Tag Archives: West Brom

The Long and the Short of it…

For some time now it feels like that as the end of the season approaches, there are numerous positives about Saints and their campaign that I could write about, and this is no exception.

One of the negatives this season, that I feel needs addressing, is that Shane Long might not be voted the player of the season.

In any other season he would have had it sewn up, but with the performances of Virgil van Dijk at the other end of the pitch catching the eye too, it is likely he’ll be a valiant runner up to the Dutchman.

The turnaround in the perception of Long in the eyes of Saints fans has been remarkable. Cast your minds back to August 2014, the 12 million pound transfer from Hull came with some unkind remarks about his perceived value in comparison to the fee paid, and I will not shirk the fact that I was one of those detractors.

This criticism was largely based on the fact that Long’s goal return wasn’t overly impressive for a ‘striker’, based largely on the fact that he had never hit double figures in any of his four previous Premier League campaigns with Reading, West Brom and Hull City respectively.

If the pressure was already on him in his early days as a Southampton player, it was compounded further by his number. Seven. The number that Matthew Le Tissier had worn, and had most recently been vacated by the just departed fan favourite Rickie Lambert. It sounds like a small detail, but people react to such decisions, and an a level of expectation is made.

Long’s first season at Saints was perhaps unremarkable, though it is easily forgotten that he weighed in to a record breaking debut by Ronald Koeman with five goals, despite being not a regular in the starting lineup (Long started 16 times).

It is this season that Long has come into his own though, so far starting 21 games, missing some through injury and has remodelled himself as a player who draws attention to when he isn’t in the team rather than when he is.

His effervescent displays this season, be it up front or as part of a support three have been dazzling at times, and though he might never be considered the most cultured player in the world, many an opposition defence will have felt relieved his constant hassling of them was over.

Relentless energy and supreme efficiency with the ball makes Long a valuable asset, but I shouldn’t fail to address his goal return or perceived lack of it.

Long has hit 10 Premier League goals this season, putting him joint top with Sadio Mane and Graziano Pelle but there are further statistics that puts the Irishman out in front. Both Mane and Pelle have started more games than Long, but further still their goal to shot ratios are nowhere near as good. Both the Senegalese and the Italian have score their 10 goals having had 80 shots apiece. Long has achieved the same total from just 59 shots.

Goals are of course important, but I think Long’s contribution has been as much about the team dynamic as it has been the amount of times he has hit the back of the net. Ronald Koeman has built a style that utilises both the wide positions (and particularly the use of crossing) and often at pace. Long is ideal for it, and the added bonus that he is better in the air than you might expect means that he is comfortable in any of the forward positions.

Saints are at the culmination of another decent season, but this Summer you can add Shane Long to the list of the players fans will be anxiously hoping stays at St. Mary’s. He might not be Southampton player of the season, but he is a Southampton player for a reason.  Who saw that coming?

Chris

 

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.

Football - Southampton v Everton - Barclays Premier League - St Mary's Stadium - 15/8/15 Southampton's Oriol Romeu in action Action Images via Reuters / Tony O'Brien Livepic EDITORIAL USE ONLY. No use with unauthorized audio, video, data, fixture lists, club/league logos or "live" services. Online in-match use limited to 45 images, no video emulation. No use in betting, games or single club/league/player publications. Please contact your account representative for further details. - RTX1OCZB
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

 

Big Time Charlie, More like About time!

If there is one complaint that all Saints fans have had in common of late, it’s that we were in desperate need of a striker.

There was one name that was repeatedly on the lips of the supporters, an out and out goalscorer who had proved his point in the Premier League in the last campaign, and seemingly the ideal man to come in and lead the line at St. Mary’s.

It’s not often though that the supporters and the club find themselves on the same wavelength when it comes to transfer business so the breaking news on Saturday morning that on this occasion they actually were, was both perfectly timed and a pleasant surprise.

To seal such a sought after striker, whose record is prolific at every level at such a bargain price of £4 million, is staggering business for the club and the only thing left to ask is, what took so you long Charlie?

You see, ever since this site was in it’s infancy, and Saints were playing in League One, it’s always felt to me like destiny that Charlie Austin would one day turn out for us. As mentioned in a nostalgic piece here, the then Swindon Town forward was our ‘tormentor in chief’ at the time.

Having grown up on the South Coast, I remember feeling he might have been one that had slipped through Saints proverbial net, having caught the Robin’s eye while banging in the goals at Poole Town!

Austin was often the difference in games between us and Swindon, and he also notched against Saints in the Championship with Burnley, not to mention last season’s spectacular strike at St. Mary’s in the Premier League.

As Saints have progressed so has Austin at an equal rate, and now is the time for them to move on together!

Austin’s addition couldn’t be any more welcome, and with supporters starting to feel restless after a poor run of late, the return of Fraser Forster, two good wins on the bounce and the announcement of such a good goalscorer joining the squad has brought the confidence flooding back into the stands.

Saints fans love a goalscorer and it was perhaps fitting that Charlie Austin was sat in the stands watching his new team-mates while a former legendary front-man in Rickie Lambert returned with West Brom.

Graziano Pelle and Shane Long have been great in patches this season, but this added competition can only be a good thing, and in Austin it feels like we might have another talisman forward on our hands. Perhaps even the man to takeover from Lambert and join predecessors James Beattie, Le Tiss et al as the focal point in the team.

It feels like a move that makes perfect sense for all parties for a change. QPR got a fee before losing out altogether in the Summer, Saints got their goalscorer, and Charlie Austin has a six month crack at the England Euro 2016 squad.

It’s been a while since Saints made a transfer that inspired such confidence in the stands, and there was a buzz amongst the fans I was watching the WBA game with, while those St. Mary’s were clearly audibly lifted!

Just when it feels like Saints are getting us down again, they know just how to scoop us back up.

Acceptable to be excited again? I think so.

charlie-austin-signs-southampton-news148-2905726_478x359

 

Predictable outcome at the Hawthorns!

Imagine being surprised that Southampton didn’t score today? To be honest there can’t have been a more easier fixture to predict in all of football today.

You know exactly what you are coming up against when you take on a side managed by Tony Pulis, they will be well organised and difficult to break down. What you definitely don’t want to do is go behind early and give them a lead to protect, especially if you are struggling to convert chances yourselves. 72 seconds. Well done lads.

As soon as Saido Berahino’s neat finish hit the back of the net, even the most optimistic Saints fan knew how this was going to pan out. The team looks absolutely bereft of ideas going forwards at the moment and today’s match could have gone on all night and no goal would…

View original 179 more words

WBA v Southampton: PPI Preview

West Brom vs Southampton – Saturday 28th February, 15:00

West Brom will be looking to go a fifth game unbeaten this weekend when they face Southampton at home this Saturday. The Baggies are on a good run of form but will need to perform well to beat the Saints.

Saido Berahino, partnered with Brown Ideye, has picked up his performances to return to his early season form recently, and although he didn’t score last time out, the striker now sits on nine Premier League goals. He has scored from exactly a fifth of his shots and has put 48.9% of his shots on target, according to the EA SPORTS Player Performance Index. Berahino has also played more minutes in the Premier League than any other player in the West Brom squad (1905). Berahino is 21/4 to score first with 888sport.com.

One of Berahino’s main suppliers is midfielder Stephane Sessegnon. The creative playmaker has completed more dribbles than any other West Brom player with 29 successful dribbles to his name, according to the EA SPORTS Player Performance Index. He is second in the club rankings for assists with four, one behind Chris Brunt.

Craig Gardner has been a key cog in the West Brom midfield this season, both going forward and defensively. Although his contributions have largely been defensive, Gardner has the second most shots on target in the West Brom squad (12) behind Berahino. Defensively, Gardner has made the seventh most tackles in the entire division, according to the EA SPORTS Player Performance Index.

index

Southampton have only won one of their last four games, scoring just one goal in the process, but they are still sat in fifth place, only two points off of Arsenal in third place, and will want to keep the pressure up and possibly leapfrog those above them by recording a win against West Brom.

Nathaniel Clyne has arguably been the outstanding player in the Southampton side this season. The England right back has made 88 successful tackles, the second highest total in the league, as well as the seventh greatest number of sprints, with 1458, according to the EA SPORTS Player Performance Index.

Sadio Mané has also excelled under Ronald Koeman this year and the Senegalese winger is Southampton’s second top goalscorer. Mané has five goals so far this season and has recorded 51.9% of his shots on target, according to the EA SPORTS Player Performance Index. Mané is 6/1 to score first with 888sport.com.

A big bonus for Southampton this weekend will be the return of Ryan Bertrand from suspension. Bertrand has missed the last three games but is likely to return to the start against West Brom. Bertrand has made the seventh highest number of successful crosses in the Premier League with 21, finding his man 27.6% percent of the time, according to the EA SPORTS Player Performance Index.

logo

 

Data supplied by the EA SPORTS Player Performance Index. Select and manage your own team of stars at http://fantasy.premierleague.com/ or with FIFA Ultimate team.

Justice for Jeff!

JUSTICE FOR JEFF ASTLE

Nine minutes into Saturday’s game a large banner will be unveiled in the Smethwick End (to the left of the Southampton supporters) reading ‘Justice for Jeff’ which starts a minute’s applause – nine being the famous shirt number our dad wore. The two big screens at The Hawthorns will also display a picture of Jeff with the words ‘If in doubt, sit them out’ which refers to the dangers of concussion in sport.

Southampton fans are more than welcome to join in with the applause if they choose, for which we would be very grateful for. If not, we would like to take this opportunity to make them aware of our campaign if they haven’t already seen it via the national media.

The Justice for Jeff banner has been at every West Bromwich Albion home and away game and will continue to be for the rest of this season. Hopefully by then, the promised research into the links between heading footballs and brain damage will be in its early stages and, just as importantly, the research into former players and instances of dementia will have commenced.

We would also like to respectfully ask that if you are aware of any other former players who may have died of, or are sadly living with Alzheimer’s or any other Degenerative Brain Disease please contact us by emailing dawnastle@justiceforjeff.co.uk – this information is vitally important to forthcoming research. Our dad was the first British footballer to have been confirmed to die from CTE but he wouldn’t of been the first and certainly won’t be the last.

You can keep up-to-date and learn more about our campaign by visiting our website justiceforjeff.co.uk or our Facebook and Twitterpages.

Yours Sincerely,

The Astle Family

unnamed

ABOUT THE CAMPAIGN

The ‘Justice for Jeff’ campaign is dedicated to our dad, Jeff Astle, the countless number of former football players who have died of degenerative brain disease (DBD), and former players and their families who are suffering from the consequences of DBD.

Jeff Astle died at the age of 59 on 19th January 2002. In November that year we attended the Coroners Court. A leading pathologist stood and described how badly damaged dad’s brain was. He found that there was considerable evidence of trauma to his brain that was similar to the brain of a boxer. He said the main candidate for the trauma was heading a heavy ball and it was the repeated trauma that appeared to be the problem. H.M Coroner, Andrew Haigh, ruled “Mr Astle’s type of dementia was entirely consistent with heading a ball and the occupational exposure has made at least a significant contribution to the disease which had caused his death”.

Verdict – INDUSTRIAL DISEASE

Following this landmark ruling the Football Association (FA) and Professional Footballers’ Association (PFA) promised to conduct a ten-year joint study into DBD and the medical links associated with head trauma through heading footballs. Thirteen years on, this research has never been concluded or published.

After learning about the FA/PFA and their lack of, well, anything, we contacted a Consultant Neuropathologist based in Glasgow, called Dr. Willie Stewart. Dr. Stewart is one of the World’s Leading Experts in a disease called Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE). It’s not a new disease, it’s just got a new name. It’s “dementia pugilistica”, “punch drunk syndrome”, or “boxers brain”. The disease has actually been around for nigh on 100 years. CTE had been found in the brains of former NFL players. It is a degenerative brain disease caused by multiple concussions or, as we now know, in dad’s case, low level repeated brain trauma.

Following his death, Dad’s brain was donated for brain research, it was something dad believed in. We gave Dr. Stewart permission to re-examine dad’s brain to look for evidence of CTE. Dad was originally diagnosed as having dementia/early onset Alzheimer’s. Could they have got it wrong? They had. Dad didn’t have Alzheimer’s. He was now the first ever British Professional Footballer to have died of Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy. Dad died of repeated blows to the head, the type caused by heading a football… just as the Coroner had ruled over 12 years ago. The question is – how many others?

So what are our objectives?

On a personal level, acknowledgement from the game about what killed our dad.

Looking ahead – to create a legacy for past, current and future generations of footballers. We are establishing a charity in dad’s name, ‘The Jeff Astle Foundation’, with 3 principle aims…

  1. SUPPORT – for those in football and their families who have had similar experiences to us, or who are still living with dementia. Dad’s story has had renewed attention over the past 5 months. We have been contacted by families of former players with dementia all with need of support. While we have done what we can to support them, there is a need to put into place a more robust system.
  2. EDUCATION – head injury in sport and its associated immediate and long term risks is a major public health issue, but one for which there is little or no awareness in sport, education, health and allied agencies, never mind public awareness. We would like to see consistent, clear and robust information on aspects of all head injury management, including CTE, and see this information disseminated effectively.
  3. INDEPENDENT RESEARCH – this is a complex and fast moving field and one where there are international experts in research in brain injury positioned to lead. It might be argued that sports agencies, including the FA/ PFA have been guilty of trying to take on research in this highly complex issue, in this highly complex organ ‘in house’, and through their own sponsored research. Invariably, this has failed to deliver its stated aims, as in dad’s case, and /or generated accusations of bias. We support Independent Research.

We quite often get asked “what justice do you want”? Well justice is a powerful word, with many meanings and concepts. The administration of law, reward or penalty as deserved, impartiality, fairness, the quality of being right or correct, to name just a few. The concept of “Justice” in The Justice for Jeff Campaign is again, powerful yet simple. It’s fighting for what is right and fair and importantly, righting wrongs. And make no mistake there have been many wrongs or injustices following the death of our dad, and we make no apologies for doing whatever we can to fight for him, whenever we can, however we can.

We want acknowledgement of what happened to our dad so as to be able to make a difference for those, unlike dad, that it’s not too late for. Those already suffering as he did and those who are, or maybe, a ticking time bomb for the future. We want answers. We need to know. Football needs to know.

No amount of money or compensation can bring our dad back. It is NOT about that. Money may be the first language of modern football and its authorities, it’s not the be all and end all to everyone.

For too long this issue has been the silent scandal of sport, possibly thousands of former players and their families suffering grievously from damage caused by the game they loved.

As a footballer you can expect to get knocks, perhaps ligament damage and even trouble with arthritis later in life, you don’t expect to die of brain damage at 59.

Football should not, and must not, be allowed to shy away from confronting what is an uncomfortable and unsettling reality. The whole game should be united in wanting “Justice for Jeff”.

‘If we could leave you with one final thought it would be that our dad was an ordinary, working class man with an exceptional talent. He was a hero to many but more importantly he was a husband, a father and a grandfather.’

Patience Is A Virtue…

Here is another piece, by guest contributor Simon Hall. Chris.

Patience is a virtue

There is an inescapable truth that comes with Southampton’s return to the Premier League: next season. We are going to lose matches, and we are going to be losing with far more regularity than we have been used to in the last three seasons. This is a truth that will be difficult for many to accept, such has been the gradient of our rise through the lower leagues of English football.

Throughout the 2012/2013 season we must remember that a 17th place finish would constitute a successful campaign for Southampton FC. Of course we all hope for something rather more impressive and to surprise a few doubters along the way but survival must surely be Nigel Adkins’ mission. With this in mind, it is worth noting that QPR lost an incredible 21 matches on their way to 17th last season. Even West Brom, who finished in the top half, succumbed to 17 defeats through the 2011/2012 campaign.

Will the smiles last?

These stats simply prove the point that the Premier League is a uniquely difficult place to thrive and that Saints will undoubtedly lose many games next season, even if the team exceeds expectations. Importantly, when we lose these games the reaction must not be ‘Adkins out’, ‘that Scouser doesn’t have the experience to manage a Premier League outfit’ and such like. In Adkins, I firmly believe we have an exceptionally talented manager, one who has done more than enough to warrant a fair and extended shot at the Premier League. But in order to succeed he will need support and stability embedded within the entire club, even if his team is losing matches frequently.

Ultimately, much of this boils down to the enigma that is loyalty in football. For me, loyalty must start with the fans, particularly at a club like Southampton. If we as supporters display faith and patience in Nigel Adkins and his team (especially through the likely difficult times next season) then we earn the right to expect a degree of loyalty in return when the ‘bigger’ clubs come calling.

But why are fans’ faith, patience and loyalty particularly important for Saints? Well, because the club has set itself the admirable aim of sourcing half of its first team players from the its own academy in future. Our young stars need to be shown that they will be given a fair viewing by fans and, more importantly, the time to develop and succeed in the first team. Perhaps then fans’ patience will be rewarded and we can all start to dream of even bigger and better things.

Simon

 

Swiss Roll or Mountain to Climb for Saints….

The Saints players are once again in Switzerland for their pre-season preparations, and will be hoping for things to go slightly better this time…

Much was made of last years pre-season efforts, that were followed by a poor start to the season, injuries and accusations of bad practice. The likes of Rickie Lambert took a while to fire, and new boy Frazer Richardson was one of the high profile to suffer injury setbacks, as Saints “favourites” tag looked to be way off as they stuttered to 22nd place after the first five games. So how important are these pre-season trips?

Nigel Adkins says “Vital”. And I agree.

It isn’t just about fitness of course, the need to for any successful team to have a good spirit and camaraderie is as, if not more important. Nigel Adkins looks like he thinks the same, and black sheep Jason Puncheon hasn’t travelled with the squad, for fear of disruption.

So what did Alan Pardew do so wrong? And what will Adkins do differently? Well for a start do we actually know that Pardew did wrong? Let’s face it, had we gone unbeaten in the first five games last season, there would have been no questioning of Pardew’s methods. There were several comments in some of the early season defeats of lethargic looking players. Frazer Richardson was injured on the pre-season tour of 2010, as was Rickie Lambert, who uncharacteristically scored just two goals in the first twelve games, remarkable then that he would go on to be the clubs top scorer with twenty one by the end of the season. Fitness was clearly an issue, something Lambert has talked about himself since.

When Nigel Adkins took over, he was quick to mention fitness and the lack thereof after overseeing a drab 0-2 defeat at MK Dons, and by this point in the season, Saints were gaining a reputation for starting games well and taking control before succumbing to defeat. As Adkins influence became more apparent, the side became more resilient and control became victories.

Nigel Adkins - Controlling the controllables....

Adkins, comes from the opposite side of the coaching spectrum to Pardew, the “new breed” if you will, his previous employment as a Physiotherapist is well documented, and he is obsessed with sports psychology, so it is natural to assume that this time round the Swiss trip should produce fitter players, less injuries and even a squad that is better prepared mentally.

Saints will officially start their pre-season tomorrow evening in the Gurzelen Stadion to take on Swiss Challenge League (Championship equivalent) side FC Biel-Bienne, before heading to the AFG Arena to face recently relegated Super League side St. Gallen on Saturday. Returning new boy Jack Cork, somewhat of a coup signing will get his first run out back in a Saints shirt during these games, while it will also be a chance for returning loanees Ryan Doble and Joseph Mills to stake a claim.

The purpose of the Swiss tour and games, may be more about physical shape, team building and even some commercial links than it is about results, but the squad will be truly tested on their return to the South coast. A week of training will be followed by the inaugral “Markus Liebherr Memorial Tournament” and two forty five minute games against European heavy weights Atletico Bilbao from La Liga and Werder Bremen from the Bundesliga. The squad will get to mix it up with World Cup winners and Champions League regulars in the round robin format and against that level of ability any fitness issues will be sorely punished. The technical ability of the likes of Javi Martinez will be difficult enough to deal with, without chasing their shadows.

West Brom and Yeovil Town will make up the rest of pre-season opposition for the first team before the season opens live on Sky (again) against Leeds United at St. Mary’s on the 6th August.

All we can hope is that the lessons of last season’s start have been learnt. We came from the back of the pack to secure promotion last season, despite the less than perfect preparations and the woeful opening run of results. The Championship will not be so forgiving. Every season this is a league that looks more difficult to get out of, and with the likes of Birmingham City and West Ham amongst the Premier League relegated, it is almost impossible to predict an outcome. A lack of preperation and a slow start could be disasterous, and missing out on promotion could be the least of of our worries…..

Chris