Back in February, I was approached by Ashley Greb on twitter as he was intending to go to St. Mary’s for the FA Cup 4th round replay against Millwall and wanted some advice on parking etc.
Four months later and I received an e-mail from Ashley informing me of the release of his book ‘A Long Way’, a football diary of sorts that chronicles his FA Cup adventure.
Inspired by his grandfather, Ashley inadvertently set off on an FA Cup crusade when he attended the Cobham v Badshot Lea game of an August evening in the Extra Preliminary Round. His journey started there at the ‘Leg o’Mutton Field’ and would end at Wembley for the final.
In a true tale of endurance and dedication Ashley, even assigned a set of rules (with assigned points) to his task, which on the whole he sticks to. based on sustainability, time and repetition of teams. In all he attended 26 games (a game and a replay in every round) at 22 grounds, watched 46 teams, saw 97 goals and travelled 1,768 miles.
Saints are privileged enough to have a chapter dedicated to them, describing Ashley’s trip to the Millwall defeat. He has good things to say about Saints (having cheered for them from the stands of the 1979 League Cup final) and their fans.
I thoroughly enjoyed this book. I like many have felt with bigger sponsorship deals, more emphasis on Champions League qualification and removal of traditions (this years final being played at 17:15 on the same day as league fixtures particularly riled me), the FA Cup has gradually lost it’s magic over the last twenty years, but by reading this book you soon learn that it hasn’t.
Ashley’s journey documents, the highs, lows and drama of the oldest cup competition in the world. If you grew up in a time when the FA Cup final was a massive deal (I still smile when I think about 1988!) or simply love the beautiful game and it’s roots in England then this book is for you!
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This is the first in what will be a regular feature on georgeweahscousin.com where I will take a look at any former Saints amongst the next opposition.
First up, is someone who is making a quick return to St. Mary’s this weekend having played for the club as recently as May.
The Frenchman didn’t make as big an impact as he might have liked after joining from Leicester City, making just seven appearances for the club, and not finding the net once. The winger come striker was still a valuable member of Nigel Adkins squad rotation system though and played his part in Saints promotion campaign, most notably in a man of the match performance at Exeter City.
Millwall makes it six English clubs for N’Guessan now, having also previously appeared for Scunthorpe, Lincoln and Boston United.
Whether or not he features on Saturday is as yet unknown as he has picked up a knock, but Millwall have started the season almost as brightly as Saints and N’Guessan himself has already bettered his Southampton record, netting the winner on his debut for the Lions at Home Park against Plymouth. Must like the South West!
“When Millwall fans were wondering over the summer who Kenny Jackett would bring in to replace Steve Morison and Neil Harris up front, several relatively high profile names came across the rumour mill. Craig Mackail-Smith, Ishmail Miller, Nile Ranger, Jordan Rhodes, and Rob Hulse were among the names out there. One name that did not come up at all until the day he signed was Dany N’Guessan. N’Guessan is a player that would start up front for a vast majority of Championship level teams, but at Leicester he is surplus to requirements. Coming to Millwall just two days before their Carling Cup tie at Plymouth, he was inserted into the starting lineup for that game and went and scored just 14 mintues in, with the eventual deciding goal in a 1-0 win. He then played a role in Millwall’s 2-0 win over Nottingham Forest four days later. Although he picked up a hamstring injury in that game and is out for what is hopefully a short time, it’s clear that N’Guessan has the size and pace to be a force at this level if given the opportunity, something he wasn’t going to get at Leicester. Coming to a team relatively short of attacking options in Millwall, he will get that chance now.”
It was with little surprise to Saints fans, when Jason Puncheon scored the consolation goal in Blackpool’s 1-3 defeat by Premier League Champions Chelsea last night.
You see, Puncheon has become somewhat of a phenomenon amongst the St. Mary’s faithful this season. I am not sure if he is the first and only player to go on loan from a League One side to a Premier League team, but I am sure there can’t be many?
So how does a League One player end up on loan in the promised land? He must have been having a cracking season for Saints right? Wrong.
Puncheon signed for Saints in January 2010, and came with warnings to me from fans of both Plymouth Argyle, his parent club and MK Dons where he had been on loan, that he was very much an enigma, a natural talent no doubt, but often lacking the required attitude. I often take the opinions of fans on an outgoing player with a pinch of salt, as they may come with a drop of bitterness, and I thought this was the case when Puncheon hit the ground running in a Saints shirt.
Puncheon quickly established himself as the first choice on the right wing, producing mesmerising energetic performances and chipping in with the odd goal, as Saints made a late push for promotion. Firmly becoming a fans favourite, it looked like alongside Jose Fonte, then Saints boss Alan Pardew had signed one of the crucial final pieces of the Saints jigsaw.
As has been well documented something, somewhere didn’t go to plan in the summer. Saints had a poor start to a season, in which expectation was high. Puncheon was one of those who didn’t look himself, his performances looked lethargic and unenthusiastic. The crowd began to get on his back and to make matters worse for Puncheon, his drop in form coincided with the emergence of talented teenager Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.
Saints parted company with Alan Pardew at the end of August last year, and this spelled the beginning of the end for Puncheon. New boss Nigel Adkins found less and less requirement for Puncheon to start games due to the impressive and match winning performances of Chamberlain. Rumours spread of a training ground bust up, and it was with little pre-warning that Puncheon joined Championship side Millwall on loan in November. After his lacklustre performances at League One level this season, Saints fans couldn’t believe their eyes as Puncheon scored the winning goal on his debut for the Lions and went on to help himself to five goals in seven games at the higher level. He looked like a completely different player, in fact he looked like the 2009/10 Puncheon as he terrorised the Championship’s defences.
Several comments in the media by Puncheon made it pretty clear that he wanted to stay at Millwall, including remarks about being at a club where he felt loved and wanted. He even mentioned being prepared to take a paycut. Unfortunately for Millwall and the player, it was pretty obvious that they wouldn’t be able to meet Saints asking price for the player or for that matter match his wages.
Puncheon returned to Saints in January, and found himself in the starting lineup for the FA Cup victory over Premier League Blackpool and the draw with Notts County but after far from Millwall level performances, it was rumoured that he was back on the bench for the trip to Tranmere, but refused to travel. This was speculation of course, but I don’t think many were surprised when Puncheon left on loan again at the end of January. This time though his destination was the Premier League, could it be that a player that that couldn’t hold down a place in a League One side was going to play regularly at the highest level?
Puncheon hasn’t necessarily nailed down a place as first choice at Bloomfield Road, but when called upon his performances have been again energetic and eye catching. His goal last night against the reigning champions was his second in just three games for the Lancashire outfit.
I think it is clear that Puncheon’s differing performance standards have nothing to do with ability or the level he is playing at, but more about desire. Something about his time at Saints went wrong and his desire to play for the club had gone in my opinion. His almost instant success at two other clubs playing at higher levels would seem to prove this.
Some players need to be first choice, and need to have an arm put round them, it certainly isn’t that Puncheon isn’t “good enough” to get in the Saints team, but his drop in desire and form coinciding with the mercurial rise of Chamberlain meaning he had to fight with a 17 year old(all be it a 17 year old being coveted by some of Europe’s top clubs), which may have been difficult for Puncheon to swallow.
I have always had a hard line in my opinion with players who have temper tantrums and attitude issues, as no player should be bigger than or dictate their position to the club, therefore if the rumours of Puncheon’s outbursts are true, particularly the refusal to travel, then for me he should have played his last game for the club. I think he made it clear during his time at Millwall that he didn’t want to be here, and by proving himself at Premier League level, would suggest a permanent move won’t be far away.
The worrying thing for Puncheon is, that if he doesn’t settle somewhere soon he is in danger of being labelled a journeyman. Ten different clubs already in a relatively short career is pretty high, and it makes you wonder if settling in is his biggest problem.
I for one shall be watching the rest of his career with great interest, and hope he doesn’t become another wasted potential.
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