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Notoriously Slow Starters Are Our Saints

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I have had the privilege of supporting ‘our’ Saints since 1956. My first game was a 2-2 draw with Plymouth, in the old Division 3 South. Correct me if I am wrong, but I am of the opinion that the start to most seasons have been slow in respect of points won.

In a similar vein, over the years our home form (up until the past few seasons) has always been good and our away form, less so. Traditionally we have played attacking / positive football at home, while attempting to defend too much (not our best trait) away from The Dell or St. Marys.

The start to this season seems no different. However, as I pen this short offering we have one more point than I thought we would have gained. Contrary to above, I firmly believed that we would get draws at Burnley and Brighton and lose at home to Liverpool (why do I dislike this team so much!).

Within the constraints the club operates I was pleased with the close season dealings. Adams will develop into an excellent goal scoring forward. He just needs time to settle and more confidence. It is a big step up from the Championship to the Premier league. Danso looks colossal and can play, as we saw at Brighton, in several positons, whilst Djenepo has already made his mark. What a raw talent he looks!

I for one was pleased to see Boufal stay at the club. I think he is an exceptional talent, who adds much needed creativity to the side. It is up to Ralph to get the best out of him. He certainly worked hard when he came on at Brighton.

I am not certain that the reported £20 million paid to Liverpool for Ings is value for money. However, as long as he stays fit and works hard he will score valuable goals for us. He worked tirelessly at the beginning of the build up to Djenepo’s goal. He is a local lad, who seems to be pleased to have ‘come home’.

Fraser Forster’s season long loan to Celtic is beneficial to both the player and the club. I hope he gets game time there. I feel sorry in many ways for Fraser. When he first came to the club he turned in some amazing performances, none better than the 0-0 draw at Arsenal. Then came the loss of form. He certainly does not deserve some of the vitriolic comments that have been made about him on social media, by supposed fans.

I am still uncertain about the goalkeeping positon. Gunn and McCarthy are both young and hopefully will continue to develop through this season. If you look at the goals we have conceded thus far this season I think one or two could have been saved, or better attempts to save the shots made. Boufal and Danso have nullified to some extent my other concerns, the need for a creative midfielder and a solid defender.

We now need to get rid of the deadwood we still have in what is a very large first team squad, especially those who have publicly stated that they do not want to ‘wear the shirt’ any more.

This is not the platform to express my detailed opinion concerning the ownership of the club. We will be forever indebted to Markus for ‘saving’ it after the Lowe era (heaven help us, an MEP) however, I wish members of his family had not sold the majority holding to Gao. Along with many others, I have grave reservations in respect of his vision for the club. I wish we had an owner, or consortium ownership, whom were openly more passionate about the club and had clarity, shared with the fans, in respect of its projected development. I can’t really fathom out where the club is headed at this present moment in time.

Match day observations on the season so far

Burnley

  • A truly terrible performance for the opening game of the season. Having gone to the 1-1 draw last year, I can imagine the journey back south for supporters felt even longer than it is.
  • Think that the planning for the game went out the window with the late withdrawal of Hojbjerg. This seemed to have forced Ralph’s hand, with the resultant 5 at the back.
  • Everybody knows how Burnley plays and what Barnes et al can do. It is long ball, ‘over the top’ hustle and bustle football, which I am not condoning as it pressurises the opposition. (Sometimes I think we are not direct enough especially when playing out from the back). However, we were neither up for it, nor could we handle it.
  • Ward-Prowse and Romelu had their hands full in a threadbare midfield, and thus we created very few chances.
  • Defence very fragile, lacked leadership and played far too square with a failure to cover for one another. First goal terrible mistake by Vestergaard, but no cover; second, allowed a free kick to travel straight across the penalty area and third, no cover when Bertrand lost the ball. 3 simple goals that other teams in the league would not have conceded.
  • Ralph looked an angry and confused manager. A lot of work to be done

Liverpool

  • Excited to sample the new Fan-zone at the stadium, even if the queue at The Chapel Arms was shorter.
  • Thought that we played much better (could not have been much worse), but showed Liverpool too much respect. I think they were there for the taking if we had been committed to playing more adventurous attacking football, the football we are renowned for at home.
  • Hojbjerg worked tirelessly in midfield. He along with Bednarek and Redmond were my players of the season 2018-19
  • Marne’s goal was a great strike, but why did we let him drift in from the left unchallenged before he unleashed that bullet. Firminio’s goal was down to another poor defensive mistake.
  • I would personally like to thank the Liverpool goalkeeper for setting up Ings for our goal – what a great pass it was.
  • Same problems as in previous seasons though. We have a lot of the play, but miss so many chances, in this game 3 at least. Adams, Yoshida (free header from 5 yards out with only the goalkeeper to beat) and Ings all should have done better. Ings should have definitely made it 2-2, and a draw would have been a truer reflection on the overall play,
  • Long walk back to Netley Abbey over the Itchen Bridge thinking where on earth will we get our first point.

Brighton

  • Great result, especially when one considers Brighton’s good start to the season. They looked very competitive winning at Watford.
  • Too defensive in the first half, letting Brighton come at us. Still worried about our defending, and especially how easy it was for them to cut through our midfield.
  • Ultimately however I thought that Danso and Bednarek had colossal games at the back.
  • The tackle on Valery was one of the worst I have seen in a long time. Clear red card and game changing moment.
  • Don’t like the inconsistencies around VAR, but loved it here to rule out Dunk’s goal. Made the home fans happy!!
  • Significantly better second half, with change of system and with more attacking intent. Wonder first goal from Djenepo, he is some raw talent!
  • How on earth did Locardia miss from 6 yards (we allowed the ball to go right across the penalty area from the corner again)? A big let off for Saints deep into the game. How much did he cost? Makes Adams and Ings look good at the price.
  • Ings worked tirelessly to help set up the first goal, great to see us play more quickly out of defence with piercing passes. Great advantage played by Friend.
  • Good to see Boufal back in the fold and a little bit of magic to set up Redmond for the second goal.
  • All in all a great trip back from the ground to Brighton station. Love away wins

Like the significant majority of supporters I trust in Ralph and the team. After all, they are our Saints, and we stick with them through the good and the not so good times. Don’t ever forget where we have come from in the past few years. We could have easily been in the position Bury and Bolton now find themselves in this week.

Ralph is still building the side, and it is searching for greater consistency. I also think he is unsure as to the best line ups for home and away games. We need to get Boufal and Djenepo involved for longer in each game whenever the opportunity arises. We need to defend better and take our chances clinically when they are presented to us.

I do not have the same expectations as some supporters, for example a top 6-8 finish. I would take 10-12th place now, with no fear of relegation early on.  My heart will not take too many games such as Swansea away the season before last, and the final few games of last season. Boy was I pleased to hear the whistle at the end of the Spurs game at St Mary’s.

Brighton was a great result and we move on from there. I think if we play with real commitment and aggression on Saturday we will beat Manchester United – see y’all there.

Jeff Stanfield.

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