Villa Park, Friday, 20:00
Armel Bella-Kotchap, shortly to become a German International, but this was a game the whole team will want to forget
|Our penultimate visit to Villa Park saw Saints come away with 3 points, after a 4-3 win, with 2 goals from JWP and 1 each from Ings and Vestergaard. Last season though, Ings was again on the score sheet in a 4-0 stuffing by Villa. That was, of course, during our dreadful Spring run that saw Saints go from top half to relegation battlers in a couple of months.
This summer's rebuild has begun to fix some of our problems, but with three defeats from six played, we are still finding our way. We came back to win at Leicester before opening the exit door for Conte at Chelsea. Both those sides were ripe for the taking and Villa may be somewhat similar. They do have injuries and Stevie G has been over-rotating his squad.
Coutinho has always been a PITA to Saints but Villa have looked better when Buendia has played instead. Douglas Luis is fit and can play further forward with Kamara now holding the fort. Among the injuries we know Matty Cash is out, so it may be Ashley Young at right back. Ralph should be prepared to put someone tricky wide left and if Edozie doesn't start, he ought to be off the bench to hassle the old man at some stage.
Saints are at full strength apart from Lavia (in the gym) and Tino (back on grass as of this week). I can't predict too many of the starters beyond a spine of Bazunu, ABK, Salisu, JWP and Che. Strategic use of substitutes should enable us to press Villa as required and, whilst I'd take a draw, I'm hoping for a win.
|Villa line up in the 4-3-2-1 formation with Watkins at the pointy end, having passed his fitness test. Bailey and Coutinho are his support, with McGinn, Ramsey and Kamara across the middle. Saints have pretty much matched them with a 4-2-3-1. Our spine and full backs are as expected, with Diallo alongside JWP and Moi and Adam the "wide 10s". The one surprise is Djenepo sat between them in a more attacking role.
Tonight's ref is Tony Harrington who was promoted to the select group in Summer 2021 and refereed in the EPL for the first time last December.
|It is now Friday 22nd. I was brought up a Christian and taught if you can't say anything nice, say nothing. So, I'll try to keep this brief.
This was our first game on Sky this season, so the calibre of pundits was measurably higher. On commentary duty was new boy Seb Hutchinson with Carra at his side. It was also the first EPL match to go ahead following the death of our Queen. I noticed the match programme had a black cover with two images of Queen Elizabeth II on it. Both sides wore black armbands, there was a perfectly observed minute's silence and Suffolk Soprano Laura Wright then sang 'God Save the King!' It was done beautifully.
What happened from then on was bloody awful.
The early minutes saw the sides testing each other out. Digne always fancies an overlap down the left, but found trying to get past ABK was like attempting to push past an elephant as the ball ran into touch. Villa seemed to have a bit more endeavour. Coutinho was seeing too much of the ball but, thankfully, most of their attacks came down the right. Bailey has been decent this season, but here his crosses went anywhere but where intended.
It took me a while to suss our formation. It was just Che up front and Adam wide left. I thought Moi was on the right but Djenepo kept appearing out there. He clearly fancied himself against Digne but, when he made room to cross, only Che was in the box surrounded by several claret shirts. To be fair, Mings and Konsa looked comfortable most of the time, but that was not just them being good - it was us being mostly shite.
We had some attacks, one resulting in a corner from the left. JWP's cross found Moi rising at the near post: a flick would have tested Martinez, but his full forehead sent it high into the crowd. On 15m, we began stringing passes together, moving forwards with menace: even ABK joined the attack, but his forward pass went by Adams and into touch which, sadly, set the standard for the rest of the evening.
Indeed, both keepers were guilty of knocking the ball too long most of the time. There were periods when the other 20 players were not involved, Bailey was still having a mare on their right so we were not unduly troubled, but nor were we doing much positive. It was a poor game, which Carra seemed to tell us every couple of minutes.
The camera panned along Villa's bench where former Scummers, Ings and Chambers, were deep in conversation. Armstrong won us a corner which Villa cleared, but a foul by Watkins on Perraud allowed us another chance to cross, but nothing came from it. Another pitch long kick from Baz, Digne cross finding its mark (offside) and then some good defending by Konsa as Moi carried the ball into their box. Some effort - but bugger all end product.
We were also subjected to a number of Salisu's 'long' throws. What a waste of time they are! Carra struggled to stop laughing every time he took one. One nearly did some good, but only after Perraud swung and missed so the ball reached our skipper. He let fly, but a good block by Ramsey got the ball out before Diallo fired over.
There was a stoppage when Perraud went down after tangling with Bailey. The Frenchman was able to carry on and Coutinho's dangerous cross was headed out by ABK for a corner. Saints cleared but Moi was unable to beat Mings who set up another attack. You rarely see JWP skinned but Countinho did just that, before sending a powerful shot over the bar.
Villa were now dominating the ball, but another long delay when Kamara was hurt allowed us to regroup. When play restarted Villa won a corner. This time, they took it short, and Coutinho crossed from a more acute angle. Watkins rose and headed it goalwards - Baz was able to get a hand to it but did not clear the danger. The ball bounced off the bar and Salisu tried to head it away. His limp effort merely directed it to Ramsey on the edge of the goal area and Villa's #41 gleefully smashed it home. 43 minutes gone - 1-0 Villa.
Kamara was still struggling and was replaced by Douglas Luiz. Apparently, he has form for trying to score direct from corners and, when Bailey's cross deflected out off Perraud, he tried it, but Baz had done his homework and tipped it over. The next corner was cleared, but Adam's clumsy foul provided Coutinho with a chance to add to his tally against Saints. This time the wall did its job. Then Coutinho fouled Adams and was booked. Haif-time 1-0 Villa, Boo!
It is now Saturday. We are past the equinox, but I have been loath to finish writing this. I first watched Saints in the 60s. I remember my first 2 visits to The Dell but I possess a 1965 programme for Pompey v Saints. If I went to that, I can remember nothing about it. It was not till Lawrie's first season that I began going to the Dell regularly. That is 49 seasons FFS!
Supporting Saints allows you to experience both the highs and lows of football. Not for us the big club tragedy of not getting into the ECL. We get the regular "how many points keeps us up?" conundrum interspersed with the utter delight of beating top sides, a cup run now and again, or the occasional Europa League jaunt. It keeps us honest. Our club has always been associated with developing potential and, for brief periods, we have had sides that have been a delight to watch. Other times, we have under-performed disastrously. Whilst it is not nice watching your team get spanked 9-0 by decent opposition, you take that as a Saints fan. What hurts more is when you face a poor side and cannot raise your game to compete. That worries me.
Villa were poor, but across the park they won more of their one to one battles than we did. We played with an odd lethargy and rather than build attacks, resorted to belting the ball in the general direction of Che Adams - but never close enough for him to win it.
Saints made 2 half time substitutions. One can only assume Perraud's first half injury caused him to be replaced by Larios. The youngster looked pretty good to be fair; plays with his head up and is not afraid to run with the ball. The other was harder to understand. Villa's midfield three had dominated JWP and Diallo so we needed to strengthen that area. Bringing Aribo on might have worked had we not taken Diallo off. We needed to go 4-3-3, not stick with a failing formation and put an attacker in there. FFS!
Digne's foul allowed JWP to put the ball in the box. Moi's shot hit a Villa arm but we never get those, do we? JWP's follow-up was blocked fairly. Another freekick was headed out by Mings. Che had a pop from distance, but Martinez watched it sail wide.
It became very scrappy in midfield, with both sides ceding possession far too easily. Djnepo had been regularly clattered by Digne, but it was a foul on him by Ramsey that saw the first yellow card shown. Soon after Villa were awarded a free kick for McGinn's obvious dive. Digne's free kick was too long, but recycled by Watkins. He picked out Mings, who found Ramsey, but a Saints body blocked his attempt.
Whilst we were never looking like scoring, news came through from Forest that Harrison Reed had just put Fulham 2-1 up. Nice one! A stop in play for Moi to receive treatment allowed Carra to bemoan what a poor game it was, Yes! We know FFS!
Shortly after we had a brace of double substitutions. First Villa brought on Dendoncker and Buendia for Ramsey and Bailey. Given there were barely 20m left, the fact Buendia was voted MoM on the BBC says much. He did make an immediate impact though; replacing Bailey on the right he played in Watkins but our centre backs crowded him out so Baz could collect. Sadly he just lofted the ball the length of the pitch where Martinez fielded it.
Play stopped in the 70th minute when the crowd and players gave a minute's applause for the Queen. Then Saints made their double change - Armstrong for Armstrong and Mara for Che. Prowsey blocked a Digne cross and from the resulting corner, Mings headed it back but we were able to clear the ball. Up the other end, Salisu prepared to take another long throw.
[Sound fanfare]. This one actually resulted in our sole attempt on-target of the evening! Villa's defenders had routinely won virtually every ball into their box, but this time, lurking by the near post, Joe Aribo was able to head the ball on to Mara. His header would have gone in had Martinez not caught it, so this was as good as it got for the travelling fans.
The final kick in the teeth came in the 79th minute when Edozie was introduced - at least half an hour too late. Soon afterwards, JWP saw yellow for taking out McGinn, but Villa wasted the free kick. Then on 84m, Ings replaced Coutinho - for him to play that long against us and not score is a small mercy, I guess.
By this time I was losing it. Saints were passing the ball about in their own half and Villa were not attempting to win it. When, eventually, they went forward down the left it resulted in the lowest point of the whole sorry saga. Salisu wound up to throw it long - and sent it directly into touch by the front post.
Aaaarrrgghhhhh! PLEASE MAKE IT STOP!
Martinez took a lie down on 87m and with no subs left, he was forced to get up and play on. Methinks he could have gone for an early bath and Villa would still have won. Salt was rubbed into our collective wounds in added time when Edozie sprinted past Young and was hauled down. The old bastard was booked but that should have happened much, much sooner. To be fair, Saints did throw everything at Villa in added time but never looked like scoring. Baz came up from corners and when Villa cleared the ball, Danny Ings took a shy at our empty goal from halfway. In keeping with the game's paucity of quality, the shot went nearer the corner flag.
Stu had looked livelier than most and our last chance came when he was fouled by McGinn. JWP sent it towards their box where all the other 21 players jostled for position. It was one of his better crosses, far enough ahead of Martinez but turning their big defenders round. Stu himself got on the end of it but, when he needed a Big Ron style "bullet header" he just got the slightest of touches from his flowing locks and the ball sailed wide of the far post.
The final whistle came. It was like putting down an injured animal - the kindest thing. I've seen some bloody awful games in my time, but that is right up there. Villa were poor - but we were unable to put them under any serious pressure which would have surely gained at least a point.
Young was an accident waiting to happen. He has been a decent footballer but is no right back and waiting until the final few minutes to send on Edozie and expose his flaws was gross mismanagement by Ralph & Co. The game was there to be won. Utter, utter shite!
Everton are also crap, but we'll need to improve massively to beat them next week. After that, we go to Man City. At least Pep is a pragmatist so once they've got 3 or 4 goals he'll haul off De Bruyne, Haaland, et al and let his kids hold onto the lead. Next up is West Ham. They're crap too, but are they crap enough to not beat us? Probably not…
|There was one perfect performance that cannot be ignored.
Laura Wright sang the National Anthem quite beautifully. Well done!
IBO Reporter: Spot51
Gavin Bazunu. Another learning experience for Saints young keeper