I always enjoy watching the joys of the South Coast derby unfold – ideally from a very safe distance. With the Saints back in the Championship, I am looking forward to watching Southampton and Portsmouth do their thing. South coast neighbours Brighton also have their eyes on a tasty derby with long time rivals Crystal Palace, so that will be good fun to watch.

If you could take one player from someone else’s club (Championship only), who would it be? He’s actually got a lot to prove at Championship level, but he’s a local lad and is rumoured to be a Watford supporter, showing him to be of impeccable taste. He needs a haircut, but I reckon Craig Mackail-Smith would be a decent addition to any Championship side. It will be interesting to see how CMS does at this level.

You find yourself stuck in Kenilworth Road. How do you escape unnoticed? Very simple. I would simply explain that I am an official from the Football League and am therefore obviously very lost. I probably wouldn’t even need to explain; they have been non league for so long now, they simply wouldn’t recognise a supporter from a football league club! Bless their cotton socks.

West Ham United:-

Name:- Iain Dale

Club:- West Ham

Twitter:- @iaindalewestham

Website:- West Ham til I die

What can we expect from your club this season? A top two finish. Hopefully!

Who is your most important player? Kevin Nolan. If he can score his usual amount of goals then we can be very hopeful of promotion at the first attempt.

Your predicted finishing position? 1 or 2.

Who might win the Championship? Us!

Who definitely won’t? The others!

Most anticipated fixture? It’s certainly not Millwall. Maybe v Leeds?

Most anticipated fixture that doesn’t involve your club? Southampton v Portsmouth.

If you could take one player from someone else’s club (Championship only), who would it be? Shane Long.

You find yourself stuck in the Den. How do you escape unnoticed? Quickly get some extra tattoos…

Kevin Nolan is many people's pick to star this season.

Well that wraps up the 2011/12 Championship preview by the top club bloggers and tweeters. All there is to do now, is sit back watch the season unfold and see our optimism and predictions die before our eyes…

Chris