Tag Archives: Soccer

Puncheon below his weight….

It was with little surprise to Saints fans, when Jason Puncheon scored the consolation goal in Blackpool’s 1-3 defeat by Premier League Champions Chelsea last night.

You see, Puncheon has become somewhat of a phenomenon amongst the St. Mary’s faithful this season. I am not sure if he is the first and only player to go on loan from a League One side to a Premier League team, but I am sure there can’t be many?

So how does a League One player end up on loan in the promised land? He must have been having a cracking season for Saints right? Wrong.

Puncheon signed for Saints in January 2010, and came with warnings to me from fans of both Plymouth Argyle, his parent club and MK Dons where he had been on loan, that he was very much an enigma, a natural talent no doubt, but often lacking the required attitude. I often take the opinions of fans on an outgoing player with a pinch of salt, as they may come with a drop of bitterness, and I thought this was the case when Puncheon hit the ground running in a Saints shirt.

Puncheon quickly established himself as the first choice on the right wing, producing mesmerising energetic performances and chipping in with the odd goal, as Saints made a late push for promotion. Firmly becoming a fans favourite, it looked like alongside Jose Fonte, then Saints boss Alan Pardew had signed one of the crucial final pieces of the Saints jigsaw.

As has been well documented something, somewhere didn’t go to plan in the summer. Saints had a poor start to a season, in which expectation was high. Puncheon was one of those who didn’t look himself, his performances looked lethargic and unenthusiastic. The crowd began to get on his back and to make matters worse for Puncheon, his drop in form coincided with the emergence of talented teenager Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.

Saints parted company with Alan Pardew at the end of August last year, and this spelled the beginning of the end for Puncheon. New boss Nigel Adkins found less and less requirement for Puncheon to start games due to the impressive and match winning performances of Chamberlain. Rumours spread of a training ground bust up, and it was with little pre-warning that Puncheon joined Championship side Millwall on loan in November. After his lacklustre performances at League One level this season, Saints fans couldn’t believe their eyes as Puncheon scored the winning goal on his debut for the Lions and went on to help himself to five goals in seven games at the higher level. He looked like a completely different player, in fact he looked like the 2009/10 Puncheon as he terrorised the Championship’s defences.

Jason Puncheon - Finding his feet again?

Several comments in the media by Puncheon made it pretty clear that he wanted to stay at Millwall, including remarks about being at a club where he felt loved and wanted. He even mentioned being prepared to take a paycut. Unfortunately for Millwall and the player, it was pretty obvious that they wouldn’t be able to meet Saints asking price for the player or for that matter match his wages.

Puncheon returned to Saints in January, and found himself in the starting lineup for the FA Cup victory over Premier League Blackpool and the draw with Notts County but after far from Millwall level performances, it was rumoured that he was back on the bench for the trip to Tranmere, but refused to travel. This was speculation of course, but I don’t think many were surprised when Puncheon left on loan again at the end of January. This time though his destination was the Premier League, could it be that a player that that couldn’t hold down a place in a League One side was going to play regularly at the highest level?

Puncheon hasn’t necessarily nailed down a place as first choice at Bloomfield Road, but when called upon his performances have been again energetic and eye catching. His goal last night against the reigning champions was his second in just three games for the Lancashire outfit.

I think it is clear that Puncheon’s differing performance standards have nothing to do with ability or the level he is playing at, but more about desire. Something about his time at Saints went wrong and his desire to play for the club had gone in my opinion. His almost instant success at two other clubs playing at higher levels would seem to prove this.

Some players need to be first choice, and need to have an arm put round them, it certainly isn’t that Puncheon isn’t “good enough” to get in the Saints team, but his drop in desire and form coinciding with the mercurial rise of Chamberlain meaning he had to fight with a 17 year old(all be it a 17 year old being coveted by some of Europe’s top clubs), which may have been difficult for Puncheon to swallow.

I have always had a hard line in my opinion with players who have temper tantrums and attitude issues, as no player should be bigger than or dictate their position to the club, therefore if the rumours of Puncheon’s outbursts are true, particularly the refusal to travel, then for me he should have played his last game for the club. I think he made it clear during his time at Millwall that he didn’t want to be here, and by proving himself at Premier League level, would suggest a permanent move won’t be far away.

The worrying thing for Puncheon is, that if he doesn’t settle somewhere soon he is in danger of being labelled a journeyman. Ten different clubs already in a relatively short career is pretty high, and it makes you wonder if settling in is his biggest problem.

I for one shall be watching the rest of his career with great interest, and hope he doesn’t become another wasted potential.

Chris

Edinburgh’s dirty secrets…..

Having been lucky enough to visit the beautiful city of Edinburgh over the last few days, I have come to the conclusion that it is a Rugby town, or at least that is what they would like you to believe.

The first thing of note that I could see on the skyline as I drove into the city was Murrayfield, home of the Scottish Rugby Team, in fact this was the most prominent sight from the hotel window and it is an eyesore. Don’t get me wrong I like stadiums, but perhaps because it isn’t a football stadium it seemed a bit dull and ugly.

What I really wanted to see were the stadia of the Scottish capitals two professional football sides. Hibernian and Heart of Midlothian. In the centre of Edinburgh, steeped in history and fantastic architecture there is a distinctly Bohemian feel, and you could be fooled into thinking that there were no football clubs in the area. Overshadowed by their gigantic and famous Glasgow neighbours, both Edinburgh clubs have have joined the ranks of the Scottish Premier Leagues also rans in recent history.

It was no surprise to see many Old Firm shirts in the city centre, and not one of the local teams, or that the cities many souvenir and tat shops are selling Celtic and Rangers paraphernalia and not that of the Hearts or Hibs. In a city that homes over 480,000 people, it shows the level of interest in the clubs that neither team breaks an average of 12-14k people for home games. But don’t that let you think that their isn’t a vibrant footballing rivalry alive and well in the back streets and suburbs!

The first Edinburgh derby was played on Christmas day in 1875, making it one of the oldest rivalries in World Football and there are similarities with the more world renowned Glasgow derby. Hibernian like Celtic were formed by Irish immigrants, reflected in their name and colours while Hearts were founded by the indigenous Scots.

Tynecastle, the home of Hearts and Easter Road, the home of Hibs are situated just under four miles apart. While the city and it’s proudest features are clear for all to see, you have to hunt a little further to find the homes of these two proud football clubs.

Situated in Gorgie, in the West of Edinburgh, Tynecastle is one of those “blink and you’ll” miss it grounds. In an area that is largely downtrodden, the stadium and it’s situation has a distinctly traditional feel and more importantly something that all good football grounds should have. Character. It reminded me of the Dell and to a lesser extent Kenilworth Road, almost looking out of place in it’s location, but at the same time very much part of the area.

Me at Tynecastle...

In contrast, Easter Road has a much more modern feel to it. Situated in the North of Edinburgh, in Leith, the stadium is all together “cleaner’ and perhaps easier on the eye, more in the light and bright St. Mary’s style(complete with Megastore) than the Tynecastle red brick. Similarly though, it is also hidden away, slightly easier to notice than Tynecastle, but more like a built for purpose stadium area.

Me and the "Famous Five"...

What was for certain from both grounds, that I certainly didn’t get from Murrayfield was that aura of atmosphere that you only get at a football stadium. So, while the city seems intent on celebrating it’s Rugby heritage(and why not), it’s “dirty secrets” are bringing pleasure to far more people on a regular basis!

Tynecastle hosts the next Edinburgh derby on April 9th. You can keep your Old Firm, this is the one I’d like to be at…

Chris

War Horses 2 Show Ponies 1

If Carling made cup finals…….

Well yesterday they did, and what a cup final it was! While I am neither a supporter of Arsenal or Birmingham City, I did find myself favouring the team in blue. Why? Well the terrible decision by the linesman early on instantly made me get behind them, but also the contrasting styles of the teams.

What we had was a clear case of War Horses versus Show Ponies, and I have always been a War Horse fan. Maybe it says something about my own natural lack of footballing talent, that while other kids were being Gazza and Chris Waddle, I was always Stuart Pearce or Terry Butcher on the hallowed concrete of the playground. I tried being Matt Le Tissier a couple of times, but I knew I wasn’t doing him justice so went back to being Glenn Cockerill, in case I somehow did the reputation of the mercurial Saints weaver some unintentional damage.

It’s not that I don’t appreciate a bit of skill, I like the odd stepover, the odd back heel, but like everything in life you need balance and for me watching a “water carrier” like Claude Makalele or Didier Deschamps control the play in midfield with simplicity, energy and efficiency is every bit as majestic as a Messi or a Ronaldo cutting in and sending one home. The importance of the “water carrier” was not lost on the great Eric Cantona who himself coined the phrase based on the influence of Deschamps on the success of the late 90’s French team. Cantona is perhaps one example of a player who managed to be both show pony and war horse!

When I talk about “War Horses” though, I don’t just mean the efficient holding midfielder, but also the do or die player, the man who would put his head where a “Show Pony” wouldn’t put their feet. Is there anything more inspirational to an England fan than the infamous sight of Terry Butcher smothered in his own claret, or Stuart Pearce screaming at the Wembley crowd in Euro 96? Men that lead by example, that inspire confidence in their team-mates and grab the bull by the horns.

War Horses.

This is where the two sides differed on Sunday. Arsenal are the epitome of a show pony side. Full of talent and flair, the likes of Nasri and Arshavin light up the Premier League on a regular basis, and of course recently out-Barca’d Barcelona, the ultimate show ponies. But perhaps what they lack is War Horses, or even a War Horse. It is no surprise to me, that in a game like that, the best player in an Arsenal shirt was Jack Wilshire, a lad who looks to me like finally being the man to fill Bryan Robson’s boots in an England shirt and certainly the closest thing they have to a war horse at the moment.

In comparison, look at the Birmingham team. Nothing shows the contrast more than the names Bowyer and Ferguson in the Blues midfield. Combative and committed to the end these two are unlikely to shy any challenge, especially in a cup final. Alex McLeish has built up a side that works hard and is extremely efficient with the ball. They would never have competed with Arsenal if they tried to play like Arsenal, but by constantly pressing and never saying die, they showed that the gap in skill level could be overcome.

Show Pony.

Is it a coincidence that Arsenal haven’t won anything since Patrick Vieira left? A man who is without a doubt a war horse. While Arsenal play breathtaking football at times, even the flair riddled Barcelona line up with a Carlos Puyol at the back, is there anyone taking on that role for Arsenal?

All the truly great sides have a balance of players types. AC Milan in the 80’s owed as much to Franco Baresi as they did to Marco Van Basten, even the Brazilians have relied on a Dunga and what might have been in 1966 without a Nobby Stiles?

The game has certainly changed over the years that I have watched it, but it was refreshing to see that there is still a role to play for the combative battler alongside the pretty ball jugglers.

Chris

Fungus the Bogey Team….

As Saints prepare to take on Swindon Town today, one of football’s strangest traditions is brought to prominence. The Bogey Team.

Saints have failed to beat the Robins since August 1993, alright there have only been five games since, but those have been five defeats, with Saints scoring just one goal! This kind of record brings out the pessimist in even the most “glass half full” type of supporter. Swindon have been on increasingly poor form this season, which has seen them plummet into a relegation battle, having not taken maximum points from a game for two months. This won’t stop the Southampton faithful fearing this game, more than any other.

In recent meetings, Charlie Austin has been the Saints “Tormenter in Chief”, solitary goals for the striker have been the deciding factor in two of the games. Austin also chipped in with a goal when the Robins turned Saints over 0-3 at St. Mary’s earlier this season as they weakly submitted to an early Johnstones Paint Trophy defeat. The result only made more painful by the performance of former Saints player Vincent Pericard, who scored the other two goals,¬† two more than he scored in his whole Southampton stay!

Saints glad to see the back of Austin... pic from swindontownfc.co.uk

Swindon, aren’t are only bogey team of course, for years Saints fans would have told you that Everton held that mantle. For obvious reasons, we haven’t played Everton too often recently, but back in the day the Toffees were the side we never seemed to beat.

The stand out defeat for Saints against the blue half of Merseyside would certainly be the 1996 7-1 demolition at Goodison Park. Saints lined up with former England man Chris Woods in goal, as the Toffees ran riot, going 5-0 up in the first thirty five minutes. In some sort of twisted irony, Woods was appointed goalkeeping coach at Goodison the following season, a position he has held ever since!

It isn’t all bad news for the Saints fan though, as we have also been a bogey team ourselves. Famously Sir Alex Ferguson’s dominant 90’s team had a mental block when it came to visiting the South Coast. Ferguson blamed the new grey away strip in 1996 for their 3-1 defeat at the hands of Dave Merrington’s men, but in less than six months later, United and their more striking Blue and White strip were despatched 6-3 in one of the Premier League’s most celebrated matches.

Grey day for Giggs....

More recently, in times when sending the likes of Manchester United packing are behind us, we have become the bogey team for perhaps less glamorous sides. MK Dons would have hoped to have never seen the Saints again after last season. In Saints four defeats of the Dons, they racked up ten goals, conceding just two. That hoodoo was broken¬† pretty quickly though. In the sides first meeting this season, the Dons ran out 2-0 winners in what was Nigel Adkins first game in charge. The Dons were also under new manager, Karl Robinson, so was it that Saints were MK Dons bogey team? Or perhaps more like Paul Ince’s?

Perhaps that would be answered at Meadow Lane back in October, Ince took charge of Notts County for the first time, and could be forgiven for hoping for different opposition. Predictably Saints ran out 1-3 winners, making it five defeats in five for Ince against the Saints. Ince has since got a draw in the return fixture at St. Mary’s, but it will be interesting to see how long it takes him to record a win. Should Saints get the promotion they desperately crave, it could be some time before they meet again.

So what have we learned, Bogey teams, definitely exist. I am sure of that, but they don’t last forever, and changes in circumstances change the dynamics of “bogey team law”, something I have just made up. It has been some time since Manchester United have lost to Saints, in fact they have won their last three games at St. Mary’s. Can Saints beat Swindon Town today? Of course. Like MK Dons, we have a new manager, one we haven’t played Swindon under and Charlie Austin has moved on. Chris Woods won’t be in goal, and we won’t be wearing grey.

Will I be putting my hard earned cash on a home win though? No chance.

Chris

Nobody puts Bebe in the corner…

Well Sir Alex Ferguson did, by playing him on the wing in Manchester United’s FA Cup 5th round victory over non-league Crawley Town! And thanks go to him for that!

Bebe played so woefully bad, that he is being compared to the one and only Ali Dia(George Weah’s Cousin), and in the weekend I launched this site that couldn’t be better timing. Having witnessed both Dia and Bebe though, I have to say, he has a long way to go to reach those levels of incompetence, let’s see if he ends up on trial at Gateshead in the summer……

Chris

Bebe. The new Ali Dia?