|The ShirleyMush View - Saints Go Native|
Thu 24th Feb 2011 16:49 by ShirleyMush
ShirleyMush returns with his thoughts on the Hartlepool game
There has been much talk recently of Saints’ “glory” years under Lawrie McMenemy. I travelled to the Hartlepool game with a mate who had grown up watching the Saints teams of the early 1980s. I have often felt that this generation of supporters were rather spoilt by the quality of the football they witnessed during this period, as I can only imagine how exhilarating it must have been to see Kevin Keegan et al playing champagne football at The Dell. As a result of having missed all that, I am perhaps a little more tolerant of the mediocrity served up most weeks by the current Saints team. Sometimes I’m even grateful for having missed the McMenemy era. After all, if I’d seen the likes of Alan Ball and Steve Williams in Saints shirts, I might find it hard to stomach Dean Hammond too.
Hammond pretty much personified the grim fare served up in the north east on Tuesday night. Gritty, full of heart, but depressingly and frustratingly short of quality. Make no mistake, this was a game that did League 1 no favours from a marketing perspective. There was little in the way of atmosphere to compensate for the shortage of class, and the few “diamonds in the rough” that were on display failed to sparkle. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain looked jaded, Adam Lallana off the pace, and there were some desperate passages of play.
Just as it is hard to gauge whether this represented a point gained or two dropped, it is also difficult to judge whether Saints’ honest if rather toothless performance is indicative of progress or inertia. We have lost these games in the recent past. Defeats at Carlisle and Tranmere were huge blows to our promotion chances. Since the latter result, we are unbeaten in the league, but another trend has developed- in each fixture, Saints have tended to play at somewhere near the level of the opposition. A slick if ultimately fruitless exhibition of passing football against Manchester United was followed by a self-destructive capitulation at kamikaze Peterborough and a clueless display at home to an inept Carlisle team who at the time couldn’t win a raffle. At Victoria Park, Saints again took on the characteristics of their opponents- full of endeavour, but lacking in flair.
The team seem to be experiencing a personality crisis. Nigel Adkins displeasure about the players’ inability to play a quick passing game has been made increasingly public, but the suspicion remains that Adkins may not be the football purist he’d have us believe. His constant tinkering with the starting XI, as well as seeming to be counter-productive, also suggests that the game plan may alter from match to match too- something which would go some way to explaining the almost schizophrenic inconsistency of the team’s performances. It is, of course, difficult for Adkins. He inherited a relatively talented squad but also a high level of expectation, and is under pressure he probably hasn’t experienced before. Furthermore, like most managers arriving at a new club, he has felt the need to experiment in order to establish his strongest team. With a comparatively large squad, the agony of choice has come into the equation, and Adkins has been further hampered by injuries to key players. The experimentation has led to Saints exhibiting the symptoms of a patient with bipolar disorder- periods of intense creativity interspersed with spells of depression and despair.
Of course, we as supporters are largely powerless in all of this. We are the doting girlfriend of the manic depressive musician, helplessly watching as they spiral out of control, vicariously experiencing both the dizzy thrill of their highs and the anger and embarrassment of their lows. Sometimes they do things that are so reckless and stupid that we feel like giving up on them, but mostly we cling on in the hope that one day they’ll make another great artistic statement. Some recording artists don’t make a decent record for decades. Saints were at their creative peak between 1976 and 1985, before enjoying a brief return to form in 2003. Until they rediscover their muse, we’ll just have to encourage them as they produce lesser works.