St.Mary's, Thursday, 19.45
McCarthy was back in goal for the first time in months, but Saints still lost
IBO Reporter: Spot51
When Sheffield United joined Burnley in the Championship's promotion places last night it meant two of my English teams will play in the EPL next season. My third still has some way to go to join them…
I've read various articles about the relegation battle and none have provided reassurance. After last weekend Gracenote calculated the Saints' chance of going down as 89%. Forest stuffing Brighton last night can only have enlarged that figure. I've thought Bournemouth were safe for some time although others insist they can still drop. The ugly fact is we need 3 net wins to overhaul tonight's visitors yet 33 points doesn't normally keep you up. In recent seasons it has been 35 points that saves you.
We need 2 net wins to catch Forest and hope neither Leicester nor Everton do likewise. It is a small mercy that Everton must face a rampant Newcastle while we play tonight. Let us hope they kept a few goals back from the drubbing of NLY FC.
Since beating Leicester on 4 March, Saints picked up 3 points from draws (United, Spurs, Arsenal) but lost the other 4. Bournemouth lost at home to West Ham last weekend but won 4 of the previous 5 putting that gulf between them and us. They have "decent form" but the manner of us going from 3-1 ahead to 3 all in 3 minutes felt more like a defeat than a draw.
At least Ché and AMN are back so will probably both start but trying to pick Selles' teams is a fools' game. Baz needs to be benched for his own safety as his palming shots and crosses to opposition strikers is now way beyond a joke. Don't know much about the Cherries side but they seem well capable of reversing our win at their gaff.
So roll up for yet another MUST-WIN game!
Selles made 2 changes from the Arsenal XI with McCarthy and Ćaleta-Car promoted from the bench. AMN and Ché joined the squad but ABK and Tall Paul were nowhere to be seen. Jack could not start for them of course but they set up as an offensive 3-4-3 with Billings (who usually scores against us and Christie (who turned us down and went to Bournemouth from Celtic - wise man) supporting the rangy Solanke up front.
For the first time ever, I thought about how Ref Darren England would deal with all the cheating...
At least BT would not have Alan Bloody Smith as a pundit and it made a change to get straight-talking Chris Sutton (who'd tipped us to win this) to sit alongside Paul Dempsey. The studio pundits were Sir Frannie and (182 caps) Farah Williams MBE.
It was absolutely pissing down as Bournemouth, in black, kicked off towards the Chapel. We sought to overpower them from the off but their backline stood firm and tonight there was no Ramsdale bearing gifts. Theo moved in from the right to test Neto with a low shot but that was all our early efforts achieved. It was soon end to end as Bournemouth settled and began to dominate possession.
Christie and Tavernier had attempts on our goal on either side of a Perraud shot blocked by their defence. After a brief delay while Christie was subjected to the magic sponge, Saints enjoyed their best spell of the half. First Adam Armstrong had 2 bites at scoring - the second being turned onto the post and out by Neto. From the corner, Theo got another shooting chance but stuck it wide.
Solanke demonstrated the value of playing a striker as his direct running down the left and through the middle kept turning us around. On 18m he collected a pass from Rothwell and forced a save from McCarthy. Vina slammed the rebound in but both Lino and VAR agreed the #9 had been offside before shooting. It was a warning - indeed, the distress flare in the Northam End should have been heeded.
Our excursions upfield became less frequent but both Adam and Theo had attempts blocked before we were defending again. Solanke again ran at us before setting up Billing whose shot went up at 45 degrees into the rainy sky. As ever, Romeo Lavia looked like our most reliable player and when he went down hurt on 23m things looked even grimmer. At least he did not have to go off!
The rain was falling harder and harder as we dropped deeper and deeper. Solanke fired over and on our next venture upfield Theo was caught offside. For the next period of Bournemouth pressure, Caleta Car seemed to be the only defender capable of getting his head to crosses as they won corners and a free kick. At last: some good news! Newcastle were beating Everton.
Next to go down hurt was Perraud but this looked serious. Indeed, the Frenchman could not continue and with him went any hope of a decent cross from the left wing. Bringing KWP to the left made him much less effective as AMN came on at right back. FFS!
We dropped back further, they ramped up the pressure. Fortunately, their aim was poor. Lerma was next to send a presentable chance into the Chapel crowd. AMN survived a penalty shout as the ball was blasted at his arm from about 18 inches and he also launched our last attack of the half but Theo was, again, offside.
As +3m were signalled, my notes read "Clueless" and "Not good enough!" We needed changes to give Bournemouth something to worry about and must get Ché off the bench ASAP. Half time: 0-0.
What we got drew gasps and boos from the crowd - JWP was off and Lyanco was on. It looked like 3-4-3 morphing to 3-5-1 without the ball and Adam Armstrong was now the central striker. He may wear #9 on his back but is no Ron Davies, Peter Osgood, Joe Jordan, Alan Shearer, James Beattie or Danny Ings who WERE proper centre forwards.
On 50m our Premier League adventure was flushed down the shitter. A crude hack downfield by Neto was collected by the impressive Solanke. He rolled the ball to Tavernier who cut in from the right, took aim and hit a daisy cutter through our static defenders to nestle in the far corner of McC's net. 0-1 and I am not crooked enough to suggest they didn't deserve it.
Bournemouth were already well on top but this goal virtually ensured their safety. They visibly improved, playing with the calmness and freedom our side lost months ago. At least their shooting was still rubbish and Christie (twice), Billing and Vina were all unable to work McCarthy as we struggled to move out of our back third.
On the hour, we got the changes that should have been made before kick-off with Stu and Ché replacing Moi and Theo. The useless AA was allowed to stay on which confirmed to me that Ruben had gone as mad as our last 2 head coaches. Che's first action was to take on Mepham who brought him down. Soon after, we mounted an attack, but DCC probably hit the worst shot of a rotten season - miles over Neto's goal.
Adam finally did something good, getting fouled by Senesi who was shown a yellow card. He then went one better with a header on target from Stu's cross which needed saving. We were looking a little more dangerous when a blatant dive by Alcaraz might have seen him booked if it were in the box. Once an Argie…
Gary O'Neill was not prepared to let his Argie collect a 2nd yellow and replaced him with Ukraine international Zabarnyi on 67m. Our changes had improved our balance but it was still the away side carrying the biggest threat. Rothwell had a shot well saved by McC before another foul on Ché confirmed their defenders were more worried about him on the park.
With no JWP (rumoured to have been "ill") to take free kicks it became Stu's role to do so. No resulting opportunities, yet…
Adam was eventually hooked on 76m, replaced by Kammy on the left. Yet another foul on Ché saw Lerma booked while Tavernier was down with the medics attending. The scorer could not continue and limped away to be replaced by Adam Smith (not The Wealth of Nations guy - he is dead).
Solanke was still running us ragged so was fouled by KWP. When we won the ball back, DCC launched a long ball upfield but Ché was now the one being caught offside. As we entered the last 10 minutes we at least played with more urgency even though passes still went astray and shots, like KWP's high and horrible blast from distance and Kammy's on 84m, never got Neto worried.
Lavia was still trying to move things forward and Vina became the 3rd of theirs booked when he hacked the young Belgian on 86m. Next to shoot off target was Charley then, suddenly, the ball was in their net. Stu had got down the right side and hit a low ball to the near post where Ché blasted it high into the goal. Celebrations were immediately curtailed as the dreaded words "VAR Check" were displayed.
I've not been to a live match since pre-VAR so have no idea what fans in the stadium are told. On TV you pretty soon see an image of what is being looked at and, long before the dreaded lines appeared, my heart sank. You could see Ché's toe was behind their defenders. Why, I asked, Why could he not have worn smaller boots? Why were his boots not camouflaged green? Sure enough, his big toe was over the bloody line and our EPL coffin was nailed shut.
The game continued with 5 added minutes during which Billings and Solanke were replaced by Ouattara and Kiefer Moore. Chris Sutton gave his MoM to Tavernier. He had said some harsh things about Saints but I was not offended as he was just being honest. The latest must-win game was going the same way as all the others. The final whistle saw joyous celebrations among the away fans as the gloom descended on all things SFC. 0-1 again…
I felt a weird sense of calm. That last drop of hope died with the VAR decision, and relief slowly came over me. Saints have only been relegated 3 times in the 50 years I've been a fan and, in each subsequent promotion, I've enjoyed some of my very best times as a Scummer. Losing games all the time is shite. Surely we must do better in the EFL.
I almost wrote WE MARCH ON there but stopped myself. Relegation is an end to the dreams of Marcus, Cortese, Mopo and Koeman et al. Sport Republic have not endeared themselves to us but have clearly demonstrated they are here for the long haul. We have gone steadily backwards in the past 18 months and to reverse that trend we need new ideas, new language and new motivations. We most definitely need a new First Team Coach ASAP!
Whatever, relegation should be an epiphany for Southampton FC. Bring it on!
It is a time for reflection and memories of our rise from Administration to Europe, Wembley and back. Here is my Southampton Favourites XI for the period 2012 to 2023. I'm not suggesting this would be our best side - rather my favourites in each position.
1 Davis K
2 Clyne 5 Yoshida 6 Fonte 3 Bernard
8 Ward Prowse 10 Davis S
7 Mane 9 Lambert 11 Tadic
Reuben Selles looks like a proper manager, but he just doesn't seem to work at Saints