“If God had wanted us to play football in the clouds, he’d have put grass up there.” – Brian Clough
Saints head to Pride Park this weekend to face Derby County in a top of the table clash which has already attracted a crowd of thirty thousand people.
Nigel Adkins will be pitting his wits against Nigel Clough. Both have had fantastic records so far this season, and have their teams playing the way football should be played. One stark difference for them though, is that for Clough, he will always be compared to “Old Big ‘Ead” himself, father Brian.
Clough Snr will always be regarded as one of the greatest managers this country has ever produced, bringing attention to himself, first with Saturday’s opponents Derby, before huge success with arch rivals Nottingham Forest, and it was in his Forest days that Clough Snr, proved to be somewhat of a spoilsport for Saints. Twice, the great man denied us in cup finals, some thirteen years apart.
Firstly, in 1979 Southampton found themselves the underdogs for another Wembley final in the League Cup, taking on league champions and holders Nottingham Forest. Despite taking an early lead, Saints were eventually bossed by the class of Clough’s men. A valiant effort from the team in yellow though saw the final score at 3-2 in favour of the champions, with Saints goals coming from Nick Holmes and David Peach. Archie Gemmill the architect for Forest. Strike one to Clough.
1992 saw Saints and Forest meet again in the capital, this time for the Zenith Data Systems Cup final, Clough’s side may not have been the force they were thirteen years previously, but they were going well in the league, and had been in the previous season’s FA Cup final. Amongst their team were two sons of note, Nigel making a name for himself up front, and Scott the offspring of 1979’s chief tormenter Archie. Saints came back from a 2-0 deficit to take the game to extra time, Kevin Moore and Matthew Le Tissier getting the goals, but it was to be a Gemmill again that would have a definitive say in the outcome. Adding to his fifteenth minute opener, Gemmill won the match in the second period of extra time, for another 3-2 Forest victory. Strike two to Clough.
Son Nigel has followed a similar career path to his Dad so far, starting in the lower echelons of English Football with Burton Albion, and now overseeing things at Derby County. He hasn’t quite emulated Brian’s successes just yet (Clough Snr won the second division in his second season at the Baseball Ground), but signs this season are that he has what it takes to make the Rams Championship challengers.
What does look certain, is that the battle of the Nigel’s, could be both a fantastic spectacle and a meeting of two of this countries top up and coming managers. Saints will be hoping, that the Clough factor is a thing of the past, and that 2007 Pride Park playoff semi final memories can be banished forever. With no chance of Leon Best or Inigo Idiakez being on penalties, Saints will have more than a chance, but away performances haven’t been spectacular recently, and Derby smarting from a a 4-0 defeat at the hands of Leicester last time out will be looking to bounce back.
It is no surprise that this seems to be the Championship “Game of the Week” for many of the countries media outlets. First against third, Let’s hope it lives up to it.
Saints welcome Steve McClaren and his Nottingham Forest side to St. Mary’s this Saturday and will be looking to bounce back from their defeat to Leicester City. It hasn’t been the best of starts for the former England manager at the City Ground, with rumours of unrest on his part after not being able to bring the players he wanted in during the transfer window. Results haven’t gone well either, with just one league victory so far against struggling Doncaster Rovers.
McClaren has gone on record as saying he thinks his squad is in need of a major overhaul, but on paper it still looks strong to me, and what he does have at his disposal are three ex-Saints…
Keeper Smith joined Saints in the 2004 January transfer window. Coming armed with a growing reputation as a top young performer between the sticks at Brentford he was initially understudy to Antti Niemi. Due to injuries to the first choice Finn, he did end up making nine appearances for the first team including five starts in the Premier League, albeit in the ill fated run in to relegation.
Smith looked impressive in his forays into first team action leading Saints fans to believe they had a ready made replacement for Niemi who was increasingly likely to leave after demotion to the Championship. This is exactly what did happen in January 2006, and Smith had the chance to make the number one spot his own, unfortunately his confidence seemed to have deserted him and George Burley turned to new boy Bartosz Bialkowski and veteran free transfer Kevin Miller to take his place.
Smith was sold to League One Forest the following July.
“A real ‘hero to zero’ time in a Forest shirt. Once a staple part of our starting eleven, his perceived lack of confidence got the crowd on his back and seemed to heighten the already awful defending prevalent at the time. Firmly on the bench under Lee Camp now, and I think he would benefit from a move away from the City Ground. An excellent keeper who has lost his way and confidence here. I still think he’s technically a better goalkeeper than Camp, but without the overbearing confidence (or arrogance?) our current number one exhibits. He’s been made a bit of a scapegoat and unfortunately the moron element in our fan base make it impossible for him to flourish for Forest again.”
Nottingham lad McGoldrick started his career in his hometown with Notts County, making his first team debut at just sixteen years old. His talent was soon spotted by Saints and he was signed in the summer of 2004. He was a key member of the Southampton youth team that reached the Youth Cup final in 2005 and his performances earned him a first team debut in the League Cup in September 2005. He went back to Notts County on loan before coming back and having a prolific scoring season for the Saints reserve and youth sides.
This sharp shooting didn’t go unnoticed and George Burley handed him his first league start in April 2006. In and out of the first team for the next couple of seasons, McGoldrick went out for two spells on loan at Port Vale and an impressive tenure at Bournemouth where he scored six goals in twelve games.
In 2008/09 McGoldrick finally nailed down a place as a first team regular under Jan Poortvliet and then Mark Wotte, featuring in all forty six league games as Saints limped out of the Championship. Despite twelve league goals for the club, McGoldrick could have given a whole lot more in my opinion, and in a season where Saints needed all hands to the pump McGoldrick often looked like he wasn’t really trying (with flashes of brilliance thrown in). With a distinct hint of “Big I am” attitude it was a certain case of mixed feelings when McGoldrick made his million pound move to Forest.
NFFC Blogger gives his thoughts on McGoldrick:-
“It’s quite apt that the original request to me overlooked McGoldrick. As we saw with Paul Smith, Forest fans (or sections of them) love nothing better than a whipping boy. David is our current one. He’s referred to in such disparaging terms as McGoalDrought or worse – and whilst I dislike any player being singled out for abuse, I do have a little sigh if I see him starting. Injury, squad rotation, a nigh on zero-creative midfield at times and now a managerial change have all contributed to curtail his development as a Forest player. Is he a striker? If so, the likes of Findley, Miller and Derbyshire seem more dangerous options – and of course Dex when he’s fit. Tudgay and Garner also probably have as much credit as David. If he wants to play attacking midfield then he’d need to oust McGugan or Majewski… basically, were it not for the hefty fee we paid for his services I think we’d be looking to offload.”
Of the three ex-Saints amongst the Forest ranks Blackstock is the most fondly remembered amongst the St. Mary’s faithful. Partly for his decent performances and workman like approach to the game, but mainly for two particular events in his time as a Saint.
Signed from the Oxford United youth setup in 2003, it was a baptism of fire for the eighteen year old in the 2004/2005 season as Saints struggling in the Premier League had a front line injury crisis. The young Blackstock rose to the challenge scoring his first three goals in a Carling cup game against Colchester. He then scored his first league goal at the best possible time, equalising in the South Coast derby at St. Mary’s, Saints going on to beat Pompey 2-1.
Harry Redknapp arrived and Blackstock found himself out in the cold, spending the second half of the season on loan at Plymouth Argyle. After relegation to the Championship Blackstock might have hoped for more playing time, but Redknapp had other ideas. Another loan spell at Derby County followed before Arry headed back to ‘his spiritual home’ with his tail between his legs, George Burley replaced him and immediately recalled Blackstock and used him in the first team. The highlight of Dexter’s final season as a Saint came in the cup at Newcastle. All three substitutes used up, Saints keeper Bartosz Bialkowski went down injured, only for Blackstock to step up to the role, eleven minutes unbeaten in the sticks and two pieces of Southampton folklore secured.
Blackstock was sold to QPR in August of 2006.
NFFC Blogger gives his view on Blackstock:-
“Signed on loan from QPR when we were battling relegation back to League One, scored a crucial winning goal in a 3-2 win against Bristol City and we’ve loved him ever since. Bought for a bargain fee as his face didn’t seem to fit at Loftus Road, and has carved out a role as a real grafter in leading the line for us, and had made strides to build a dangerous partnership with Robbie Earnshaw, who of course has returned to Cardiff. Speaking of the Bluebirds, it was there last season he was sidelined when Cardiff City’s Olofinjana raked his studs down his shin whilst he was turning – ultimately leading to a cruciate injury that sees him still recovering. Needless to say no action was taken against the Cardiff midfielder. In the meantime we have signed a considerable amount of competition to our rank of strikers so he will need to work hard to get back into first team contention – which I’m sure he will, and Forest fans will be thrilled to see him take to the field again.”
The 15th April is always a sad day in the English footballing calendar.
On this day in 1989, ninety six people went to watch the team they love, much like many of us do week in week out, but what should have been a celebratory day out ended in disaster and they never came home.
I will never forget the television images and it is something that will live with me, and any other football fan that watched it unfold.