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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

As featured on NewsNow: Southampton FC news

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

One Man Team…

After a rather stunning victory at the weekend, where in fairness we probably didn’t deserve to win the game, a Rickie Lambert hat trick saw all three points head back to St. Mary’s.

What came with those three points though were a few accusations, mainly from West Ham fans, but also on a lesser scale from Reading and our South Coast friends from Portsmouth and Brighton.

Firstly that we are cheats, and that we were given two “dodgy” penalties to convert a defeat into a win. This point I’m not going to discuss. Watch the replays.

Secondly, that we are a “One Man Team”. This isn’t new territory for us. For years in the nineties Matthew Le Tissier’s heroics seemingly kept us in the Premier League, and it is hard to argue with that, and I won’t even try. This time it is a little different. Rickie Lambert now wears Le Tissier’s number seven shirt and is undoubtedly a talisman for Nigel Adkins’ side, hitting 24 league goals so far. But. To call this team a “One Man Team” is a little facetious. This team is top of the Championship on merit, and the goals have come from every aspect of the side.

So exactly how important is Rickie Lambert to our season? In truth. Very.

If we erase his goals from history, instantly wins against Forest and Millwall become defeats, while victories over Brighton, Watford and Leeds all become draws and draws with Derby, Blackpool, Pompey and Ipswich all convert to losses. In all, this is a loss of 17 points and sees Saints four points outside of the play off places.

This only tells half the story of course. Lambert takes our penalties, of which there have been nine awarded this season, and of which he has converted all nine. Had he not been playing, someone else would have taken them, and quite possibly scored them too, which would again completely change the outcome of those games.

Arguably, without Lambert we would have gained at least a point at Brighton too. Sent off with the scores at 0-0 in a game Saints were dominating!

All by myself. Lambert reels away after beating another team on his own...

Another factor is that while West Ham and Reading’s top scorers sit on nine and seven goals respectively, our joint second top scorers sit on ten each! So what if we didn’t have those players either?

Guly do Prado. For me, still one of our most consistent and impressive performers, to other Saints fans the devil incarnate. But in terms of dropped points, he becomes the second most important player. Without Guly’s goals wins over Millwall, Hull and Palace become draws and Saints drop to fourth place on 66 points.

Adam Lallana may be shocked to find he plays in a “One Man Team” after being voted in the top three players in the Championship this season. He has also won points for Saints this season, victories against Hull and Barnsley becoming draws without his goals, dropping Saints to second with 68 points.

Frazer Richardson and Danny Fox should also get a mention here. The full backs are often the unsung heros, both in the top ten players in the Championship for assists with Lallana and Guly not to far behind.

And what about Kelvin Davis? How many points would we have taken from Elland Road recently and plenty of other games without him in goal?

This “One Man Team” image becomes more of a myth, the more you look at the stats. Another angle to approach it is which player have we missed the most when they haven’t played? And that is clearly Richard Chaplow. Saints have lost seven league games this season, five of which have come when Chaplow wasn’t involved. In fact we have dropped a staggering 25 points without the energetic midfielder in the side. We have dropped six when Lambert hasn’t played, seven without Lallana and two without Guly. It is no coincidence that our most lacklustre performance, the 0-2 home defeat by Leicester came when Lambert, Lallana and Chaplow were all missing.

So in conclusion we aren’t a “One Man Team”. We have several stand out men, playing amongst what is a very good team. Take away the assists of Fox, Richardson, Guly and Lallana and how many goals would Lambert have?

I would also urge the accusers to go and check their own sides stats before they point the finger again, I wonder how many points West Ham would have without the goals of Kevin Nolan or Mark Noble’s penalties…

Chris

Business End: How It Shapes Up…..

Here is a quick look at the remaining fixtures for Saints, West Ham & Reading as the season approached it’s finale…..

So in the grand scheme of things, how do these fixtures shape up?

Well from a very basic point of view if all three clubs match their results from the reverse fixtures this would be the resultant points:-

1st Saints – 90

2nd West Ham – 87

3rd Reading – 84

It is extremely unlikely that results will turn out like that though so what other factors could we look at?

West Ham have one more home game (5) than Saints and Reading (4) but actually this might not be an advantage, as West Ham have the worst home form, dropping points in as many games as they have taken the maximum (9). All three clubs have the same amount of away trips (6), which slightly favours West Ham over Reading with Saints the biggest strugglers on the road.

Red Ribbons Again?

Saints play the most sides in the bottom half of the table (6), with Reading and West Ham facing the same amount each (4). This is a particularly encouraging number for Saints fans, as Nigel Adkins side have only conceded one goal to a bottom half club in 2012!

Reading are the team on form, having won eight games on the bounce until a draw with Doncaster Rovers in their last outing.

Form over the last ten games for all three teams reads:-

Reading:- LWWWWWWWWD – 25 points

Saints:- LDDWDWWWDW – 19 points

West Ham:- WWLWDWDWDD – 19 points

If everyone stays true to the form book, Reading will complete an impressive end to the season and win the league with 92 points, leaving goal difference to separate Saints and West Ham for the second promotion spot (based on a win for West Ham in their game in hand).

Saints Will Be Hoping To Flood The St. Mary's Pitch Again On Final Day...

What will probably decide the fate of the clubs will be the fixtures of 31st March and 13th April when Reading travel to Upton Park and St. Mary’s respectively. Two wins for the Royals would put them firmly in with a chance at the title. Saints have the best record against their title challenging opponents though, unbeaten, having taken five points from three games. Reading are also unbeaten, taking four points from two, while West Ham have let themselves down in these fixtures with just one point from three.

So who will be lifting the football league trophy on the 28th April? Not easy to tell, but one thing is for sure, for Saints, Royals and Hammers respectively it is going to be one hell of a ride!

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