Tag Archives: nPower Championship

Big Time Charlie, More like About time!

If there is one complaint that all Saints fans have had in common of late, it’s that we were in desperate need of a striker.

There was one name that was repeatedly on the lips of the supporters, an out and out goalscorer who had proved his point in the Premier League in the last campaign, and seemingly the ideal man to come in and lead the line at St. Mary’s.

It’s not often though that the supporters and the club find themselves on the same wavelength when it comes to transfer business so the breaking news on Saturday morning that on this occasion they actually were, was both perfectly timed and a pleasant surprise.

To seal such a sought after striker, whose record is prolific at every level at such a bargain price of £4 million, is staggering business for the club and the only thing left to ask is, what took so you long Charlie?

You see, ever since this site was in it’s infancy, and Saints were playing in League One, it’s always felt to me like destiny that Charlie Austin would one day turn out for us. As mentioned in a nostalgic piece here, the then Swindon Town forward was our ‘tormentor in chief’ at the time.

Having grown up on the South Coast, I remember feeling he might have been one that had slipped through Saints proverbial net, having caught the Robin’s eye while banging in the goals at Poole Town!

Austin was often the difference in games between us and Swindon, and he also notched against Saints in the Championship with Burnley, not to mention last season’s spectacular strike at St. Mary’s in the Premier League.

As Saints have progressed so has Austin at an equal rate, and now is the time for them to move on together!

Austin’s addition couldn’t be any more welcome, and with supporters starting to feel restless after a poor run of late, the return of Fraser Forster, two good wins on the bounce and the announcement of such a good goalscorer joining the squad has brought the confidence flooding back into the stands.

Saints fans love a goalscorer and it was perhaps fitting that Charlie Austin was sat in the stands watching his new team-mates while a former legendary front-man in Rickie Lambert returned with West Brom.

Graziano Pelle and Shane Long have been great in patches this season, but this added competition can only be a good thing, and in Austin it feels like we might have another talisman forward on our hands. Perhaps even the man to takeover from Lambert and join predecessors James Beattie, Le Tiss et al as the focal point in the team.

It feels like a move that makes perfect sense for all parties for a change. QPR got a fee before losing out altogether in the Summer, Saints got their goalscorer, and Charlie Austin has a six month crack at the England Euro 2016 squad.

It’s been a while since Saints made a transfer that inspired such confidence in the stands, and there was a buzz amongst the fans I was watching the WBA game with, while those St. Mary’s were clearly audibly lifted!

Just when it feels like Saints are getting us down again, they know just how to scoop us back up.

Acceptable to be excited again? I think so.

charlie-austin-signs-southampton-news148-2905726_478x359

 

GWC.com Fantasy iTeam

Good Morning Readers!

After some positive feedback on twitter I have decided to start a Betfred Fantasy iTeam mini-league as a season run competition for readers of the site and Saints fans in general.

All are welcome and it is completely free (including free mobile app to run your team).

I don’t have anything right now, but I will endeavour to come up with a decent prize for the winner at the end of the season! I will put weekly league updates up on this site so you can all see just how well (or in my case badly) you are doing!

Saints paid how much? You can get Big Vic for just £5.2 million....
Saints paid how much? You can get Big Vic for just £5.2 million….

So what you waiting for, get spending your £75 million on the Premier League’s finest and join the league!

League pin:- 21368

Chris

Latter Day Saints…

After the Neil Bartlett was the first inductee into the ‘Latter Day Saints’ alumni, it is now your chance to give another ex-Southampton stalwart a chance to add their name to this illustrious list.

Mystery Saint

Pick wisely.

 

Chris

 

Latter Day Saints….

So, seeing as the summer of discontent is well and truly upon us, I thought about introducing a nice historical feature about past Saints players, be they superstars, sinners, (p)sychopaths or true Saints.

But to make it more interesting I thought I would open the floor to you, beloved readers, as to who you would like to hear about. To add another twist the options won’t be named so it is up to you to vote for the most ‘intriguing option’.

Here goes….

Would you like to hear about:-

The poll will close on Wednesday and the winner will be focused on in the first ‘Latter Day Saints’ post.

Enjoy!

Chris

 

Nicola Cortese: About to lose our rudder?

‘It is better to lead from behind and to put others in front, especially when you celebrate victory when nice things occur. You take the front line when there is danger. Then people will appreciate your leadership.’ – Nelson Mandela

It’s never ‘easy’ being a Saints fan. Having looked like Premier League safety was a given a few weeks ago, we still managed to play ourselves back into the battle and only secured it on Sunday with a laboured point against Sunderland.

Time to relax then surely? Nope.

Yesterday news broke that Chairman Nicola Cortese was considering his future at the club. The reaction amongst the social networking sections of Saints support was quite staggering. Since his arrival at the club in 2009 Mr. Cortese has built quite a reputation, and one that is often negative amongst our own supporters and worse amongst other clubs, yet yesterday the standard reaction of Saints fans was that of grief and nervousness about how the good ship Southampton might fare without the shrewd Italian at the helm. It is some turnaround, given that as recently as January, when he dismissed the hugely popular Nigel Adkins, Cortese was finding his sanity questioned and on the end of some hideous criticism. This wasn’t the first time either.

Behind the scenes Mr. Cortese has faced huge criticism from within and the club and outside it, something that has never appeared to faze him. He has had public fallouts (though he didn’t make them public) with ex-players and been accused of disregarding the history of the club. There have been several bizarre tales of strange behaviour away from the public eye revolving around toilets, teaspoons and an unapproachable personality. In fact, many would be more than happy to see the back of him.

But. From a professional point of view it is impossible to argue that he has done anything but a fantastic job. Brokering the takeover by Markus Liebherr in 2009 he spoke of a five year plan to get the club back into the Premier League. He completed that in three. He has at times made what would appear as ‘rash’ decisions, but you can look back at almost all of them and struggle to find fault retrospectively. He said himself that he wasn’t here to ‘make friends’ and just like he promised he achieved the goal of the Premier League and is now talking about the top 10 and Europe. His ambitions are clear, and they are built on the premise of building the club up from it’s foundations, overseeing big investment in our already World Class Academy.

nc

So what’s changed?

This summer sees a ‘natural’ contract break for the chairman, which leads the Liebherr Trust to negotiate a renewal. It would appear these talks have broken down (or didn’t even start). As far as I can see it there could be several reasons for this.

1. The ambitions of Mr. Cortese and the Liebherr Trust don’t match. This is the most worrying for me, Cortese has often spoke of the level achievement he wishes for the club, and he has proved that he will spend money to do it. If the Liebherr trust no longer want to spend that money and are happy at the current level then it is logical that Cortese would move on. It is also logical that Saints will no longer progress.

2. The Liebherr trust are not happy with the negative press about the Chairman. Markus Liebherr was a practising christian, and he often spoke about doing things the ‘right’ way. If his family are of the same ilk then they may have viewed some of the talk of Mr. Cortese’s behaviour uncomfortable.

3. Mr. Cortese would like a much improved contract financially to stay. There has been talk of interest of other clubs (AC Milan the standout) and given his achievements over the last few years it’s not exactly unreasonable of Cortese to expect a reward. Players do it, managers do it. Why not an extremely successful chairman?

4. The Liebherr trust are looking to sell the club. This has been rumoured pretty much since the day Markus sadly passed away. The club was only ever the dream of the late billionaire, not his family. They may feel that having restored the club to the Premier League they have fulfilled their obligation and can walk away. Nicola Cortese has often spoke of contingency plans and wealthy investors should this ever happen. Is this plan now about to come into effect, and he would need to leave as Chairman to launch his own takeover?

5. The Liebherr trust aren’t happy with the progress. Perhaps they have taken a leaf out of Cortese’s book a la Pardew/Adkins and decided that the club aren’t doing well enough and could do better under somebody esle? This seems unlikely, but everyone is under scrutiny in big business. Saints have spent money on several players who don’t play. Viewed as a failure?

This is of course all speculation. It could be a very simple contract wrangle that is easily resolved. As I said earlier some Saints fans are revelling in the news, and have long wanted rid of the Italian Chairman, but others (and I would say the majority) are rightly worried. Love him or hate him, Nicola Cortese has been the driving force behind the rise of Southampton Football Club over the last four seasons. He has fronted out all the abuse for his decisions, and bore the brunt of any unrest aimed at the running of the club. He has earned the right to be respected, and it could be a disaster for Saints should he move on. Cortese and Markus were friends, and that drives him on to reach Liebherr’s goals, a replacement may not have the same personal desire.

‘A man who wants to lead the orchestra must turn his back on the crowd.’

Hopefully in the next few days we will hear that there has been some development and perhaps even a resolution. Nicola Cortese might never be a popular person amongst all sections of the crowd, but he has earned the right to lead this football club into this exciting new era.

Be careful what you wish for.

Chris

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.

Good Friday, Very Good Saturday…

Now I’m not a religious man, I consider myself a man of science and logic, but when you support a club that was formed from a young men’s church association, their ground is called St. Mary’s, their nickname is the Saints, were graced for a years by ‘Le God’ and now they even have a ‘Holy Goalie’, you begin to wonder if divine intervention has ever helped our cause.

Holy Goalie - Good with crosses.
Holy Goalie – Good with crosses.

The Easter weekend is upon us, and Saints welcome European Champions Chelsea to St. Mary’s and it got me thinking. The Easter bank holiday fixtures are a tradition in English football and with Saints christian links, surely this is a fruitful time of year for the club?

And, actually, it is.

I had a look at Saints Easter weekend fixtures over the last 10 seasons (please don’t research their Easter results prior to this period, they are very dull and irrelevant) and found quite a remarkable success rate.

Saints record since the 02/03 season on Easter Weekend actually reads:- P – 10 W – 7 D – 2 L – 1 Pts – 23 GF – 17 GA – 9. You actually have to go as far back as 2004 to find the only defeat, a 1-3 reverse at Middlesbrough. Two of Boro’s goals came from devout Catholics Juninho and Massimo Maccarone. Coincidence?

Last season Saints hosted bitter rivals Pompey on Easter weekend, which accounts for one of the two draws, David Norris stealing a point deep into injury time. Religious people tell me that ‘God moves in mysterious ways’, and there wasn’t much more mysterious than that.

BS
Billy, shall I put a picture of Norris’ goal in?

In the previous season, Saints fans will remember Jose Fonte’s winner at the Withdean, and then Saints made it a 6 point double header with victory over Hartlepool in the same weekend. What’s that readers? That means that in one of the previous seasons we can’t have had an Easter weekend fixture? That’s right we didn’t, 2005/05 the Premier League relegation season. Punishment for having Judas Iscariot himself at the helm? (One of Judas’s main weaknesses seemed to be money (John 12:4–6).)

Fonte christens the net.
Fonte christens the net.

So are Rafa Benitez’ Chelsea ready to be crucified tomorrow? Are we going to see the second coming of the messiah (in my mind this will be presented to us in the form of a Guly do Prado finish)? Can Saints peform a miracle?

Who knows, with God as our co-pilot anything can happen and probably will.

Happy Easter to all of our readers from everyone at georgeweahscousin.com!

Chris

Played For Both: Saints & R’s

Firstly I apologise for the lack of Newcastle team, I ran out of time. I did have a final XI, but I think it could be improved on, so I am going to save it for another time.

I have managed to beat any time delays and present you a QPR side. It’s pretty poor, and up there for worst team so far. But anyway here it is…

654672_SouthamptonGoalkeeper

Paul Jones

Welshman Jones, joined Saints in 1997, following namesake Dave from Stockport County. He installed himself as first choice and went on to make nearly 200 appearances for the club before being displaced by Antti Niemi. He became the first goalkeeper in FA Cup history to come off the bench in a final when Niemi was injured in 2003, and gained 50 Welsh caps. He had a loan spell at Liverpool in 2004 before re-joining his first club Wolves after seven years as a Saint. He played for Watford and Millwall before joining QPR in 2006. He played 26 times for the R’s before heading into non-league football and retirement.

Paul Jones
Paul Jones

Defender

Fitz Hall

‘One Size’ only left Loftus Road this past summer having spent four season’s at the club and falling out of favour with Mark Hughes. Hall played the best part of 100 games for Rangers having signed in 2008. Previously had one season at St. Mary’s in 2003/04 but failed to nail down a starting position. Now playing for Watford, Hall also made the Saints v Latics side.

Fitz Hall
Fitz Hall

Defender

Neil Ruddock

Larger than life (in more ways than one) Londoner Ruddock joined Saints in 1989, having started his career at Spurs and then with Millwall. He was a firm favourite with the fans at The Dell, with his ‘no nonsense’ defensive style, bags of character and the ability to put a penalty away (though it was a couple of misses that led to Le Tissier being put on pens). He rejoined Spurs in 1992 and played a season there before moving to Liverpool. He headed to Loftus Road for a loan spell in 1998 before playing for West Ham, Crystal Palace and Swindon Town. He is now forging a career on the reality television circuit!

Neil_Ruddock

Defender

Mark Dennis

The original ‘Psycho’ Londoner Dennis began his career with Birmingham City, before moving to The Dell in 1983. Dennis was and still a highly popular figure amongst Saints fans, who appreciated his combatant style of play. Despite numerous sending’s off and suspensions, Dennis played over 120 times for Saints and made into ‘cult hero’ status, for his antics on and off the pitch. Dennis signed for QPR in 1987, having fallen out with Saints boss Chris Nicholl, he stayed a season at Loftus Road playing just over 20 times. Dennis then moved to Crystal Palace before retiring in 1990. Now the Director of Football at Winchester City.

Mark Dennis
Mark Dennis

Midfield

Nigel Quashie

Perhaps one of the biggest victims of Saints disastrous 2004/05 campaign, Quashie is often unfairly described by Saints fans despite some decent and certainly committed performances. Quashie began his career with QPR in 1995, staying three seasons before moving to Nottingham Forest. He stayed in the East Midlands until 2000 when he joined Portsmouth and became a key figure for the club as they rose to the Premier League. In January 2005 he crossed the divide, and followed Harry Redknapp to Saints. Quashie captained the side and led from the front, but the club were relegated, and he subsequently moved to West Brom the following January. Since 2007 Quashie has played for West Ham, MK Dons, Wolves and QPR again before heading to Iceland where he currently plays for BÍ/Bolungarvík.

The only way is up.... Oh wait...
The only way is up…. Oh wait…

Midfield

Inigo Idiakez

Spaniard Idiakez arrived in England with Derby County in 2004 having forged a career in La Liga with Real Sociedad, Oveido and Rayo Vallecano. He played at Pride Park for two seasons, building an impressive reputation as an attacking midfielder. When George Burley took over at Saints in 2005 it didn’t take him long to go back to former club Derby for Idiakez and Gregorz Rasiak. The Spaniard couldn’t quite recreate his Derby level performances and ended up going on loan to QPR in March 2007, he stayed at Loftus Road a month and was back in the Saints side on his return. Ironically he missed the decisive penalty to send his former club Derby to the final in the 2006/07 Championship playoffs. Rejoined George Burley as his assistant at Apollon Limassol in 2011.

Inigo Idiakez
Inigo Idiakez

Winger

Jason Puncheon

Current Saints winger Puncheon has had a turbulent time at St. Mary’s, having gone from zero to hero in his two years at the club. He signed for Saints in January 2010 from Plymouth having played for MK Dons and Barnet as well as the Devon side. He made an immediate impact to the Saints side, but soon took exception to being dropped for Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. During his fall out with the management of the club he had loan spells with Millwall, Blackpool and then Premier League QPR but he couldn’t seal a permanent move away from St. Mary’s. Puncheon swallowed his pride, returned and has been one of Saints best performers this season in the Premier League, scoring in the reverse fixture with QPR earlier in the season. Saints fans are now sweating on him being offered a new contract!

Puncheon silences Loftus Road
Puncheon silences Loftus Road

Winger

Frank Saul

Essex forward Saul played for hometown club Canvey Island as a youth before signing for Spurs in 1960. Saul started his career at White Hart Lane in style, as part of the 60/61 double winners and went on to make well over 110 appearances for the North London side, before they used him as part of the deal to sign Martin Chivers from Saints. His career never took off at Saints, scoring just two goals in 46 appearances and he moved back to London and QPR in 1970. He scored four goals for the R’s and ended his career at Millwall.

Frank_Saul

Forward

Iain Dowie

Dowie started his career playing for various non-league clubs before being spotted by Luton Town in 1988. He spent three seasons with the Hatters before earning a move to West Ham. Things didn’t quite go to plan at Upton Park and Dowie joined Saints in September 1991. The Northern Ireland forward had four seasons at the Dell scoring 30 goals. He was sold to Palace in January 1995 and only stayed until the end of the season, returning to West Ham. He signed for QPR in 1998 and ended up playing in defence. He had a brief spell as caretaker manager at Loftus Road in 1998, and was given the job permanently ten years later in 2008, but lasted just 15 games.

Iain Dowie
Iain Dowie

Forward

Peter Crouch

Many expected Crouch to make a return to Loftus Road this January and link up with Harry Redknapp again but it wasn’t to be. Crouch’s career effectively took off when he signed for QPR in 2000 from Spurs. His performances for the R’s in the 2000/01 season saw Pompey pay £1.5 million for him, and his season at Fratton park earned him a big money move to Aston Villa. Something didn’t go to plan at Villa and he was labelled a flop, lasting just two seasons before heading to St. Mary’s. Crouch was a revelation for Saints, but his goals couldn’t keel them up and he was on the move again in 2005, heading to Liverpool for £7 million. He lasted three seasons at Anfield and subsequently played for both Pompey and Spurs again, and now Stoke City.

The only way is up... Oh wait...
The only way is up… Oh wait…

Forward

Dexter Blackstock

Blackstock was signed from Oxford United and put into the Saints Academy in 2003 when he was 17. He was given a baptism of fire in the 2004/05 season starting games during an injury crisis. Blackstock did well and even got on the scoresheet in the local derby against Portsmouth, but as other strikers were brought in, his chances became limited and he moved to QPR in 2006. Blackstock had three seasons at Loftus Road, before heading to Nottingham Forest where he still plays now.

Dexter Blackstock
Dexter Blackstock

So there it is, probably not the best team you are ever likely to see, or one that will play particularly nice football, but with Puncheon crossing for the three big lads up front there is goals in it!

Chris

Our 2nd Birthday!

Blow me readers! georgeweahscousin.com is two years old!

In the same time as it has taken me to write 157 posts of inane drivel, viewed over 170,000 times, Saint have been promoted twice and changed managers. The first game after the birth of this site was a goalless draw away at Hartlepool and it turns two on the back of a 3-1 victory over the champions of England!

For those of you that remember, I celebrated last year’s first birthday with the inaugural ‘Ali Dia award for services to Southampton’ to midfielder Oscar Gobern, and this year is no exception. This award is presented to someone who has done something that has caught the eye in a Saints shirt.

After hours of discussion amongst the jury (myself, Ali Dia, Federico Arias and Agustin Delgado) we are delighted to announce that this year winner is:- Billy Sharp.

Sharp was considered a worthy winner of this award after shushing our poor relations down the road at St. Mary’s at the back end of last season. Congratulations Billy!

Billy Sharp Shush
Shhhhhhharp!

Thanks to everyone who has read the blog over the last year, and here is to another!

Chris

As featured on NewsNow: Southampton FC news

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

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