After the defeat to Burnley yesterday at Turf Moor, many Southampton Fans took to Twitter to vent their frustration at the performance.
Make no mistake about it, the performance was not great. Chris Rann provides the best summary of it over on ESPN sports, so take a look at that.
There are a few things that I object to in the wake of our fourth straight defeat, though. Hearing from people who follow our club, as well as fans of other clubs, referring to the ‘wheels falling off of the bus’ when referring to our season is a little premature.
Here are a few reasons why we need to really stick with the team over the coming months (as if we have a choice as fans).
1. We are still a work in progress: Yes, we had a fantastic start to the season, and many of the players that we signed over the summer (Pelle, Dusan Tadic and Toby Alderweireld in particular) were performing to a very high standard, no doubt buoyed by the opportunity to play in one of the toughest and fastest leagues in the world. But let’s not forget that we were the victims over the summer of one of the biggest muggings domestic football has ever seen. To lose so many talismanic players (we know who they are, no need to mention them here) in such a short space of time left us with a threadbare squad, and although we replaced the outgoings with incomings, plus a couple more for good measure, we still lacked depth of the teams that we now surprisingly find ourselves competing with.
Make no mistake, I’d rather be in the leaner position that we’re in than the type of bloated mess we were in under Harry Redknapp, who seems obsessed with bringing players in to ‘do a job’ (What job, Harry? Bricklaying? Creosoting the carpark fence?), but the fact still stands that we have a small squad that will not be able to keep pace with larger teams over the course of the season. Look at the top four now – it’s depressingly familiar for a reason. Strength and depth via cash.
2. We have a lot of injuries: when you have a Southampton team that’s missing Morgan Schneiderlin, Jack Cork, James Ward-Prowse (until yesterday) and Jay Rodriguez, you are going to struggle, especially in defence. Morgan in particular, does a lot of work in front of the defence that has been instrumental in keeping our goals conceded tally so low, and taking the pressure off Jose Fonte and Toby, which meant there were fewer opportunities for these players to make individual errors. Errors happen in a game from time to time, but it stands to reason that the more porous our midfield becomes, the more pressure falls on our defence, and the more they get into one-on-ones with players, the more mistakes will happen. Morgan and Jack Cork are ‘mistake sponges’ for the team – they relieve pressure on the defence, and whilst we still have Big Vic in there, we are not strong enough in the middle without Corky and Morgan as a second defensive midfielder. It is vital that we play with two defensive midfielders, and at the moment we cannot. That is harming the spine of the team significantly.
We are also overly reliant on Pelle to keep banging the goals in. If you think about it, whilst Long is technically a striker, he is more of an offensive water-carrier, putting in the graft so that Pelle can stay in and around the box to sniff out and convert chances. Rickie Lambert was arguably a more complete player than Pelle, and would drop deep, receive the ball with his back to goal, and also find his way into goalscoring positions. We miss Rickie the most out of any of the players we lost over the summer. He brought so much more to the team than goals alone. It is vital that we sign another striker in January in that mould. We can’t have a team full of hard-working strikers. We need people to take those gilt-edged chances, and be a bit selfish, but also be able to drop deep and fight for knock ons. Jay-Rod is not that player. This will be our trickiest signing.
3. The fixture list is hellish: We have had an incredibly tough run of games over the past few weeks. This is set to continue in the next few weeks. I’m sure that a few of the players we signed thought the Premier League was a lot easier than it really is when they were knocking goals in for fun against Sunderland. But when we come up against top teams, and even teams like Burnley who really fight for results, a few of these players have struggled to adapt, and with games coming thick and fast, they need to discover a bit of the mental toughness that seems to be missing from a couple at the moment. You need to be prepared to fight for every game in this league – put your foot in, leave your foot in occasionally (sadly), and use every ounce of strength and character, as well as your ability. That will be the key to how our season ends, and I hope that the players we sign can adapt in that way.
Much has not gone our way. But these three reasons are the main reasons that we have had a bit of a rough period.
One more thing I must say is that I’m finding some of the criticism of Sadio Mane to be depressingly familiar. Black players still tend to be stereotyped a great deal on the terraces, as well as in the papers, as being erratic, unpredictable, and inconsistent. To me, there’s a hint of racial profiling going on when fans and pundits single out black players for this kind of criticism. Papa Waigo and Guly do Prado were out last ‘erratic’ players at the club. Notice a link there? We must be careful not to let the racist tropes that black players can be lazy, inconsistent and erratic take root here on the South Coast. For my money, Jack Wilshere and Aaron Ramsey at Arsenal are much more fitting recipients of such grief. And I think that for us, Tadic has much more to answer for than Mane, who let’s not forget, is still developing. So let’s lay off him, hey? Scapegoating is not cool.
More importantly, let’s stick with the team. To start getting petulant when things get tough is the sign of a casual fan – and I’m not talking about people who don’t own season tickets. We all have it in us. We just need to check ourselves once in a while.
Support the team. Nobody goes out on the football pitch to lose, and it’s important that we keep behind Ronald and the boys, starting at Sheffield United on Tuesday, and then Everton on Saturday.
Things will get better. Give it time.