The Southampton Soapbox: a useful point – or an indication of troubles ahead?

Not quite the scoreline Jake hoped for until the 88th minute
Not quite the scoreline Jake hoped for until 87 minutes had gone

John McCormick writes:
Fed up with dodgy feeds and determined to break the chain of causality which results in a Sunderland loss every time I stay in to watch them I thought about joining the 900 souls at Southport, where Gateshead were playing. Instead, though, I walked to Sefton Park with my wife and daughter to watch the Mersey Beatles, then the Brazilian Beatles, then the Mexican Beatles play from the repertoire of the original fab four. I found myself wondering what the score was and then wandered home to find we had drawn.Having therefore broken the chain I won’t be going to Palace so that we can keep our undefeated run going. Pete Sixsmith doesn’t think he’ll be at Palace either but he did go to Southampton. Here’s his report …

You can look at this game in any way that you want. Glass half full, we took a point off a side, fresh from an opening day away win, with a crowd ready to welcome three new players and their totemic centre forward back from an impressive England debut.

Or, glass half empty, you can see it as a scrambling, stuttering performance where we snatched an early goal, comprehensively failed to control either ball or game and failed to deal with another set piece two minutes from the end.

Probably the truth lies somewhere between the two and we battled away for a point that at times seemed beyond us as Southampton dominated the game without ever really looking convincing. The longer it went on, the more likely it was that we could take our first three points of the season.

The team selection was controversial with Craig Gardner coming in, as was expected, but at the expense of Cabral, which was not. The midfield two consisted of Gardner and Larsson, a combination that, over the last two seasons, has hardly set the world on fire. It didn’t on Saturday.

Cabral had looked useful last week, particularly when we took the game to Fulham. One assumes that the plan for this game was to bring Southampton on and then catch them on the break. It didn’t work.

The goal that we scored was the result of an excellent start. Larsson had already put in a free kick which had been carelessly cleared for a corner by the Saints. His second set piece was even better, and Giaccherini took advantage of marking that Southampton had clearly learned from watching videos of our defence against Fulham. Good start and a great base to work on. Trouble was, we didn’t.

Pete Sixsmith: Almost lost in France
Pete Sixsmith: Almost lost in France

Our failure to control or retain the ball and to make anything faintly resembling an incisive pass, allowed them back into it. Once they had control, we could not wrest it back from them. As they moved the ball around, we chased them down and when we won the ball, it was given away far too easily.

The defence looked shaky as Diakite took a while to settle. He hoofed one into the air, missed a couple of tackles and then improved steadily, performing well in the second half. He looked stronger than Roberge and handled Lambert reasonably well. He made some impressive blocks as the minutes ticked away and we dared to hope that we might just hang on.

Celustka looks the part and switched to the opposite flank when Colback limped off. The Czech appears to read the game well, can tackle and has a bit of pace about him.

He could well be tried in midfield, as, Giaccherini apart, those attributes are not shared by the other three. Larsson was the pick of them, grafting away in the middle and setting up the goal.

However, the free kick he took in the 87th minute, which should either have forced the keeper into a save or should have eaten up valuable time by ending up in the crowd, failed to get over the wall and allowed Southampton to break quickly.

John O’ Shea blotted his copy book (lovely old cliché, that one) by fouling their new £14m centre forward, Dani Osvaldo, a man who shouldn’t have been on the pitch if Lee Mason had had the cojones to give him a deserved second yellow for a nasty tackle on Adam Johnson.

Up stepped another child from the Saints outstanding academy, 18-year-old James Ward–Prowse who continued the Southampton tradition of hyphenated players – think Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Forbes Phillipson-Masters and Alan Creosote-Shearer. Unlike our experienced Swedish international, he lifted it over the wall, where the head of Fonte gave Southampton a point that only the most blinkered and intoxicated Sunderland fan would have denied them. Westwood got a hand to it, but just failed to push it round the post.

This team appears to be a long, long way from being an effective Premier League outfit. There were three notable passengers at St Mary’s, none of whmo look like realising their perceived potential. Stephane Sessegnon looked a man who has no spark and little interest in playing. His runs, which can open up a defence, were lethargic and his ball control was poor.

Mind you, it was better than his half time replacement, Ji Dong-Won, who had the touch of a carthorse on ice skates. He should have scored with his first touch, but passed tamely to Boruc and he then proceeded to give the ball away and give a passable impression of one of those guys who wins the raffle to play in a charity match. That is twice Di Canio has sent him on as first substitute. He must see something that we don’t.

And then there is the on-going mystery of Adam Johnson. Once again, he was a peripheral figure and made many Sunderland fans doubt the judgement of Martin O’Neill, who bought him for a lot of money, and Paolo Di Canio, who continues to pick him. He shuffles around and the bloke behind me summed him up perfectly when he said “It looks like he has nee boots on”. Talk of a resurrected England career is surely in the realms of fantasy, unless Roy Hodgson is on a course of mind altering drugs.

Not a great performance but a useful point and it keeps us out of the bottom three, which is what we are going to be looking at on the basis of the first two games of the season. Selhurst Park on Saturday night could well be the first of many six pointers this season.

There are still positions to be filled. If Sessegnon is going, let’s cut him loose quickly and look to bring in a midfield player who can retain possession and control the ball. Giaccherini can do both of these. Just a suggestion, Paolo.

Franchise FC pitch up at the Stadium on Tuesday night. It will be interesting to see if those who turn out to watch will see some of the fringe players get a game or whether Di Canio will use this as a first team training session. We need a win – a defeat to a club with all the history and tradition of an empty crisp packet would have alarm bells ringing and distress flares flaring. Unthinkable, surely.

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15 thoughts on “The Southampton Soapbox: a useful point – or an indication of troubles ahead?”

  1. Frazier Campbell is yet another example of what was wrong with the O’Neill regime. Along with many others, I thought if he got properly fit he would be a major plus up front (better options than Ji and Wickham for example) but O’Neill didn’t buy him and clearly either didn’t rate him or thought he would never get fully fit. Either way valuable asset goes for £600,000 (or Danny Graham – £4.4 million)!

  2. First half saw a new formation…4-4-0-1 with Sess being the 0

    Second half ended with 4-3-2.5 with Ji being too lightweight to warrant a full 1

    Thankfully Westwood continues to show solid form as usual

    No idea what shape we’ll use for Palace. I know it’s only the 3rd game but it’s looking like a must-win

    • I think we still are suffering from the nervousness of last season where we regard Palace as a must win. But I know where you’re coming from on this. Its essential that we build up some confidence.

  3. The disallowed Saints goal was a huge non turning point, I think he’s ear was offside as was the non sending off of Osvaldo.Couple of 50/50 penalty claims for them that thankfully weren’t given but these are the things that happen in most games. Performance wise, dogged, scrappy and worryingly ineffective up front , Fletcher when fit will be essential . A point is a good result considering everything .PS Di Canio is saying Cabral wasn’t injured , he was left out for tactical reasons, gulp!

  4. It’s the lack of goals again that is the greatest concern for me.

    Puzzled completely by the absence of Cabral who I though was out best player last weekend.

    With Sessegnon in the team it’s almost like playing with 10 men. He’s no more than an adornment.

  5. A slight worry for me. We didn’t play well. If one or two players have an off day, then we can scrape a win. If half the team does, then we’re stuck.

    For me, Gardner, Ji and Sess are surplus to requirements and can leave. We need quality in there. We didn’t play half as well as we did v Fulham. I don’t know why.
    I think we missed Roberge and Cabral. Fair enough, ROberge v Lambert would have been a bit tricky and thats why Diakite was in. Thought Celustka did OK and Giaccherini. So I think some of our new signings are showing good form.

    I’m slightly more worried than optimistic at this point. If we get into the groove of not showing up for away games and being nervous at the SOL, then I predict PDC will not last too long. Which is a shame because I like his passion and quest for professionalism and attractive football.

  6. To be fair Justin, I think a lot of our supporters have underestimated the Southampton side we faced yesterday. It sounds like you are a Saints fan from what you say, possibly and accordingly you are getting carried away. You have signed some very good players (to add to the considerable talent that you have amassed since returning to the PL). Suggesting that they are a top 8 side having had one season back in the top flight is a little previous however.

  7. Sunderland, scored after 3 minutes and then defended for 87 minutes against a saints team that will beat more than they will loose against this season.

    Id say Sunderland have gained a very good point against Southampton, after all they have just signed three exceptional champions league players in Osvalda, Wanyama and Lovren.

    Also Paulo Di Canio as stated that they have one of the best front lines in the premier league id say that a point was a brilliant point against a top 8 side,

    • And yet, despite that defensive approach after the early goal, Sunderland could have added to their lead a couple of times on the break. Lessons for both teams, there!

  8. It’s not very often that you can take the view, that the glass is half full as well as half empty, but our start to the season and the PDC revolution more or less fits the bill.

    I haven’t seen the game so apart from the match specific comments which I can’t reflect on, I have to say that I most definitely agree with the rest of what you say here Pete, and particularly so with the Sessegnon situation. He seems to be a great player that rarely if ever plays well, if that isn’t a complete contradiction in itself. He “flatters to deceive” which is one of those phrases which you only ever hear used to describe poor, or under achieving footballers. It has never made any sort of grammatical sense to me whatsover, I must confess.

    With some justification I might be accused of mixing my metaphors in almost Bushesque style here, and getting back to the half empty/half full matter, I am really starting to wonder whether our glass may in fact be cracked or just smashed. Gil Scott Heron reflected back in the 1970s that “The revolution will not be televised.” For most Sunderland fans it is, and will continue to be televised. Not for us in Canada, and going on some of the comments that I’ve read, perhaps I should be grateful for that much at least.

    The only great thing about any false optimism associated with supporting Sunderland is that it doesn’t last that long. Just a lifetime.

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