Last Sunday I decided to treat my cousin Cam to a trip to the Etihad to watch Saints take on the might of Champions Manchester City. Cam, an avid football follower himself and academy player for Yeovil Town, had long hinted at the possibility of attending a match at one of the most impressive sporting venues and, knowing full well I’d have wanted exactly the same at his age I finally relented.
Living on the outskirts of Salisbury, I had wanted to drive up the M6 myself, as I usually do for away games but was persuaded otherwise, so much for thinking that my driving was trustworthy enough at the ripe old age of 27. Therefore, it was a case of hopping on a supporter’s travel coach at St. Mary’s and with said departing at 7:30am, we set out at the inhumane time of 6:15am. The journey, albeit long, seemed to fly by, as has been the case for some time, presumably down to the fact that I’ve been covering similar distances and beyond for many years. One plus of travelling via coach is the ability to kick back, relax in the knowledge that everything’s taken care of, even read a book, or at least attempt to during your cousin’s incessant ramblings (sorry mate!)
We arrived at the Etihad at 2pm and regardless of the outcome, seeing Cam’s face light up upon laying eyes on the behemoth of a structure he’d seen so many times on television previously, made it worthwhile. City, admittedly enviably rich but in terms of facilities, the way in which money has been invested can only be respected. What is officially named the ‘Etihad Campus’ can only be described as a footballing mecca.
As well at the Etihad stadium itself, only a stone’s throw away is the 7,000 capacity Academy stadium. The venue, which is used by both youth outfits as well as the women’s team, is connected to the Etihad via a bridge which arches over the main road which passes through the heart of City’s HQ, giving a wonderful visual representation of the path to the first team. If that wasn’t enough, situated behind the Academy are acres of countless pitches and a training complex, no doubt ensuring that the next wave of City superstars will be treated to the most elite environment possible on their paths to stardom.
Having suitably stretched our legs by attempting to take in this awe inspiring setup, it was time to make our way to the stadium ahead of Kick-Off. At the Etihad, or ‘Emptyhad’ as it is commonly referred to due to poor attendances despite marked success, visiting supporters are usually designated a section behind one of the goals, seats located in blocks in each of the stand’s three tiers.
Unfortunately, our allocation did not sell out, no doubt due to a mixture of our current predicament and the calibre of opposition. However, despite only filling one of the tier’s blocks in full, the hardcore Saints followers could be heard loud and proud as ever, drowning out the rugged Lancastrian tones. With twenty minutes to go before the main event, both sides could be seen being put through their paces during the warm up, millions of pounds worth of world class talent taking part in regimentally coached drills.
The game itself was a painful experience to say the least for anyone of a Saints persuasion. Ironically I didn’t think that it was our poorest showing of the season but, up against one of the most impressive/expensively assembled squads in world football, it’s always going to be a stern test, without affording them a three goal lead within the first twenty minutes. The final score of 6-1 was perhaps a tad harsh, Saints could have scored more but for Shane Long squandering multiple chances and City’s goalkeeper was fortunate to stay on the pitch having wiped out Danny Ings prior to his coolly dispatched penalty. Having said that, the Citizens will feel as though they should have added to their tally and this is understandable considering what can only be described as calamitous defending, Wesley Hoedt constantly out of position and diverting into the back of his own net for the second time this season.
After the final whistle blew and Saints were put out of their misery, it was time to embark upon the trudge to the supporter’s coach. Upon boarding, I realised that 5 Live’s ‘606’ show was playing and I hadn’t even made it to my seat before the host was revelling in the home side’s display, whilst also remarking on another pitiful performance from us, not exactly what the Doctor ordered to ease our woes. Unsurprisingly, after such a demolition, the trip home felt substantially longer and I finally parked up in front of my house at midnight.
In brighter news, our Under-23 side continued their rich vein of form, toppling the Baggies at home. An often turgid affair admittedly but regardless, the three points were secured at St. Mary’s, a lone strike from Marcus Barnes enough to see off the West Midlands outfit. The victory made it three on the bounce for Radhi Jaidi’s starlets, with wins at home to Wolves and West Brom, as well as a 2-0 victory away to Sunderland sandwiched in between. The youngsters are back in action this Friday for the visit of Newcastle United in the Premier League Cup.
The Women’s side had been scheduled to face New Milton last Sunday, another home fixture at AFC Totton’s Testwood ground but unfortunately the match was postponed due to the visitors issues with squad numbers. However, the team are back in action this Sunday, travelling to Poole Town and in doing so, embarking upon their first FA Cup adventure, the tie being a first round clash. Young goalkeeper Kayla Rendell will be in buoyant mood in particular, having been named in the Under-18s squad that will visit the USA for a 10 day trip. The short tour will see the Lionesses challenging the best South America has to offer, with fixtures against Mexico, Colombia and the USA.
Back to first team matters and the home fixture against Watford this Saturday. Despite the current wretched run of form, Saints will fancy their chances of gaining a positive result against the inconsistent Hertfordshire based side. The Hornets started the season emphatically, winning their first four games and notching up the impressive scalp of Spurs at Vicarage Road.
More recently though, results have been less encouraging, the Hornets suffering a demoralising 4-0 thrashing at home to Bournemouth, whilst also being on the wrong side of Newcastle’s first victory of the season last time out.
Defensively, if I was afforded the opportunity to select the side, I would opt to reintroduce long time servant Maya Yoshida in place of the struggling Wesley Hoedt. Although he lacks minutes in terms of this season, he brings experience and leadership, something that we severely lack in my opinion. Speaking of which, I strongly believe that Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg, arguably our player of the season so far deserves serious consideration for the role of team captain.
Nothing against Ryan Bertrand who has been a stalwart at left back over the years, but I feel as though he lacks vocal credentials to be an adequate captain. In addition, Pierre is often the one to face up to the media post game and his exemplary attitude, coupled with his age and on-field displays surely warrants a shot at the title.
Last but not least, the summer signing of playmaker Stuart Armstrong was the one that excited me most, especially after he put in some promising displays during the pre-season.
Creative with an eye for goal himself, I can’t understand why he hasn’t been given more opportunities in a side that lacks quality in front of goal.
Considering we have to face four of the so called ‘top six’ teams prior to Christmas, not to mention three potential relegation six-pointers away at Fulham, Cardiff and Huddersfield respectively, nothing less than a win will do. Fingers crossed that raucous support from the St. Mary’s faithful can roar the team onto a vital three points. COYR!