Fresh from much-praised exploits at the San Siro (despite a defeat) and in the draw at the Etihad, Southampton naturally fancy their chances against Sunderland in the EFL Cup 4th round on Wednesday. A hearty welcome to Aidan Small*, a budding sports journalist who owns www.freshsaints.com even if he does think we’re doomed to relegation without the consolation of further interest in the League Cup after the visit to St Mary’s …
Salut! Sunderland: Despite all the changes and the loss of Koeman, before that Pochettino and numerous key players, you seem to be on course for another decent season. Satisfied with Puel so far?
Aidan Small: So far, I’m delighted. He came to Southampton with a clear idea on how he wanted us to play football and at the moment, it all seems to be falling into place. We will have to wait and see how effective his ideologies are by the end of the season, but in terms of aesthetics, the football is better than anything we saw under Koeman or Pochettino.
What are your expectations – is sixth top again a bit ambitious or perfectly do-able, and how would you fancy a League Cup final?
Given that we have the Europa League this year, the League Cup is far lower in my priorities for our season. I believe that a top eight finish combined with a good run in the Europa League would be a brilliant season for us.
In an utterly dismal season for Sunderland so far, we weren’t too bad at your place. But do you suspect our time is finally up?
Sadly, I think it is. If you’d managed to keep hold of Sam Allardyce then I’m sure that you would have been safe from relegation with good time this season, but under Moyes, you seem to be lacking an identity and any sort of mental strength.
How well have the replacements done for men like Wanyama, Mané and Pelle?
Firstly, Romeu has filled the boots of Wanyama spectacularly; so much so that he’s arguably been our best player of the season so far. He’s strong in a tackle, a fine passer of the ball and has really become an intelligent player in all phases of play.
The Mane replacement is a weird situation. Boufal was signed as the direct replacement, but due to an injury he picked up before we signed him, he’s been unable to play. This pushed Nathan Redmond into the spotlight as the “Mane replacement” and to tell the truth, he’s looking promising. He’s a handful with his pace, contributes brilliantly in build up play and is even showing himself as a threat in front of goal now.
As for the Pelle replacement, Charlie Austin has filled that gap and is doing what Charlie Austin does best; score goals. He isn’t the best in link up play and isn’t quick by any stretch of the imagination, but he can find the back of the net with ease. Create enough chances and Austin is guaranteed to score 15+ goals in a season.
I always ask Saints fans if they can understand that Sunderland felt robbed when you won 8-0 (should have had a penalty and your keeper sent off when we were only two down and arguably the better side)? Were you there?
I was there and wow, what a game that was. The refereeing was certainly questionable on the day, but I would have to disagree on you being the better side until that point!
I remember that we played a very organised game on the day and that your defence continually failed to learn from their previous mistake. It was one of the most enjoyable games I’ve been to at St Mary’s.
That was the fantasy question – though it was asked only partly tongue in cheek – so back to reality: who has impressed most in your squad this season and where do you still need to strengthen?
Minus Romeu who has already been mentioned, It’s been Virgil Van Dijk. He’s a monster in the air, scary in a tackle and can play a 40 yard diagonal to either winger’s feet. With the rate that he’s growing at our club, he could play for a Barcelona in the next two years – this is coming from the same fans who spent a season watching Toby Alderweireld too.
What will be the final top four in order and where, if not in it, will Saints finish?
Southampton = 7th
Same question re the bottom three?
What have been the best and worst times for you in recent, roller-coaster years for the Saints?
The worst time for me in recent years was no doubt our relegation to League One in 2009. Not only were we relegated, but we had no money and for a while, there was a chance that our club wouldn’t even be able to carry out the next season.
The best moment since then would have to be either one of winning the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy or our winning streak during the run in of last season to secure Europa League football (specifically the game where we made a comeback from 2-0 down against Liverpool to win 3-2) – both are incredible reminders of how far our club has come.
And from an illustrious list, who have been the greatest players you’ve seen for your club? Do you feel cheated no to have had enough benefit from such stars as Walcott, Oxlade-Chamberlain and Bale?
Of course we are gutted that we were never able to see more of our exciting talents, but I guess through the sale of those players we were able to fuel our rise to the Europa League – it hasn’t worked out too badly for us!
Any thoughts on Sunderland – the club, support, city, region, Moyes?
In recent years when I think of Sunderland, I think of relegation scraps. Which in all honesty can be very entertaining, but when it’s year after year it starts to sound like a broken record and that soon becomes no fun for anybody. Now I can’t help but want to see Sunderland either get relegated or start to build the right foundations and push on as a club.
As for Moyes, when he was linked to the job at Southampton I was very uninspired. I felt that if we had appointed him we would have surrendered any chance of us pushing on.
Can you think of anyone in our squad who would be a worthwhile addition to yours?
I like Patrick van Aanholt, but as we have Bertrand and Targett, it’s a competitive position. I’m also a fan of Defoe, simply because like Austin, he’s a natural goalscorer. Watmore also interests me as he appears to bring real energy to the game – he seem’s a pest for defenders and always performers well on England U21 duty.
Diving and other forms of cheating: everyone’s at it so is it time we stop whingeing and just encouraged our players to do it better? If not, how one earth do we stamp it out?
I think we simply have to accept that It will always be part of the game. Don’t get me wrong, I hate it and want it gone, but sport is full of controversial moments and diving is just that in football.
Any views own best ref/worst ref in the Premier?
Mark Clattenburg has officiated superbly in some very big games I have to admit, but against us, he always appears to have a bad game. Just last weekend he allowed City to counter against us while we had two players down with head injuries. Ugh.
Will you be at our game? What will be the score?
I’m afraid I won’t be at the game, but in our fine form I can’t look past a comfortable win for us. 3-0 Southampton.
* Aidan Small on himself: and I’m studying sport journalism at the University of Brighton. I’m the owner of www.freshsaints.com with history in media at AFC Bournemouth. Along the way i’ve also picked up valuable experience at the BBC, ITV, the Daily Echo and the Eastbourne Herald.I’m a Southampton supporter from birth as my dad was a huge fan and was inspired by my passion to start sharing my views with others at 16 years old. Being a Southampton fan has given me the highest of highest and the lowest of lows, which I would like to think has helped me to become a fairly grateful football fan!
Interview: Colin Randall