Tag Archives: Soccer

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?