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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

We had joy, We had fun, We had two seasons in League One…

Goodbye to you my trusted friend. We’ve known each other since 2009/10…

When Saints were relegated to the third tier of English football in May 2009, the club was at it’s lowest ebb. Administration, wages not being paid and liquidation a very real possibility.

The rescue of the club by Markus Liebherr was both spectacular in it’s suddenness and an early sign of things to come, especially in terms of how the new owners and chairman conduct their business. In private.

The new regime moved quickly to remove the disastrous Dutch coaching team and install the experienced and somewhat “punching below his weight” Alan Pardew. Suddenly, just as quickly as the club had spiralled downwards, it was growing again, and smiles were seen again around the city. The first season in League One was always going to be interesting. A new division, a new manager and a new team can be uneasy ground at the best of times, but add the points deduction that Saints had suffered as punishment for their financial troubles the previous season and you have a dangerous mix.

As it happened, it was a difficult start for the Saints, and there was an air of “here we go again” in the St. Mary’s stands. It was eight games before they registered a League One win, and ten before they hit “positive” points.

For the first time in a long time, Saints were a scalp. After years of being a weekly underdog, now they were facing life on the opposite side of the fence and it was tough. Smaller clubs desperate to take us down. The opposition League One fans were also hard to please, if a Saints fan suggested promotion they were “arrogant”, but if they suggested otherwise it would be ridiculous for us not to win the league with “our resources”.

But once Pardew’s men got the points deduction monkey off their proverbial backs, there was no stopping them. Showpiece signings like Rickie Lambert and Jose Fonte soon got the team fired up the table, and despite some disappointing results away from home, Saints got themselves to within just seven points of the playoffs, highlighting the true punishment of a deduction. They did make Wembley however and lifted the Johnstones Paint Trophy in front of over fifty thousand of their fans, in what was a truly fantastic day for all concerned.

Saints fans went into the summer, cautiously optimistic, the team looked like it was now equipped to deal with the division, and with no points deduction the possibility of promotion was high. But as Saints fans, we learnt a long time ago to never “expect” anything.

Dean Hammond lifts the JPT.

It seemed inconceivable as Saints entered the 2010/11 season that there could be anything but good spirits at the club. Sadly there were undercurrents of mistrust between the manager and the board that spawned rumour after rumour. Coupled with an opening day televised home defeat to Plymouth Argyle and all the optimism of the summer was draining away fast, could it get any worse for Saints fans?

It could. Just three days after the first game of the season, Saints owner and saviour Markus Liebherr passed away. A city in shock, suddenly with it’s future up in the air again, and mourning the man who had brought back their smiles.

It didn’t improve on the pitch. A draw at home to Leyton Orient and grumblings of unfit players and poor pre-season preparation spelled the end for Alan Pardew, dismissed ironically after a 4-0 away win at Bristol Rovers. The next three league games all ended in defeat. Saints were 23rd in League One, their season already looking in tatters.

Enter Nigel Adkins. The Scunthorpe manager brought mixed reaction from the Southampton faithful, many still smarting from the removal of Alan Pardew, but after a losing start, the Saints players under a new regime started to put a good run of form together. The emergence of another Southampton “teenage sensation” in Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, the fantastic form of Adam Lallana and a much steadier looking back four made the Saints a tougher prospect and they were soon battling it out at the business end of the table.

It still looked like automatic promotion was going to be a difficult prospect though, and that we would be victims of our own poor start. Runaway leaders Brighton were having a fantastic season, Huddersfield, Bournemouth and a resurgent Peterborough United under Darren Ferguson all looking to take the second spot. A 0-1 defeat away at Walsall and many Saints fans would have been eyeing potential play off matches, but the run the team put together after that was to fire us half way back to where we belong.

The last fifteen games of the season. Thirteen wins. One draw. One defeat. Amongst this remarkable form there were moments of real inspiration, that finally had me, a natural pessimist believing we could do it.

MK Dons at home. 2-0 down and looking like a serious promotion challenge dent. Cue Jonathon Forte, brought on in the 63rd minute, pulled one back in the 66th and equalised in the 67th. I had no doubt in my mind at that point that we would win the game and we did.

Bristol Rovers at home. Having just lost 0-2 at Rochdale, Saints needed to pick themselves up again. I was in Qingdao, China, where nearly all social media is banned. I was sat in my hotel room at 2300 local time watching the text updates on the official site. Saints carved out chance after chance, but couldn’t score. Until the 82nd minute. Guly do Prado, sending at least one of the 1.3 Billion people in China into a state of delirious satisfaction.

Brighton Away. The deserved champions had got a little big for their boots, the snarling and baiting of their fans towards Nigel Adkins leading up to it, gave the game an unhealthy edge. David Connolly got the equaliser and Jose Fonte and Saints deservedly snatched their unbeaten home record in the last minute. The best team in the league statistically, couldn’t keep up.

Saints went into the last three games knowing that two wins was enough. We won all three, and promotion was sealed.

I have often heard our stay in League One described as a nightmare, but it really wasn’t. Of course it is a blow to find yourselves at this level after years of Premier League extravagance, but it was nice to have a period of winning more games than we lost. Having said that, I am glad to be out of it, and hopefully we won’t be back, although there is something rather refreshing about the less commercial League One.

It is a really weird feeling to be elated about going to the Championship. Last time I was devastated…

We had joy, we had fun, we had two seasons in League One…

The Saints players celebrate effective promotion at Home Park.

Chris