Pete Sixsmith’s on his way down south (to Hull, anyway) to watch some Rugby League. Let’s hope the weather stays fine for him and he enjoys a good game. A little further south, some Saints fans will be waking up after a long journey to and from a game their team wanted to lose – if Eurosaint’s comments (see Pure Poyetry) have any truth. Personally, I doubt it but TV never tells the full story. For that you need someone who was there, so it’s over to Pete for his take on the game:
Another cup tie and another win.
That’s eight altogether of which seven have been at home and all of them have been won. We have beaten the Premier League leaders, the Premier League Champions and a team looking for promotion to the Football League. And we have beaten Southampton – twice.
This win was as satisfying as the 2-1 League Cup win in October. Then, we went 2 up thanks to goals from Phil Bardsley and Seb Larsson before the Saints pulled one back at the end.
Today, a splendid strike by Craig Gardner just after the break saw us home as Southampton huffed and puffed and failed to cause us any serious problems – unlike the footballing lesson they gave us a few weeks ago when they were very impressive.
Both sides had changes from their last games. I don’t know what side Poyet had picked for Wednesday, but I don’t think that it would have been anything like the 11 that he selected to start the game.
The back four retained O’Shea with Celustka and Dossena coming in at full back and Vergini playing 90 minutes as opposed to the 86 that he played against Hull. Horan’s Rule came into operation with all three of Cattermole, Gardner and Larsson playing with a rare start for Giaccherini. Borini started up front alongside new striker Ignacio Scocco. The subs were all regular first team players apart from Connor Wickham, the Sheffield Wednesday goal machine.
It was not at all a weakened side, more an opportunity to give the squad a run out. The Head Coach had made it clear that it was a win or lose game and there was much speculation as to which defender would head the ball into the net past Ustari to avoid the dreaded replay four days before the League Cup Final.
It wasn’t required as we won the game more comfortably than the tight score line suggests. The winning goal was a thumper from Craig Gardner, hit from 25 yards out and leaving Calamity Kelvin clutching at thin air as it hit the underside of the bar and nestled in the back of the net.
Gardner is a decent player – he works hard and gives of his best and, although it is unlikely that he will be offered a new contract, showed his professionalism in this game. Like a few others (Larsson, Celustka, Dossena, maybe Giaccherini) he knows that he probably won’t be with the club next season, but he claimed a seat on the bench at Wembley with this fine goal and his determination.
Mind you, there was almost an Anglo-Italian incident when he and Giaccherini exchanged words after Gardner took the ball off the Italians foot just as he was about to shoot. Where is William Hague when you need him???
Giaccherini had a typical Giaccherini game – a good 15 minutes, followed by a disappearing act, followed by a general presence. He is a lovely footballer, subtle and quick but I am not sure that he fits into a team struggling at the wrong end of the league. When he pushes forward, there is a surge of expectation, but too often nothing comes of it. It’s not all his fault – some of his team mates find him difficult to read – a kind of footballing Umberto Eco.
Most eyes were on Scocco and he did ok. He looks like he can get behind defenders and he made some good runs. But he needs time to get tuned in to the creature that is the Premier League and I see him playing from the bench for the next few games.
He went off to be replaced by a tanned and bouffanted Connor Wickham, who took the opportunity to show that he has made some progress in his time nesting with the Owls. There was one rambunctious run which ended with a shot when a more alert player would have squared it to Borini and that would have been game over thank you very much. Promising though, and he looks like a bench man at Wembley as well.
It was by no means a spectacular performance but it was good enough to beat a very disappointing and lacklustre Southampton side. The excellent football they played in the opening half hour in January was but a memory as they showed precious little desire or conviction.
Ricky Lambert, looking more like the beetroot bottler he was rather than the England centre forward he is, missed their best chance when he blasted over from a few yards and Adam Lallana reinforced my view that if he was made of chocolate he would eat himself. Lots of tricks but little worthwhile; he’s a shoo in for a transfer to Spurs on that form.
Jay Rodriguez came on late in the game and could have seen a red card for a very late tackle on Lee Cattermole, who showed all his strengths and some of his weaknesses in this game. He also made it absolutely clear that if Liam Bridcutt wants his place, he is going to have to work hard for it. Cattermole will not go out of the team easily.
The major discussion will be about the paltry crowd that the game attracted. Here are some explanations;
1) many were attracted by the prospect of watching young women in tight suits whizzing down a slope on the kind of sledge that was common on Armitage’s Bank c. 1964
2) more were attracted by the prospect of sitting in a warm pub over a couple of pints of John Smiths Cool rather than freezing their tits off at the game
3) Southampton are not particularly attractive opposition; not everyone wants to watch beetroot bottlers and chocolate men
4) some fans are saving for the mega weekend that the League Cup promises to be. Add together the price of tickets, train fares and hotels and there is very little change out of £250. When entertainment costs at £4 a pint are factored in, every little helps – even if it is only £15.
5) last week was so disappointing that many decided to give this one a miss. We have 26,000 season ticket holders so lots decided not to come; there were a few regulars missing around me.
6) trips to Dubai, tidying up the office or taking the good lady shopping took priority over a football match. Can’t get my head round that one.
Whatever the reasons it was an embarrassing turnout and it gives those who denigrate our support every opportunity to take the moral high ground, even though they cannot beat us on the playing field. Like Max Boyce, I Was There. I came away with a feeling of satisfaction that we had negotiated a tricky tie – and wished that we had been able to exchange that win for three league points.
On a sad day for football as the game lost one of its all-time greats in Tom Finney (loved Shankly’s assessment of him; “Tom Finney would have been great in any team in any age – even if he had been wearing an overcoat”) a little bit of the game died. I have seen Fifth Round ties against Everton, Leeds United and Manchester City where Roker Park was packed to the rafters. It’s a shame that more didn’t turn out for this one, but that’s modern football.
And now we go off to Ashburton Grove. Hopefully, I won’t have to sit in a pub quaffing pints like I was on Wednesday for this one. A point or three would be very, very nice.
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