Tag Archives: Stoke City

Seven things we re-learned from Saints resurgence!

Just a month ago, I found myself (over) analysing a run of terrible form here. Since that victory at Watford, Saints have made it to an unbeaten run of five games, dropping just two points at Arsenal and haven’t conceded a single goal.

So what have we re-learned during Koeman’s resurgence?

  1. The Transfer Policy is ok

During that run of five unbeaten games Summer signings Jordy Clasie and Oriol Romeu have both been standout players. Consider their impact alongside that of Virgil van Dijk and to a lesser extent Cedric, and Saints look to have a decent squad, better than the poor run they had been on suggested. Add to that the instant impact of Charlie Austin and Saints fans have good reason to be looking up again rather than down.

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Romeu – An assured replacement for Wanyama.

2. Ronald knows Tactics

Many people winced when they saw the return of three at the back, especially with Ryan Bertrand taking a place in the centre, but Ronald has got his tactics spot on recently. With the exception of the West Ham game, he has recreated the dominant home performances we had gotten used to, and defensively the team have been superb on the road.

What poor form?
What poor form?

3. Player Power won’t always beat us

Despite his sending off against West Ham, Victor Wanyama has seemingly (if temporarily) shaken off his desire to head to North London and been a key player during this run. Wanyama is one of Saints’ best players on his day, only a fool argues that point, but his position is more difficult with the emergence of Clasie and Romeu. Arguably, Saints could afford to lose him, but chose not to. A nice change.

It was refreshing to see that no key players left the bus on deadline day, and whether or not you believe the likes of Wanyama and Mane are biding their time, perhaps Saints have decided they won’t be held to ransom anymore.

4. Goalscoring

Many of us felt vindicated when Charlie Austin came off the bench at Old Trafford to put away his first chance in a Saints shirt. It’s what we had been saying for some time. We miss too many good chances.

A three pronged competition for places of Austin, Graziano Pelle and Shane Long is a pretty ideal situation for a manager as they all differ in style, and all must take their opportunities to stay in the team.

The natural, the unorthodox and the hassler? Have Saints ever been so striker rich?

Charlie 'You don't have to ask me twice' Austin.
Charlie ‘You don’t have to ask me twice’ Austin.

5. We still have decent Academy products

During this run, amongst many of the pleasing aspects, it has been great to see the performances of James Ward-Prowse and Matt Targett.

JWP finally got the free kick monkey off his back and has looked more tenacious than ever in midfield and Targett was in scintillating form in a more advanced role.

It was especially pleasing to see Matt Targett show that he isn’t the write off some people had decided he was, and who knew he had that cross on him? A justified player of the month and bright future ahead!

The kids are alright.
The kids are alright.

6. We missed ‘The Wall’

There is very little more to be said about Fraser Forster’s miraculous return to the team. Literally no sign of rustiness, despite being out for nine months, his return has coincided with this run of form.

For many of the games he has little to do, but I wonder just how much more confident his presence makes the back four (or three/five). His display against Arsenal was pure heroics and with due respect to our other keepers would we have conceded no goals in the last five games had any of them been playing. I seriously doubt it. The confidence of Jose Fonte in a behind the scenes video after the West Ham game tells a story of faith. No one is scoring past us mate.

NONE SHALL PASS.
NONE SHALL PASS.

7. Mark Clattenburg still hates us

Yes I am bitter, but allowing the West Ham players to talk him into changing his yellow card to red for Wanyama and then allowing Sam Byram to get away with a clear red card tackle means his record of terrible decisions against us continues. He’s either a cheat or incompetent. You decide.

In Conclusion…

Someone once said that football was a ‘funny old game’ and it most certainly is. A month ago we were talking about a possible relegation battle, today a win against Swansea would see us reach 40 points with 12 games to go and people are talking about Europe again.

Clubs that were perceived to be having amazing seasons while we struggled (Stoke and Palace in particular) are now below us in the table, and even the Klopp revolution finds itself behind. No need to even mention Chelsea.

Keep the faith.

Chris

 

Saints Disappointing Run? What’s Changed?

Saints ran out comfortable 2-0 winners over Watford on Wednesday night, in what will hopefully be the start of some better form for Ronald Koeman’s heavily criticised team of late. It was a much better performance than recent matches, and for once it seemed they were able to convert first half dominance into full time success.

But what has been the cause of this season’s perceived ‘under-performing’?

1. Transfer Policy?

In Koeman’s first Summer at the club, the doom-sayers were out in force as several of Saints’ top names departed for perceivably greener grass, yet the Dutchman’s cut price replacements filled the void admirably and Saints pushed on for their best ever Premier League season.

But what were the chances it would work so well two seasons’ in a row? It’s fair to say we might have got lucky with how quickly the signings of Summer 2014 settled in and gelled with the existing players, and this time it hasn’t quite gone to plan.

Jordy Clasie, who came with the impossible job of slotting in to the massive Schneiderlin shaped hole has been superb of late, but certainly didn’t hit the ground running in a Saints shirt. Cedric, brought in to replace Nathaniel Clyne has found himself in and out of the team, and Juanmi, well nothing more needs to be said.

 

Clasie had the 'impossible' job of replacing Schneiderlin.
Clasie had the ‘impossible’ job of replacing Schneiderlin.

 

2. Tactical Errors?

Perhaps signalling a reaction to poor form, Ronald has made some odd tactical moves of late. Failing several times with a back five.

Saints have had a flurry of games where they have looked comfortable in the first half, only to be undone in the second, the away fixture at West Ham, the perfect example of this. Slaven Bilic changed his team at half time to suit and Saints had no counter move to turn to, the hunter became the hunted and three points soon became none.

It could be a case of ‘second season syndrome’ and opposition manager’s being wise to Koeman’s style, but it is worrying that of the last 11 fixtures, we’ve only managed two wins. The Arsenal game was testament to the manager’s ability tactically. In what was an uncharacteristic performance at the time, Saints use of Shane Long destroyed Arsenal at the back.

3. Player Power?

Last season, two of the star performers were undoubtedly our African duo of Victor Wanyama and Sadio Mane. Subsequent to that though both have been linked to big money moves to huge clubs like Manchester United, Arsenal and err… Spurs.

This has coincided with a considerable dip in form for the pair, and Saints are notably worse for it. I’ve been Wanyama’s biggest cheerleader since he arrived from Celtic, but even I have struggled to defend his lacklustre performances of late.  Is he suffering without Morgan? Or his he simply sulking because of his denied to move White Hart Lane? Either way, he doesn’t warrant selection when he returns from suspension against WBA.

Mane has also gone well off the boil, a true game changer when he wants to be but has his head been turned by the thought of dulling it up with LVG at Old Trafford?

Saints duo need to find form again.
Saints duo need to find form again.

 

4. Squad Depth?

Come the end of the last campaign, Saints fans were hopeful that with European football (Bloody Hell. Remember that?) coming, the transfer window would be used to bolster the depth of the squad.

It looked like this had happened with some of the signings that were made, and we always have our brilliant youth system right?

Unfortunately some of the signings have looked weaker than what was already there and with Ronald publicly criticising the quality of the youth players coming through (perhaps backed by unsuccessful loan spells for Jack Stephens and Sam Gallagher in the Championship) there is an argument to say that the squad is no deeper than it was last year.

5. Other Clubs’ Transfer Policy?

With Saints finishing the last campaign in 7th place, and with the abundance of money coming in from the new TV deal, surely it would be us that push on in terms of improvement?

Perhaps not. While Saints stuck with their policy of bringing in lesser known/cheaper players, those just behind us went big.

With Stoke City signing Xherdan Shaqiri, West Ham bringing in Dimitri Payet and Palace splashing out on Yohan Cabaye, the St. Mary’s faithful were left wondering whether we shouldn’t be a little bit more ambitious in the transfer market.

Did Saints allow other clubs to overtake us in the Summer?

Did other clubs at Saints' level show more ambition in the Summer?
Did other clubs at Saints’ level show more ambition in the Summer?

 

6. Lack of Goals?

Last season, it appeared that Saints had shaken off the ‘All fart and no shit’ stigma of previous campaigns, but it would appear to be back with abundance.

With Graziano Pelle, clearly the club’s number one striker often blowing hot and cold and then out injured, Sadio Mane misfiring and not a lot of contribution elsewhere, the responsibility has fallen on Shane Long of late to bring home the bacon.

Now don’t get me wrong, Long on his day (see Arsenal on Boxing Day) is a decent Premier League player, but he is also incredibly frustrating at times, and fluffs more chances than he takes. He is a decent option for Saints, but in my opinion he shouldn’t be leading the line on a regular basis.

In addition to this, other players need to take on the responsibility of scoring more goals. The return from the likes of Steven Davis, James Ward-Prowse and Jordy Clasie is poor.

Saints create plenty of chances, they don’t score anywhere near enough of them.

7. Goalkeeping/Defence?

Following on from the lack of goals, in 2014/15 when Saints weren’t converting their chances they were able to rely upon a miserly defence to mean they didn’t have to, but this season that has gone South as well.

While the loss of Clyne and Toby Alderweireld were no doubt felt, the addition of Virgil van Dijk has certainly proved a good move, but the jury is still out on Cedric and Cuco Martina. Steven Caulker will not be missed.

One other major disruption has been the absence of Fraser Forster. Was it a coincidence that his return on Wednesday saw a clean sheet and a visible growth in confidence in the defence in front of him?

The signing of Martin Stekelenburg was undoubtedly never seen as a long term decision, and he was always here to provide cover for Forster’s injury, but in hindsight was it the right move? A keeper already low on confidence from previous clubs, while he has by no means been a disaster I’ve often found myself wondering after conceded goals if Forster might not have saved them.

fraser-forster-post-watford-home-news148-2900518_478x359
A timely return?

 

8. Overweighted expectations?

‘WE USED TO BE IN LEAGUE ONE YOU KNOW?’ Yeah, yeah, blah, look how far we’ve come, yadda, yadda, yadda…

Fine, this sort of rhetoric is outdated now and fans have the right to expect a certain level of ambition/performance. We are now an established Premier League club again and shouldn’t be accepting of dropping like a stone down the table. But, we also have to accept that other clubs are allowed to progress too, and no one has the right to beat anyone else.

I actually think that it was last season that was an unfair reflection of where we are as a club, we overachieved and this season is balancing that out. We are still progressing, and evolving, let’s see how it plays out before scandalously accusing anyone of anything untoward.

9. Misuse of Dr. Barry Gale?

Two appearances, subsequently followed by a 6-1 victory over Aston Villa and a 4-0 drubbing of Arsenal. Just saying.

In Conclusion

This has been an extremely odd Premier League season so far. Leicester are flying, Chelsea are below us despite our perceived ‘disastrous’ season and both Manchester United and Liverpool are stuttering. Perhaps the gap between the elite and rest is closing, and that can only be a good thing can’t it?

Saints’ poor form could be down to any of the above factors, or likely a combination of all of them. They go into today’s home fixture with West Brom, nine points clear of the relegation zone and nine points behind the top four. Mid Table might well be where we are destined to be this season, but with the club working on a bringing in another striker things could get better than that.

Let’s face it, it’s always likely to be an interesting ride where Saints are concerned.

Stoke v Saints: Player Ratings

Please submit your player ratings for the Stoke City game here:-



Who are the Premier League’s best ever penalty takers?

After the strangeness surrounding Leighton Baines not taking Everton’s penalty against West Brom on Monday night, our friends at Oulala.com decided to have a look at the the Premier League’s best ever penalty takers with some interesting result for Saints fans…. – Chris

Following ‘Mirallas-gate’ on Monday night we have taken a closer look to who the five best ever Premier League penalty takers are.

It’s no surprise that Kevin Mirallas failed to make the cut…

Of course it’s Saints own Matt Le Tissier that leads the way in terms of conversion-rate based on a minimum 10 spot-kicks taken.

Nicknamed ‘Le God’, Le Tissier found the back of the net with an incredible 25 of the 26 penalties he took during 10 seasons in the Premier League with the Saints. An outstanding 96.2% success-rate from the spot. Considered as one of the greatest ever from 12 yards his overall record is 47 goals from 48 penalties.

Danny Murphy enjoyed Premier League spells at Liverpool, Charlton, Tottenham and Fulham during his professional career converting 18 of his 19 EPL penalties at a more than modest rate of 94.7%, just enough to take second spot.

In third comes another ex-Saint, James Beattie. The striker spent much of his career in the Premier League which included time at four other clubs, Blackburn, Everton, Stoke City and Blackpool. With success from 16 of the 17 Premier League penalties he took gave him a conversion-rate of 94.1%.

Defender Julian Dicks spent the majority of his career at West Ham United, with a short stint at Liverpool, comes in fourth alongside the only current Premier League player in the top 5, Everton and England left-back Leighton Baines, both sharing the same record. The pair have converted 15 of the 16 penalties they have taken, a rate of 93.8%.

Of the chasing pack two current players have 100% records from the spot, however have taken less than 10 penalties. Chelsea’s Eden Hazard has converted all 8 of the penalties that he has stepped up to in the Premier League while Manchester City midfielder Yaya Toure has converted all 7 of his spot-kicks.

spot-kick-specialists-3
Note. Six out of Six for Rickie Lambert in a Premier League Saints shirt too! – Chris

Will The Saints Go Marching On?

Everyone loves a stat don’t they? I know I do, and that is why I was chuffed when the guys from kickoff.co.uk offered to put together a season preview for me using their expertise. So dear reader, settle back and prepare to be dazzled by the numbers and enjoy!

Will the Saints go marching on?

‘Second season syndrome’ is a phrase regularly bandied around at Premier League level, with the perception being that promoted clubs are more vulnerable to relegation after their opponents have had a year to get used to facing them.

Southampton find themselves in that position ahead of the new campaign, so I thought I’d take a look back at their 2012/13 season and highlight both what they did well and any areas in which I feel they can improve.

POSITIVES

The Saints finished 14th in the final table, yet they were the tenth highest scorers in the division with 49 goals from their 38 matches. Rickie Lambert was responsible for 15 of these strikes, benefitting from being the focal point at the top of their attacking formation.

Both Mauricio Pochettino and Nigel Adkins before him encouraged a positive brand of football, with this being reflected by the fact that Southampton found the net in 29 (76%) of their top-flight fixtures. This achievement is furnished with additional kudos when you consider that this represented the best record outside of the top-seven.

Furthermore, the men from the South Coast scored in all eight of their meetings with the eventual Champions League qualifiers:

image007

As the chart above also shows, home wins were achieved against two of the top-three, whilst only late brilliance from Robin van Persie handed Manchester United victory at St. Mary’s.

This shows that Southampton can mix it with the big boys, on their own patch at least, but they also managed to remain unbeaten against teams finishing in their quarter of the final table:

image008

Although six of these games ended all-square, it is certainly worth noting that only Fulham picked up more points (13) from meetings between members of this quintet.

The Saints were similarly strong in matches in which they opened the scoring, winning eight, drawing six and losing four of these encounters. When you consider that half of these defeats came against the eventual champions, then that record starts to look even better.

NEGATIVES

Draws were undoubtedly a problem, with only Everton and Stoke managing more than the 14 picked up by Southampton. Although the team shone offensively, there was a lack of support for Lambert in the scoring stakes; no other player contributed in excess of six league goals.

Another major issue would have to be the defensive frailty displayed by the South Coast outfit. Just seven clean sheets were kept in 38 games, with four of these coming against the six sides that finished below them in the table.

Winning at the top clubs is never easy, but five draws and eight defeats from 13 trips to those that finished above them hints at fundamental flaws in the Saints’ approach to away matches. Could this be the result of some kind of mental block or is it the end product of an overly-positive tactical approach on the road?

Whatever the reason, it is hard to offer up anything other than complacency as an excuse for Southampton losing at home to three of the bottom-four last season:

image009

Alarm bells also start to ring when we take a look at results from games in which the men from Hampshire conceded first. Eleven of these 17 fixtures ended in defeat, with the 4-1 hammering of Aston Villa representing the only success achieved on the back of going 1-0 down.

Perhaps the most damning statistic of all, however, is just how easy opponents found it to convert their chances against the Saints:

image010

As you can see, nearly one in five of the shots that Southampton allowed resulted in a goal being scored against them. Only relegated Wigan fared worse in this category, and that by the narrowest of margins, whilst Newcastle were the nearest club in the other direction.

TRANSFERS

The incomings at St. Mary’s this summer should certainly provide the supporters with plenty of encouragement. Croatian international centre-back Dejan Lovren arrives from Lyon, whilst Victor Wanyama has won rave reviews for his performances at Celtic.

Although I have only seen Lovren in action once, in the Europa League at White Hart Lane last season, he comes highly-rated and has already won close to 20 caps for his country.

Young Wanyama has been far more on my radar, however, producing a string of top-class performances both domestically and on the Champions League stage from his natural position in the middle of the park.

These additions, along with the continued development of Luke Shaw, should help to address some of the aforementioned defensive issues, though the squad as a whole is an extremely young one:

image011

This perfectly feasible starting XI, for example, would boast an average age of just 24 years and nine months come the start of the season.

One more signing in a forward area could be made with a view to easing the burden on Rickie Lambert, but I don’t actually believe this to be necessary. Jay Rodriguez started to blossom when given a run in the team, albeit not in his preferred position, whilst Emmanuel Mayuka is a real talent. I would be interested to hear what Southampton supporters have made of the Zambian in his fleeting cameos, because he has impressed me greatly on the international stage.

FUTURE

If the previous campaign is anything to go by, then a difficult start awaits:

image012

If we exclude home games with the newly-promoted duo of Crystal Palace and Hull, then it becomes apparent that the Saints failed to win any of the equivalent 11 fixtures during 2012/13.

I must admit that I have my doubts about Pochettino and his high-pressing style, but I have a lot of faith in the group of players that has been assembled at St. Mary’s. This is a squad capable of pushing for a place in the top-ten, but whether or not they achieve that is open to debate.’

Thanks to Charles and Rob from kickoff.co.uk for compiling this!

Chris

Played For Both: Saints & Devils

Another ‘Played for Both’ team, another serious lack of defenders (or for that matter a complete team). You will have to excuse some poetic license in this one, with regards peoples positions and err.. questionable playing history. But believe me, no one would want to lineup with one at back, especially if that one was Danny Higginbotham….

Here goes:-

Team

Goalkeeper

Harry Moger

Local Southampton boy Harry Moger signed for his hometown club in 1900 but was never first choice at the Dell, Saints loss was Manchester United’s gain when they took him in 1903. He played over 240 times for the Red Devils and was a league winner twice and FA Cup winner once. He was also part of the United team that won the first ever Charity Shield in 1908. Passed away in Manchester in 1927. R.I.P.

Harry Moger
Harry Moger

Defender

Oshor Williams

Technically a midfielder, Teesider Williams played for local club Middlesbrough as a youth before signing a professional contract with United in 1976, he didn’t kick a ball in anger for the club though and was promptly released a year later. After a couple of seasons in non-league football he was given a second chance by Lawrie McMenemy, he was quickly loaned to Exeter City for experience before coming back to Saints. He made just 6 appearances at the Dell before leaving for Stockport County in 1979. Has the dubious honour of making one of the worst Saints XI’s in our previous feature:- ‘Saints in our Lives’. Now works for the PFA and is a youth coach for Wigan Athletic.

Oshor Williams
Oshor Williams

Defender

Danny Higginbotham

Manc Higginbotham realised his dreams when he signed a professional contract at Old Trafford in 1997 having been a youth player with the club. After being farmed out to Royal Antwerp and being involved in a controversial incident with a referee he returned to Manchester and played four times for the first team. It was clear he was never going to be a regular though and was sold to Derby County for £2 million in 2000. Having impressed with the Rams in both the Premier League and the Championship Saints made their move in January 2003. He was an unused sub in the 2003 cup final, unable to displace the duo of Lundekvam and Svensson, but played more regularly in the subsequent seasons. With Saints dropping to the championship in 2005, Higginbotham let his contract expire and left the club for Stoke City in the summer of 2006. Has since had a spell at Sunderland, a second at Stoke and brief stints with Forest and Ipswich before signing for Sheffield United this month.

Danny Higginbotham
Danny Higginbotham

Defender

Jim McCalliog

Another who isn’t really a defender, glaswegian McCalliog was a youth at Leeds United before signing for Chelsea in 1963. After highly successful periods with Sheffield Wednesday and Wolves, United paid £60,000 to take him to Old Trafford. He was part of the United side that were both relegated to the 2nd division, but also bounced straight back up again at the first attempt, but was sold to Saints for £45,000 in 1975. McCalliog came back to haunt United manager Tommy Docherty, playing a perfectly timed through ball for the onside Bobby Stokes to score the only goal of the ’76 cup final. McCalliog headed to the States in 1977 and had a brief stint as a manager with Halifax Town in 1990.

Jim_McCalliog
Midfield

Gordon Strachan

Errr…. Ok, I was struggling at this point, but he did play for Saints in Matthew Le Tissier’s 2001 testimonial. It counts. It’s my rules.

See....
See….

Midfield

Mark Hughes

Seeing as Hughes made the Everton side too, I will keep this brief. Illustrious career as a striker with United, Barcelona, Bayern Munich, United again, Chelsea. Hideous spell as a midfielder for Saints.

Frank Sinclair having a vision of the future...
Eddie Newton having a vision of the future…

Winger

Andrei Kanchelskis

Kanchelskis left his Ukranian home to join United in 1991 for the princely sum of £650,000. It was money well spent as he terrorised Premier League full backs for four seasons, but after a rumoured fall out with Sir Alex Ferguson he was moved on to Everton in 1995. Via a spell at Fiorentina he ensured he would be the answer to the most asked football trivia question of all time by signing for Rangers in 1998. After a highly successful period at Ibrox and a brief loan at Manchester City he signed for Saints in 2002. It was an odd signing and a once great Premier League player was a shadow of his former self, making just two brief substitute appearances. Now the manager of FC Ufa in the Russian second division.

Andrei Kanchelskis
Andrei Kanchelskis

Winger

Danny Wallace

Londoner Wallace joined Saints as a youth player in 1977 and turned pro in 1980. Made his debut at Old Trafford aged just 16, coming off the bench to replace Kevin Keegan. This was a record broken since by only Theo Walcott and Gareth Bale. Wallace was a fans favourite at the Dell, his pace and skill complimented with some fantastic goals. He was joined in the Saints team for the 1988/89 season by brothers Ray and Rodney but was attracted to the Ferguson revolution at United and headed for Old Trafford in the summer of 1989. He had played over 300 times for Saints. Although he didn’t quite live up to his reputation at United he did rack up a few medals and played for the club 47 times before moving to Birmingham City. Diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis in 1996, Wallace has embarked on many charity ventures including the London Marathon. Makes the small list of players to have played just once for England, but scoring in that appearance.

Danny Wallace
Danny Wallace

Forward

Ron Davies

Welshman Davies is a legend at St. Mary’s, scoring 134 goals in 240 games after joining the club from Norwich City in 1965. He was considered the best striker around by Sir Matt Busby in 1967, a high accolade indeed. Unfortunately injures started to hamper Davies, the result of his physical combatant style and he lost his place in the Saints team. He crossed the South Coast divide in 1973 and signed for Portsmouth before heading to Old Trafford the following season. He made little impact at United and went on loan to Millwall before retiring in 1975.

Ron Davies
Ron Davies

Forward

Joe Jordan

After establishing himself as part of the fantastic Leeds team of the mid-70’s the Scotsman made the jump to Old Trafford in 1978. Scoring 37 goals in 109 games for United, Jordan was another physical striker and made the move from top English league player to top export when he moved AC Milan in 1981. He stayed at the San Siro for two seasons, and was highly regarded despite the club being relegated to Serie B in his second and last campaign. He moved to Verona that summer but the goals dried up and he headed back to Blighty and Southampton in 1984. Back on form Jordan scored 12 goals in 48 games for Saints before moving to Bristol City in 1987. After some questionable management periods he has become a mainstay of Harry Redknapp’s coaching team with Portsmouth, Spurs and now QPR. Oddly he didn’t follow Redknapp to Saints in 2004/05 and stayed at Portsmouth (perhaps he saw what was coming).

Joe_Jordan

Forward

Ted MacDougall

Journeyman MacDougall can name 18 clubs that he represented in his career including both United and Saints. Having started his career with Liverpool, he made a name for himself scoring plenty of goals for both York City and Bournemouth which led United to pay £200,000 for him in 1972. Despite scoring on his debut MacDougall didn’t last the season and was sold to West Ham. After not quite finding his feet at the Hammers either he found his scoring boots again at Norwich City, but soon found himself on the move again joining Saints for £50,000 in 1976. He helped Saints retain their place in the top division but MacDougall favoured staying in the lower leagues and returned to Bournemouth in 1978. Now a coach in the United States.

Ted_Macdougall

So there it is, I know I really pushed the acceptable boundaries this time, but amazing how few players there were post-war era. As usual, would love to hear of any other suggestions!

Chris

As featured on NewsNow: Southampton FC news

Premier League Preview: Part 3

Welcome to Part 3 of our Premier League Preview!

QPR:-

Name:-  QPR Report

Team:- Queen’s Park Rangers (QPR)

Website:- Blog;  www.qprreport.blogspot.com and  Messageboard http://qprreport.proboards.com

Twitter:- @qprreport

What can we expect from your club this season?

A safe season, one without all the off-the-field drama of so many previous seasons.

Who is your most important player?

Cisse.

Where do you predict you will finish this season?

10-12th.

Who might win the Premier League?

Sadly Manchester United, Manchester City or Chelsea.

Who definitely won’t?

Wigan

What is your most anticipated fixture?

Chelsea and Manchester United at Loftus Road.

What is your most anticipated fixture that doesn’t involve your club?

Manchester United vs Chelsea.

How do you think Southampton will fare?

Stay up (15th) (made some good, early signings).

You find yourself stuck in The Madjeski Stadium. How do you escape unnoticed?

Wear my blue and white hooped scarf!

Reading:-

Name: Dan Wimbush

Team:-  Reading

Website:-  The Tilehurst End  http://www.thetilehurstend.com

Twitter:- @thetilehurstend

What can we expect from your club this season?

After last year’s unexpected title win we’ll be very happy to secure a second season back in the Premier League.  Brian McDermott has worked wonders at the club so far, despite having to sell the likes of Gylfi Sigurdsson, Matt Mills and Shane Long and now that we’ve got new ownership it’s been great to see him able to strengthen the squad for once. Despite signing six players you won’t see that much of a difference style wise from us this year. We’ll still look to work very very hard closing down the opposition, allowing them long spells with the ball before breaking out wide through Kebe and McAnuff, or getting the ball up top to Roberts or Pogrebnyak. As Southampton fans know only too well Reading were the masters of counter attacking last season and given the jump in quality I can’t imagine we’ll suddenly start pressing from the front!

Who is your most important player?

It’s looking like being Pavel Pogrebnyak. Much as the signing of Jason Roberts helped win us the title last year, it’s going to be vital we get good production from the Russian if we hope to stay up. He’s shown his quality wherever he’s been and if we’re getting a striker anything like the one we saw at Fulham last year, we’ll be in for a good season.

Where do you predict you will finish this season?

Tough to call until you see how the other teams shape up. We’ve seen good teams relegated due to the strength of others and likewise weaker teams survive because there’s just been three awful sides. Right now if I had to gamble I’d say about 15th, but anything from 10th to 20th wouldn’t shock me.

Who might win the Premier League?

Hard to look past City again. The strength and depth they have at the Etihad is just staggering and while I think Chelsea and Manchester Utd will both be strong again, neither can match the power that City posses right now.

Who definitely won’t?

Liverpool, Arsenal, Reading or Southampton 😉     While Rodgers has been lauded for the job he’s done at Swansea, Reading fans will be able to tell you that he’s not infallible and can get things very badly wrong. When he came to Reading he tried to do too much too soon and left us in a relegation dogfight but landed on his feet at Swansea who were already playing a passing game when he arrived. Liverpool weren’t exactly playing like Swansea last season so it will take a while to turn it around. As for Arsenal well if Van Persie goes as expected its difficult to see them having the quality to really mount a decent challenge.  Can’t see anyone else gate-crashing the title picture either to be honest.

What is your most anticipated fixture?

Wigan away obviously….  😉

Everyone has their favourites but for me, cliché as it sounds it’s got to be Manchester United away. I was unable to get to the games the last time we were a Premier League side so this time around I’m determined to see Reading take on England’s most successful side on their own patch next season. Trips to Anfield, The Emirates and White Hart Lane are also ones I’m anticipating while the home games against teams like yourselves, West Ham, Swansea and Norwich will be fun as we’ll actually be able to turn up knowing we’ve got a chance of winning.

What is your most anticipated fixture that doesn’t involve your club?

City v United will once again be a tussle worth watching. I expect those two to finsh first and second and Fergie will be fired up more than ever before to put one over the noisy neighbours.

How do you think Southampton will fare?

I’m really not sure to be honest. Like Reading, you’ve been quite active in the transfer market and I’ll be interested to see how Rodriguez makes the step up. If Sharp, Lambert and Rodriquez can translate Championship goals to the Premier League you’ll be laughing, while Lallana is another top player who I expect to do well. I do fear for Norwich, Swansea, Fulham and Wigan this year so I think the Saints will end up roughly around the same place we are so 12th-16th.

You find yourself stuck in The County Ground. How do you escape unnoticed?

‘Can you direct me around the magic roundabout please?’

Pave-ing the way for Reading success?

Southampton:-

Name:- Ben Stanfield

Team:- Southampton

Website:- http://www.saintsfc.co.uk/

Twitter:- @benstanners

What can we expect from your club this season?

I think, as ever being a Saints fan, we can expect a mixture of the sublime and the ridiculous. Saints have nothing to really lose this season. We are at least one, if not two, years ahead of where we’d thought we’d be as a Club but that doesn’t mean that we are going to give up the hard work of the last two years by being the whipping boys of the Premier League.

We have a young, astute and intelligent manager and a team that, to be honest, would die for each other on the pitch. The spirit in the Club is as good as I’ve ever known it in the 25 years I’ve supported and watched Saints and I really feel that we will shock a lot of people this coming season.

Who is your most important player?

Many would argue that it is a straight race between Rickie Lambert and Adam Lallana. I’d agree!

For me, although Lallana is a class player who can turn defenders inside out and create goals for the team with almost every passage of play, Lambert is our most important player.

Pretty much all of our success over the last 2 seasons has come from building the team around Rickie Lambert, getting the ball up to him and then feeding off that. Not to mention his goals of course that have helped fire us to the Premier League.

Lambert proved people wrong last season by scoring goals consistently in the Championship and I feel he will score goals again this season, but obviously not to the level’s of 20’s and 30’s that he is used to!

He is the modern day “talisman” of the Saints team and we don’t look the same side when he’s not playing. So much will revolve around his presence up front and the ability to hold the ball up against the better teams to give our defenders a breather! Like Saints themselves, I don’t think Lambert has anything to lose this season but the importance of him being in the side and playing well will play a key role in our success.

Where do you predict you will finish this season?

If I’m honest I’d take 17th place now! We have to be realistic, there are a lot of experienced Premier League teams in the league that have quality and know how to get results. But we also know that the brilliant thing about English football is that the teams at the bottom can beat the teams at the top on their day.

In my opinion the Premier League is very much two divisions in one. Saints need to aspire to get off to a good start if they can, although the fixture list hasn’t helped with doing that much, and then build on that. As long as we survive I will be happy but finishing higher up the bottom half of the Premier League is certainly not unrealistic, especially if some strong signings can be made between now and the end of the August transfer window.

Who might win the Premier League?

For me its a straight race between the two Manchester clubs. City have taken the pressure off of themselves by winning the title last season – they always say that the first one is the hardest – but that doesn’t mean that the fans or owners will accept second place this season! Mancini has probably the best squad of players in the World – as you’d expect for the amount of money he has spent – and really they should win it again.

Having said that you can never right off Fergie and there hasn’t been a Premier League season in the history of the competition where United haven’t been up their challenging. The signing of Robin Van Persie could be the difference between United finishing second and winning the title. His potential partnership with Wayne Rooney has me salivating even as a non-United fan.

I think City will nick it this season, but I think it will go to the wire again.

Who definitely won’t?

Tottenham and Arsenal I’m afraid. They’ve both huffed and puffed the last few season’s but realistically they don’t have the winning-mentality that United and City have. Several times last season both Clubs lost games against teams that City and United wouldn’t have. Arsenal and Spurs both put a lot of emphasis on their attacking play but defensively aren’t in the same league as City or United.

Arsenal losing Van Persie is key for me. He pretty much single handedly got them to third last season with his goals and although they have bought in Podolski and Giroud I can’t see them scoring 30 goals between them, let alone individually. Goals wins you league titles and I don’t think Arsenal have the fire-power to topple City or United.

With Andre Villas-Boas in charge at Spurs now it will be interesting to see how he does. He didn’t have a very successful time with Chelsea last season so the pressure and spotlight will be on him from the first game of the season. Spurs are a good side and they will finish in the top-6, I have no doubts but, again like Arsenal, I don’t think they have the mental belief to go that one step further to the title and dig results out regularly the way that United and City do.

What is your most anticipated fixture?

Thats a good question! The last couple of seasons we’ve had local games against Portsmouth, Brighton and Bournemouth to look forward to, but not anymore. For me, just being back in the Premier League means that every game has to be an anticipated fixture now. When you look at the fixture list every single match gets you excited – OK, maybe not Wigan away!

But I guess, after the trial and tribulations of last season, playing against Reading and West Ham will be good. We certainly owe Reading a defeat this season after they pretty much won the title at St. Mary’s last season!

What is your most anticipated fixture that doesn’t involve your club?

I think the two games between Manchester City and United are the fixtures that I will be looking forward to watching. The power has shifted from red to blue in Manchester now and I don’t think Fergie and everyone connected with Old Trafford are enjoying that much. I’ve no doubts that United will be looking for revenge this season and I think these two games will go along way to determining the title.

Traditionally they are cagey affairs although City did score six at Old Trafford last season. There is no love lost between the two managers or the sets of fans and, with arguably the two strongest squads in the Premier League, they should be cracking matches to watch.

How do you think Southampton will fare?

As stated above, I genuinely think that we will have a good season. I know there are going to be a few times we walk off the pitch having been given a lesson by players a lot more experienced than ours but I also know that Saints can play with little fear and have a go at sides as well. We’re expected to get relegated by all the pundits so what have we to lose?

We have the talent and commitment to win each time we go on the pitch, but the biggest issue for me will be taking our more limited chances at one end and stopping them going in at the other end An important factor for any football club!

Offer me 17th now and I’ll snap your hand off!

You find yourself stuck in Fratton Park. How do you escape unnoticed?

The thought of being stuck in Fratton Park is one that has probably woken me up a few times during the night in cold sweats! How do I escape unnoticed? Well as they hardly ever get that many people to watch Pompey anymore, as they only turn up when they’re doing well with a team of players they can’t afford to buy or pay, I’d probably walk to the end of the row (without having to ask anyone to get up!), up the stairs and then out the exit with them none the wiser……….

Stoke City:-

Name:- Hannah Burrows

Team:- Stoke City

Website:- Delilah’s Voice

Twitter:- @HBscfc

What can we expect from your club this season?

At the time of writing this, our lack of transfer activity is worrying. However, we’re well known for our late transfers so I’m not panicking, yet. With our current squad, I can’t see us finishing much above 12th. Having said that, if the likes of Sunderland, Fulham and the newly promoted teams fail to perform, we could find ourselves fighting near the top half. On the other hand, if the notoriously weaker teams have a decent season, it could be disaster, no chance of relegation though, I hope.

Who is your most important player?

Anyone who follows me on Twitter knows that I’d love to say Wilson Palacios here. His new found fitness levels in pre-season could see him become a big, big player this season but right now I’d say Peter Crouch, although I still can’t believe he’s a Stoke player!

Where do you predict you will finish this season?

I’d like to think we can achieve a top 10 finish for the first time since promotion but whether we do or not hinges on our away form. Failure to improve it could be fatal but an added win here and there could shoot us up the league.

Who might win the Premier League?

I hope City manage to defend the title, that Aguero goal will live with me for a very long time to come and it’d be great to see another end to the season like that – basically, anyone but United and Arsenal.

Who definitely won’t?

West Ham – a ticking time bomb.

What is your most anticipated fixture?

Arsenal at home simply because of the atmosphere. Arsene Wenger’s made his bed so to speak and now he has to lie in it every visit to the Britannia! His comments about our style of play and Ryan Shawcross will never, ever be forgotten and it always seems the players give a little extra effort in this one!

What is your most anticipated fixture that doesn’t involve your club?

Probably the Manchester derby. With the clubs so evenly matched now it makes for mouth-watering clashes and a fixture I always look out for.

How do you think Southampton will fare?

It’s hard to say really, the transfer window seems yet to kick in and obviously one or two signings could be crucial. Compared with the other promoted teams though, West Ham will be their usual cocky selves so that could back fire and Reading seem to have made a few decent signings. I think Southampton’s fate will be determined by the weakness of current lower PL teams, the likes of Wigan, Swansea and perhaps even Stoke!

You find yourself stuck in the Emirates Stadium. How do you escape unnoticed?

Put on a cockney accent and suggest the very long wait for a trophy will be over this year. Also, suggest Aaron Ramsey is a world beater and claim Cesc Fabregas has taken a step back in his career by signing for Barca!

The odds on Crouch being Stoke’s top scorer?

Sunderland:-

Name:- Mark Harrison

Team:- Sunderland AFC

Website:- www.seventy3magazine.co.uk

Twitter:- @harrmn

What can we expect from your club this season?

To build on the progress made since Xmas last season and with this a push for top half but our target should always be ‘winning’ the mini league of all those teams outside the top 6.

Who is your most important player?

Sessegnon was our star last season so if we can keep him away from a top four team I expect him to be prominent again, but for me the two centrebacks need to be an injury free partnership and be the backbone of the team. Attack from the back!

Where do you predict you will finish this season?

8th

Who might win the Premier League?

Man city to triumph again.

Who definitely won’t?

Spurs, I just don’t think AVB can handle the pressure and the players the way Harry did.

What is your most anticipated fixture?

Arsenal away, the start of the season cannot come soon enough for me.

What is your most anticipated fixture that doesn’t involve your club?

Man Utd v man City, I love a derby and Utd will not want to lose face to their neighbours again.

How do you think Southampton will fare?

I am afraid to say they will struggle and relegation is a concern.

You find yourself stuck in St. James’ Park. How do you escape unnoticed?

I would struggle, I cannot make my face as bitter and twisted as the locals.

Thanks to all the contributors.

To read Part 1 (Arsenal, Aston Villa, Chelsea, Everton & Fulham) click here:- http://georgeweahscousin.com/2012/08/15/premier-league-preview-part-1/

To read Part 2 (Liverpool, Man City, Man Utd, Newcastle & Norwich) click here:- http://georgeweahscousin.com/2012/08/17/premier-league-preview-part-2/

Chris

Permanent Fixtures?

Daunting. ‘Baptism of Fire’. Tough….

This was the hyperbole and conjecture that greeted Saints fans on reveal of this season’s coming Premier League fixtures. I looked at it a slighty different way.

Exciting. ‘Back where we belong’. Challenging….

After all, there is no easy games in the Premier League, you have to play every team twice, and our fate will be sealed based on our performances in those games the same as it is for everybody else. Admittedly, having to play last season’s top three in our first four games isn’t ideal, but this lends itself to a plethora of speculation. It may be the best time to play them. They are likely to have new players, and be tinkering with new systems for example. But, actually what it has meant is that, should, God (or whichever fictional deity you choose to worship) forbid, we are in a scrap at the business end of the season, our last seven fixtures (on paper at least) couldn’t be kinder.

But there is that saying again. On paper, and that is all these fixtures are at the moment, a list. Nothing more, nothing less. There are only two teams we can really base our predictions on, those that joined us from the Championship, Reading and West Ham, the rest we haven’t played for at least two seasons.

But what if we took our head to head record (based on the last two competitive fixtures) against the rest of the clubs in the Premier League as a start point. How would we fare in the coming season?

First up we travel to the City of Manchester Stadium to take on the reigning champions. It was January 2007, the last time we made this trip, Kenwyne Jones found the net for Saints, but Man City ran away 3-1 winners with goals from Darius Vassell, Joey Barton and Damarcus Beasley. The last time City visited St. Mary’s it would end goaless in the Premier League fixture of October 2004. Points – 1.

Saints will open their Premier League home campaign with the visit of Wigan Athletic. It was January 1986 when the clubs last met on the South Coast, and in fact is the only competitive fixture between the two in their history! Glenn Cockerill and a brace by David Armstrong saw Saints through to the fifth round of the FA Cup. Points – 4 (A draw  was allocated for the away game).

Manchester United will then make the trip to Southampton, despite a famous run of victories against the Red Devils, it will be 9 years and a day since we last beat them when we kick off on the 1st September. Our last meeting with Sir Alex and his men saw goals from Michael Owen and Javier Hernandez cancel out Richard Chaplow’s opener in the FA Cup 4th Round. Our last trip to Old Trafford ended in a 3-0 reverse at the hands of Scholes, Rooney and Ronaldo in December 2004. Points – 0.

An unlikely hero emerged on our last visit to Arsenal. Rory Delap got both goals in a two all draw, Henry and Van Persie on target for the Gunners! Peter Crouch scored at St. Mary’s in the same season to gain Saints a double of draws over the North London side. Points – 2.

Fans will want to forget the last time St. Mary’s hosted Aston Villa. Peter Crouch and Kevin Phillips gave Saints an early lead, only to lose 3-2. Carlton Cole, Nobby Solano and Steven Davis sealing the victory for Villa in April 2005. It was a 2-0 defeat at Villa Park, Carlton Cole and Darius Vassell getting the goals in an earlier game that season. Points – 0.

Everton were famed as a Saints “bogey team” for years, and in that same fateful final Premier League season, they were just as tight. A Leon Osman goal at the death decided matters at Goodison Park, while Saints managed a point at St. Mary’s with goals from Peter Crouch and Henri Camara cancelling out James “I definitely won’t celebrate” Beattie and Marcus Bent. Points – 1.

It was a goalfest the last time Saints hosted Fulham, a brace from Kevin Phillips and an own goal for the hosts, Radzinski, Malbranque and Bouba Diop for the visitors. The reverse fixture that season saw a victory for the cottagers through a solitary Tomas Radzinski strike. Points – 1.

Chaplow and co celebrate the opener v Man Utd.

West Ham are of course more recent opponents, Jos Hooiveld the scourge of East London, scoring the winner at St. Mary’s and then the equaliser at Upton Park last season. Points – 4.

After the trip to West Ham, Saints play host to their North London neighbours, the now Redknapp-less (shame) Spurs lost on their last visit, Nigel Quashie with the only goal of the game. It was a different story at White Hart Lane though, Saints put to the sword, losing 5-1. Jermain Defoe kept the match ball, Kanoute and Keane getting the other two, Peter Crouch got the consolation. Points – 3.

A trip to the Midlands follows, as Saints go to the Hawthorns. Saints last played WBA in the 2007/08 Championship season. Despite Albion going up as Champions that season and Saints needing last day heroics to stay up, it was the South Coast side that got the better of their two fixtures. Adam Lallana scored in the away leg in a 1-1 draw, while a double from Stern John and a Marek Saganowski strike secured all three points at home. Points – 4.

Swansea City will come to St. Mary’s in November, Saganowski earned Saints a point the last time this fixture happened in the 2008/09 Championship relegation season. The reverse game saw an easy run out for the Swans, Pratley, Gomez and Butler getting the goals in a 3-0 defeat for Saints. Points – 1.

In that same season, Saints suffered a heavy defeat at next opponents QPR. Ex-Saint Dexter Blackstock got a couple, Stewart and Ageymang also netted, Adam Lallana got Saints only reply. Later in the campaign, the two clubs played out a 0-0 draw at St. Mary’s. Points – 1.

Saints haven’t faced Newcastle United in a league game since 2004, going down 1-2 at home to goals from Alan Shearer and Titus Bramble, Peter Crouch almost inevitably being the Saints goalscorer in that season. The last time Saints visited St. James’ Park though is more recent. Keiron Dyer got the only goal in February 2006 in the FA Cup 5th round. Points – 0.

Jos Hooiveld heads Saints to three points.

Saints and Norwich City both left the Premier League in the same season, so barring the past two seasons have been regular opponents. It was in the Johnstones Paint Trophy that the Canaries last came to St. Mary’s, A last minute Papa Waigo equaliser took the game to a penalty shootout which Saints won, subsequently lifting the trophy. A Lee Barnard brace saw Saints take all three points at Carrow Road that same season. Points – 6 (I know, I know, technically the JPT game was a draw after 90 minutes, but it’s my game and my rules).

A trip to Anfield beckons in December, just as it did in our last Premier League season. Florent Sinama-Pongolle scored the only goal of the game that time. Saints got their revenge over Liverpool at St. Mary’s just a month later, David Prutton and Peter Crouch ensuring a 2-0 victory. Points – 3.

In a reverse of last season, Saints will host Reading first. In the game that effectively conceded the title to their Berkshire rivals in April, Saints went down 3-1, Rickie Lambert on the scoresheet, but outdone by Jason Roberts and Adam Le Fondre. It was  a 1-1 draw at the Madjeski, Steve de Ridder cancelling out Mikele Leigertwood’s opener. Points – 1.

The last time Saints went to Stamford Bridge, James Beattie scored at both ends, Frank Lampard sealing the points for Chelsea. Lampard scored again at St. Mary’s which coupled with an Eidur Gudjohnsen double meant Kevin Phillips’ goal was just a consolation. Points – 0.

Saints last faced Sunderland in the 2006/07 Championship season, going down 2-1 at home, after Gareth Bale had grabbed a last minute equaliser at the Stadium of Light earlier in the season. Points – 1.

The last club Saints will renew acquaintances with will be Stoke City. Tony Pulis and his merry band of ex-Southampton players will welcome Saints in the last game of 2012, and it was a 3-2 victory for the Potters in their last potteries encounter. It was an exact reverse of the scoreline in the same season at St. Mary’s, Drew Surman, Gregorz Rasiak and Jhon Viafara got the goals for Saints, Parkin and Fuller for Stoke. Points – 3.

Saints on the up.

So, if we can match those results, we will end on 36 points. Sounds bad doesn’t it? But, take into account that the majority of the games come from a terrible Premier League relegation campaign and consecutive horrific Championship seasons, it is surprisingly good.

Also, it is worth noting that 36 points would mean safety in six of the last ten Premier League seasons, though not the last two.

Of course, none of these teams look anything like the last time we played them, and neither do we. So this is all just speculation and conjecture. Of course it is, back where we started then….

You can see the full fixture list at the Saints Official Website here.

Chris

p.s. If you have enjoyed reading the blog over the past year, why not vote for us in the “Club Specific” category at the Football Blogging Awards? Either via Facebook here. Or, tweet the following:- @TheFBAs @crstig #Club

Steel City Islander: Lewis Buxton

In a rare break from the Saints related subject matter, I was delighted to catch up with newly promoted Sheffield Wednesday star Lewis Buxton. I am lucky enough to have known Lewis and his family for many years and have watched his career with interest.

Having learnt his trade on the Isle of Wight, a place where not many young kids make the grade Lewis is now enjoying a fruitful career with one of the countries biggest clubs in Sheffield Wednesday. Sealing promotion to the Championship under new boss Dave Jones, Lewis is looking forward to another spell at the higher level, but it hasn’t always been plain sailing for the Islander….

As one of the few pros to come out of the game on the Island, do you feel that it is a disadvantage for kids here?

LB  “It’s a disadvantage, everyones knows that the Island has a low population so competition isn’t as intense as the big cities. To get the best out of anyone in sport you need to be competing against the best opposition, every week from an early age, the last thing you want is a team winning 14-0 for most of the season. I don’t know what the kids leagues are like now but if they don’t already then it would give the kids a better chance with a structure that has all the current sides feeding one team playing in the Southampton league and one in the Portsmouth league which take all the best players from the existing teams. Kids develop at different rates so some would be dropped out of the teams playing in the mainland leagues and others promoted to them. This would progress the talented kids quicker and give them the best chance to get scouted for professional clubs at a young age. They would then receive the top quality coaching which they need to move onto the next level .

There was however a very good bunch of players in my age group in the Island league at the top 3 or 4 teams. We also played regularly in tournaments against mainland sides at school level, and for East Cowes from an early age we played in the national indoor final at Aston Villa. We won a Hampshire tournament at the Dell, and played at Fratton Park in a similar tournament. We were one game away from Wembley in another. We were entered into these school tournament’s by a very good P.E teacher Mr. McArther so he gave us the opportunity to progress against top opposition as young players.

The stretch of water does make even the the most dedicated kids doubt if it’s all worth it. Travelling over the water from the age of 14 three times a week leaving home at half 4 and getting in 6 hours later for an hour/hour and a half of training straight after school is not much fun. I personally did not enjoy the travelling and the waiting around for hours and contemplated giving up on numerous occasions. You go from playing in your local team with all your best mates and really enjoying it, to joining a new team that all know each other because they play in the top 2 or 3 local sides in Pompey. That is difficult as a young kid and my football struggled at this stage but again I was lucky we had a strong group from the Island that would go over to play for Portsmouth schoolboys together. On top of that, Portsmouth didn’t pay for your travel and the majority of the time you were not getting picked up as the coaches had to train the younger age groups before our age group. It was a joint taxi or the bus, and If the lads you travelled with were ill it would mean getting the bus on your own.”

How did you get involved with Pompey?

LB “I got scouted by Roger North playing for the school. He invited me and my best mate Adam Howarth to train at his soccer school in Sandown where we progressed to his side at Portsmouth’s centre of Excellence. Without the work of Roger, Andrew and Shaun North I wouldn’t have become a professional footballer.”

Lewis at Pompey.

How big was the skill gap between playing in the Island youth teams and then being amongst the young lads at a pro club?

LB “There was a slight gap but we had a good bunch of players on the Island at that age. The best players on the Island at that time competed with Portsmouth’s best but there were just a lot of good players at Pompey.”

Having been a regular at Fratton Park, you found yourself loaned out to Exeter and Bournemouth once Harry Redknapp came in? Do you think this enhanced your career or held you back?

LB “It held me back, I had played 30 games for Pompey in the Championship, and before one game Ted Buxton (not my uncle, as I’ve been told he must have been when telling this story) told me he was trying to get me into the England youth set up and was feeling I could do anything, then I was being farmed out to Exeter a team near the bottom of the football league and low on confidence.

Bournemouth was a good grounding for me though and I had a lot to thank then manager Sean O’Driscoll for. It gave me a good platform for my career in a strong passing side. It was a great club with great staff. Portsmouth had moved on too quickly for me and Harry had turned a struggling Championship side into a Premiership side in no time. Playing in a reserve team and not training with the first team for long periods I lost my way and my focus, I lacked guidance and developed a bad attitude because I felt hard done by.”

After a decent spell with Stoke City, you now find yourself settled with Sheffield Wednesday. It must be brilliant to play for such a big club?

LB “Sheffield Wednesday is a massive club and after a bit of a struggle initially, I worked extremely hard and I’ve played well this season. We came with a strong late run to beat our local rivals to the 2nd spot. We beat them in the derby at Hillsborough in front of around 35,000, the atmosphere was electric, for players playing in the third tier of English football it’s unbelievable and all the players should be proud to play in such a game that means the world to both sets of supporters. In the last game of this season we beat Wycombe in front of nearly 40,000 fans, it was a great feeling but the club belongs in the next league up and in the next few years I hope we’ll get there.”

Buxton & Wednesday. Championship Bound.

Who influenced your career in Island Football?

LB “I would say initially my mum and dad and the friends in East Cowes who I hung around with. Mike Parkman who gave up a lot of his time to manage our East Cowes side which was no easy task. Then obviously Roger, Sean and Andrew North for bringing me through at Portsmouth. As a kid I knew Lee Bradbury had become a pro footballer and so had Gary Rowett. Our PE teacher Mr. Reynolds would always go on about them and how Gary had won the Hampshire Cup (we made it to the final and lostl). They both went to my school so although I didn’t know them I knew it was possible to make it.”

You played for a successful East Cowes youth side. Did you expect others from that team to make it?

LB “We had a very talented group of players who were all good friends at East Cowes, we then brought in better players from Sandown such as Sam Dye and Micky Sherry who had the talent, but again were at a disadvantage being from the Island. The main one though would be one of my best mates, Adam Howarth, we were both from East Cowes and in the Isle of Wight schools sides, Hampshire and Portsmouth kids sides together, always battling to be better than each other so he could have made it given a chance at YTS level. Shaun Cooper another of my best mates who plays for Bournemouth was in the same Pompey kids team as us and was another we played against at school.”

You’ve played under a few different managers, who have you enjoyed playing for the most?

LB “I enjoyed playing for Graham Rix, as a 17 year old, he and my youth team coach Mark O’Connor gave me great confidence, I was gutted when he got sacked.

What advice would you give a young Island footballer with hopes of going pro?

LB “I would say:-

1. Move to Southampton or Portsmouth, the Island is a nice and safe place to live but if you want to be a professional footballer you are up against it. If you can’t move I would say the kids that are the best at a young age need to play for the year above to begin with. This is something Shaun Cooper and I did.

2. Work as hard as possible, if someone says your not good enough then work harder. One of the lads at Wednesday (Jose Semedo) was in the same year of the Sporting Lisbon Academy as Ronaldo and is good friends with him still. He said that the hardest working player he ever played with was Ronaldo, it is no coincidence he is the best. Well second best behind the greatest of all time (Messi). I was told the same thing about Ronaldo by the former fitness coach of Manchester United too.

3. Start sprint training early you can make it with less quality if your faster than everyone else.

4. Watch the best players in the world as much as possible.

5. Learn to be comfortable using every part of your body to control and manipulate the ball.”

Thanks to Lewis for his time.

Chris

p.s. If you have enjoyed reading the blog over the past year, why not vote for us in the “Club Specific” category at the Football Blogging Awards? Either via Facebook here. Or, tweet the following:- @TheFBAs @crstig #Club