Obstructed View – Reflections on the Southampton (H) Game

Well, what an atmosphere!

Sorry, mis-typed that, should have read “What atmosphere?”

A first hour of the dullest, least inspiring football I’ve seen for a while (at least at Hull the home team made it interesting) led to the quietest I’ve seen/heard Goodison in many a year. Frankly, there’s more atmosphere in my front room, although that’s probably down to the Christmas Left Over Sprouts, rather than any crowd (the cat) responding to me nutmegging the coffee table, or putting in a tough tackle on the Hostess Trolley* (Google it kids).

But then Enner Valencia enters the fray, although what he entered was more like the snoring you get on Christmas afternoon, shortly after the Turkey (the bird, not one of our players) and shortly before the Queen (the bird, not one of our players – sorry, not one to let political correctness get in the way of what I laughingly call a ‘humorous comment’); and whether the mood changed because of Valencia, or just coincided, I’ll allow you to be the judge. Either way, all of a sudden there was marginally more ‘zip’ (don’t), and the first half decent cross from our Right Back (if at first you don’t succeed, try, try, try, try, try again) leads to an excellent Lukaku header, an equally fine stop from Forster (yes please by the way), but Enner Valencia eventually bundles the ball home, despite most of us in the UG looking anxiously at a linesman (who couldn’t see an earlier ball go out despite it being nearer Skem than the playing surface) to wave his little flag for what looked a little offside from our Obstructed View.

And then he does it again, Valencia is chopped by Yoshida when about to go in on goal, and Baines despatches another cool and brilliant Pen. Considering I for one thought we should never see Valencia on the pitch again after Hull, he had a pretty impressive half hour, and I’m the first to say I was wrong. Whether he’s a starter or not I’m not sure, but coming on when defenders are tired, irrespective of how much down time they’ve had since the last game, might well get the best out of him. He replaced Lennon who was woeful on the day, and seems to have lost all his confidence, never once trying to take on a wilting defence, and succeeding only in passing it to a red and white striped shirt, or, on two occasions, to a ball boy. He’s not exactly responding well to the talk in L4 and beyond of a new winger to improve the ones we’ve got, unlike Mirallas, who’s had a good couple of games on the whole. ‘In the hole’ might actually be a better position for Kev too, and that Spanish bloke we used to like who appears to have gone AWOL; where are you Gerard? Players running at a back line with pace and Rom looking for the slipped ball, would terrify defences.

Anyway, slight meandering. Well done Valencia, you did good today, son.

Man of the Match though is a tough shout. The BBC, as ever, default to Lukaku, probably because of the fierceness of his right foot finish, but mention also for him winning more heading duels for a change, although the Miseries will, as usual, point to the fact he ran half the distance of Tom Davies (despite them being, ahem, similarly built players doing the same job for the team). I’m sorry, as Ronny said in the fan zone, or was it Ossie, or someone anyway, if he doesn’t run anywhere but scores 3 a game, who’s going to complain? Yes, he could move a little more, but as I’ve said many times before, he’s a goalscorer, a job he does rather well, and yes, maybe could do even better, but not if it means like today and at Leicester he is too knackered to take his chances.

Can’t believe I’ve got this far without mentioning Ross Barkley, and especially Tom Davies.

We know the mercurial talents of Ross, and today he had a good influence on the game, and bossed the midfield, picked the right passes (the ball to Coleman was sublime. Offside, but sublime), and generally put in a hell of a shift. Good lad. But Tom Davies is still rather new to us. Just a reminder, this is the kid who only bought a beer legally 6 months ago. But on today’s performance, and the cameo against Leicester if not quite Hull, he’s a talent ahead of his time. We have to be careful, the lad at the start of this paragraph has suffered as well as benefitted from expectations built early, so let’s try and help him stay grounded. But I’m told he ran over 12km today, further by far than any other player, and that includes our own Duracell Bunny (other battery brands are available), Idrissa Gueye. How much we’ll see of Davies over the next few weeks will be interesting; we have an ageing Barry, an absent Gueye now, an injured pair of McCarthy and Besic. I suspect we may see Cleverley used as Koeman tries not to over expose two players at either end of their PL careers, but if we all see Tom Davies in the starting line up, no one is going to start to have heart palpitations as a result. He was assured, linked brilliantly with Ross, played an immaculate through ball for Rom’s goal, demanded the ball off more experienced team mates, put the tackles in, and went about his work professionally and more than capably. He brings energy, vitality and best of all, excitement to the team. Great. But he also got turned a couple of times rather too easily as he was on the wrong side of his man, misplaced an expansive pass or two when a simpler one stood out, and was guilty of playing head tennis a couple of times when bringing the ball down and playing it short was the answer.

But my critique is only meant to avoid the over-hype we Blues have when a star is born. I said a few weeks back that I’d like to see him start to see what he could do. He’s 18. But he’s mature on the ball, and opposition players won’t like playing against him as he’s got a great engine, and he buzzes around opponents doggedly until they make a mistake. We just need to nurture the talent and not over expose him. Whether he starts on Saturday will be interesting, but I can’t see him NOT starting against City. What is lovely is to see two local lads, Ross and Tom, talking to each other, geeing each other up, and doing it for the team. Ross just shaded MotM for me today though.

A general overview to close. For an hour or more, we were poor. For 10 more minutes we weren’t bad. For 20 minutes we played some exciting football, almost as if they’d been teasing us and lulling Southampton in to a false sense of security, or more likely waiting until they were even more knackered than they were in Minute 1 (after all, we’d had a whole 19 hours more recovery time). It shows we can do it, shows we can do better with the players we’ve got, but it doesn’t mean we don’t need more recruits. We do. Badly.

Great win, but we’ve still got half (“hullf”) a season to fulfil our potential as a Club.

Ross Crombie

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