Obstructed View – Reflections on the Southampton (H) Game

We’ve often said we just need three points, don’t care how we play. Yesterday seemed to be one of those days, although many were pleased with points but decidedly unhappy with the way we played. More on that in a moment.

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It was indeed a decidedly mundane affair at The Old Lady yesterday, but when we come to look back on this dreadful season, we’ll only see 1-0 and three points, and the ends will undoubtedly have justified the means, as we edge ever closer to a position of safety and an opportunity to look forward to next year with our customary mis-placed optimism rather than a fear of playing Bristol City away in the Championship (no offence Bristol, other fixtures which don’t quite compare to Man Utd away would have been available).

But in fact, there were many positives to take from yesterday. For a start, a team like us – low on confidence, and emerging from a crisis if not quite completely out of it, played with an element of control that we can be proud of. Apart from two world class saves, Howard had bugger all to do. Yeh, apart from that. But Southampton are no mugs, the league table doesn’t lie, and they will have been disappointed not to have got anything from their visit as they push for Europe, possible even Champion’s League, although that seems a remote chance now. They were good in possession, pressed us all over the pitch, and in Schneiderlin and Wanyama they have two of the best DMs in Europe, let alone the Premier League. Apart from down our left flank, where Baines seemed to be decidedly off the pace, with Bertrand always looking for opportunities, they actually failed to threaten much going forward, and their relatively paltry 42 goals for this season so far may be their undoing Europe-wise, despite their remarkably good goals conceded stat which, at 22, stands to date as the best in the league by 4 goals. So a win for us has to be applauded and praised, against a side that were determined to win, and we kept a clean sheet whilst grabbing a scruffy goal early on. It’s good news people.

The solidity at the back, occasional Baines wobbles notwithstanding, was particularly pleasing, and it was great that Jags confounded the curse of the Player of the Month Award by contributing not just a goal off his shin pad, but another Man of the Match Award. He looked immense, blocking, tackling, heading, even shouting (at last), and always on hand to offer advice to his fellow defenders and keeper. And it was our keeper, much maligned in recent months, not without justification it has to be said, that kept us in the game with an ‘unbelievable Jeff’ save first from Pelle and then from some other bloke in a stripy top. The first of these, clawed out from under the bar, was so astonishing, that most observers assumed at first that it had come back off the bar, but Timbo flexed his ageing frame and performed a manoeuvre that a top gymnast would be proud of to get a really firm hand on it, not just knocking the ball out of the goal, but almost out of the area as well, otherwise I suspect Pelle might have had a chance of a tap in if he’d got himself vertical in time, but he was too busy admiring Tim’s save.

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As we all have since.

The second save, a shot from distance that moved wickedly in the air, was just as good in many senses, had it not been for the suspicion that he hadn’t read it as well, and had moved a bit too far to his right before shoving out a strong left hand to save it. The movement of the ball underlines that sometimes a Goalkeeper’s lot is rather different these days to that which Ted Sagar, Gordon West or even Big Nev had to endure. Not sure Southall would have been able to show the same dexterity as Howard did yesterday – and to be clear, I mean the Nev in his prime, not the house-side we see today.

Yes, credit where credit is due for Tim Howard yesterday. I should be slightly anxious that when I stuck up for Alcaraz after he played a reasonably good game, the next match was Dynamo Kiev away. Enough said. Prove to me Timbo that lightning doesn’t strike in the same place twice, and a clean sheet in Swansea please.

Stones proved again what a gifted footballer he is, not just doing his No1 job of stopping the opposition, but also moving the ball forward. He also demonstrated that he’s 20, with an ability to read his own hype, and perhaps try to do too much when Row Z beckons. But that’s fine, I want this lad to learn with us, I want him to grow in to the unbelievable talent that he can truly become, I don’t want him learning the tricks of the trade for Citeh or Chelski U21s, I want him to become a Goodison legend, just like the bloke alongside him (at full back or Central Defender!).

Lennon has been a revelation to me, and maybe to many of us, as his ability to win lost causes and chase down the ball, is only slightly undermined by his inability to play the right final pass. But as I’ve said before, he flies around like one of those irritating wasps at a late summer picnic, and he doesn’t give up. His mileometer needs a check, and his Rev Counter certainly does. Top bloke, offers us something a bit different with pace and a trick or two running in to the centre from out wide, leaving space for Seamus to run in to, and it all starts to look rather good for the prospects of our run-in.

But let’s not get carried away, As some Blue observers dourly noted, it was a poor game overall, and there were times when we were outnumbered in midfield, and looked a little clueless. But rather than focus on that, because we’ve had that several times this season and lost, let’s dwell on the positives for a change considering we won, and now occupy the heady heights of 11th as I write. It’s not perfect, it’s not back to the good old days of last season, it’s more a case of grinding out the victories we need to secure a period when we can both rebuild and rethink.

Ross Crombie

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