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Saints V Sparta Prague The Verdict
Friday, 16th Sep 2016 08:48

Saints finally silenced the doubters and put in a superb display despite Claude Puel using a bit of squad rotation.

Claude Puel rotated the side but showed that his squad now has the depth to be able to do this and still play well.

The game could not have got off to a better start for Saints when with barely five minutes on the clock they were awarded a penalty, although to be honest it was as harsh as they come and for one going our way so we didn't complain.

But then came a bizarre incident with both Dusan Tadic who you would have assumed was the designated taker and Charlie Austin squabbling over who should take the kick, it took the intervention of Virgil Vand Dijk, but Austin took the kick and buried it with aplomb and give Saints not only the advantage but the confidence to play their own game without the crowd on their backs.

Austin scored again with a fine header to double the margin and from then on it was only going to be a case of making sure we played in a disciplined manner and not give the Czech team a lifeline.

This we did and the players who came in who had not started on Saturday gave Puel food for thought both in good and bad ways.

For me the man of the match was Virgil Van Dijk, he did not do anything that spectacular, but he held together a complete new set of partners around him in the back four and was cool calm and collected and did everything you expect from a captain.

In the main those who came in did a great job, Charlie Austin showed why we bought him and could have had a hat trick, Matt Targett showed that he is maturing and a Premier class player and the midfielders emphasised the depth and variety of talent that we have in that department.

Only downside was that again it showed the lack of cover in central defence, Yoshida can be great for 88 minutes but always has a mistake in him and this once again proved the case.

Claude Puel's tactics were spot on, there are those that will say that the spat over the penalty show that the squad isn't happy, but I would disagree, it also showed that the two involved are eager to score and take responsibility, they are hungry for goals.

I have also disagreed with those who say we have no goalscorers Charlie Austin and Jay Rodriguez have both outscored both Pelle and Mane in the Premier League and it was pleasing to see both get on the score sheet last night, Claude Puel has the firepower at his disposal he just needs to use it at the right times and he did so last night.

As I predicted our style does suit the European game and we looked comfortable passing the ball around and rarely allowed Sparta to get any sort of grip on the game, no one walking out of the ground was complaining about Saints style of play or the way it was working, however the only real difference in terms of possession and chances etc between last night and the last two home games is that this time we took our chances and had the luck with us and against Sunderland and Watford we didn't.

The Saints crowd got behind the team and stayed behind it possibly because those who have been all across social media claiming that Puel is incompetent etc could not be bothered turning up last night, it was sad to see 5,000 empty seats in the home sections, especially when you consider that a year ago we had full houses for both Europa League games.

This win lifts Saints top of the group after the news that Happoel Beer Sheva got a shock win in Milan, the group now looks to be a different make up than we first suspected with Inter Milan now unable to name over £100 million of talent in their squad due to fair play league issues, that gives Saints a great chance of not only qualifying from the group, but perhaps winning it, we have got off to a great start we now need to capitalise on it,

Photo: Action Images

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dirk_doone added 09:10 - Sep 16
For me and most other people who were there the Man of the March was Martina. He and Charlie Austin were the 2 players who made the crucial difference last night.

Martina posed a constant threat down the wing and his passing and crossing were superb, and in Austin, for the first time this season, we had a genuine goal scorer up front. It was good to see Rodriguesz score again too.

Bettwsresident added 09:22 - Sep 16
I said we would wup them on a previous thread and received -4! The most minus I have ever had for a comment! Thankfully I put my money where my mouth is and made a few quid thanks to Jayrods superb finish to Longs lovely square pass.

I thought Cuco deserves a special mention. He really wanted it, played well and in the main was defensively sound. His crosses for CA's 2nd and the marginal disallowed goal were first class.

Nice to see that Puel appears to be flexible and the team are growing in confidence playing the various options. against Arsenal and a 4.4.2 last night. Roll on sunday. I have reinvested half of last nights winnings in the same result at 16's.


Wints76 added 09:24 - Sep 16
Don't disagree with any of the above, but will say that I thought it was one of JWP's best performances. Very assured and mature. Maybe we do have a better squad that we think

DPeps added 09:39 - Sep 16
Why no mention of Martina? He was excellent throughout.

On silencing the doubters... fans with sense have been saying that we need to give the new team and manager time. So just as it's been premature to write off the team on the basis of 4 PL games, it's also too soon to say things are totally sorted because we beat a very average side last night. For what it's worth I still think we'll struggle for goals in the PL this season, but last night was a step in the right direction.

VeloSaint added 09:44 - Sep 16
Martina is a limited player, but is a great athlete and showed the right attitude last night. Not my MOM as he pulled out of too many challenges, particularly first half which could have led to problems. Van Dijk and Romeu were key players, held it all together well. I can't remember a better performance from a Saints side after so many changes from the previous game. Thought the opposition were very limited though going forward. Well set up but showed no positivity in the final third.

halftimeorange added 10:01 - Sep 16
It was a sound performance and I agree about Martina who was second best only to Van Dijk, despite playing most of the second half carrying an injury! His athleticism showed and he got Yoshida off the hook (as did Forster) after Yoshi marred his otherwise good performance with customary errors. Martina also showed the painfully one-footed Matt Targett how to beat a man and cross the ball. I don't think Targett is going to be top-class until he learns to use both feet, if only occasionally. Charlie Austin looked up for it and fitter than against Sunderland but that could be because Sparta played at a slower pace than is required in the EPL. Finally, a word for the erratic Shane Long. Last night he was battered, kicked and ran his heart out. Sparta were distracted by his pace. Whether he scores or not he'd always be on my teamsheet.

davepid added 10:08 - Sep 16
Just to say to all those stay at home grumpy fans ,my daughter and I travelled from Sheffield last night, getting home ar 3 am thanks to the A34closure
Seven years ago it was a Wed night trip to Hartlepool. We are in Europe
and last night Europe felt our arrival.coyr

halftimeorange added 10:11 - Sep 16
I feel that I should add that the German referee, Manuel Grafe, had a really good game. I'm unsure about our penalty as my view was obscured but he communicated with gestures to the players showing why he had given his decisions and there was very little dissent. Romeu was correcty booked and I left the ground wishing that some of Grafe's EPL colleagues were as accurate and consistent as he was.

arthurfane added 10:29 - Sep 16
Shocked there's no mention of Hojbjerg, but perhaps this is because he is so consistently great that it barely merits mention. Really think we've finally found our like-for-like Schneiderlin replacement. Good as a defensive enforcer, skilful will the ball at feet, and as shown by his marauding run forward (very nearly capped off by a goal after a smart backheel) and his exquisite pass to Martina late on, he has good that x-factor in attack too. Very, very impressed with him.
Targett is frustrating - seems to be a decent defender, but he is so lacking in the offensive department! He made a blisteringly quick attack down the wing late on last night, and it stood out like a sore thumb because he simply NEVER does it normally. Ok, don't abandon defensive duties, but I'd love to see him running at opposition full backs at pace. If he doesn't, he'll never fulfil that huge potential.
JWP was impressive - not outstanding, but put in a good shift. I'd like him be given the nod vs Swansea.
Charlie was incisive - great to see him amongst the goals. We need him and JRod to step up if it's to be a successful season.
Good signs, and delighted of course for Claude getting his first win!

pintsizedsaint added 10:57 - Sep 16
Great win, looked very comfortable throughout. Sparta looked a bit flat, but had a dazzling run in the Europa last year, so are not a wholly unreasonable yardstick.

Thought our forward line showed confidence. Austin and Jay-Rod doing what they can to dispel the doubters, Long had a quiet game by his standards but clearly frightened the life out of the oppositions defence.

Martina was outstanding - really took his chance and that's massively refreshing. Word is that he hasn't sulked about being surplus to requirements and then seeing a move to Everton fail. Instead he's got on with it and he's clearly shown hunger. Only niggle is that, defensively, he's still raw. Yet going forward is his real sell: his crosses for Austin's goals (including the disallowed one) were exemplary.

Hojbjerg looked great as did Romeu. In fact, nobody looked really shabby. All in all a great confidence boost. Often it takes a good 'cup win' to kickstart the season, so i feel good about getting 3 points on Sunday.

Really liked the formation and tactics from Puel. Flexible, fluid positioning for our CF's meant that Sparta were constantly having to work out how to contain them. Clearly taking the Europa very seriously. As i said elsewhere, tactically we are looking well set for a long campaign and to also keep EPL opposition guessing how we will line up.

highfield49 added 11:00 - Sep 16
I believe Targett is being given a hard time by his critics, who are of course entitled to their opinion. In my experience at his age there is no way that he is going to be able to suddenly start using his right foot to curl in crosses and shots. Even Martina's cross to Austin for the second goal was curled with the outside of his, better, right foot. Matt had a tough time in the first half with just about every Sparta attack coming down the right side and it's no wonder he didn't have the freedom to get forward. Rumour suggests that RK gave Targett more than a bit of grief last season for reasons unknown. He's young, can still learn from his coaches and team mates and imo deserves better than having supporters on his back for no good reason. All in all a terrific team performance last evening and hopefully some of the doubters will actually bring themselves to believe in the manager the players and the style of football before too long.

SaintPaulVW added 11:13 - Sep 16
Saints looked really good last night. Hjobjerg and Redmond look well worth the money, Austin and Jay Rod are scoring, Romeu was breaking things up, Martina was flying, JWP and Targett got stuck in. The team just need to transfer that form to the league now so that the more overly anxious amongst us can get off Puel's back. Great night, hopefully great week.

ExiledSupporter added 11:14 - Sep 16
Agree with you completely DPeps, the Saints team that I saw last night, although competent, was hardly commanding and I cannot see them being remotely as able to control a match against the majority of EPL sides in the way that they did last night...against a side which played more like a mid table championship side. I feel that we had so much possession because Sparta gave the ball away easily and didn't compete that hard. We won most of the 50:50 balls, for instance

My underlying concern remains will we be overrun in midfield by more industrious, more combative and sharper EPL sides. Long is so awesome and yet so profligate, too many chances wasted, so much seldless running to create chances for others. Formidable presence from VVD...a magnificent player (do not sell under any circumstances, never) but Martina was so influential and his crossing put more established players to shame.

Now back to the real world on Sunday, that's the level that we have to judge our performances by right now

SanMarco added 11:24 - Sep 16
halftimeorange: "Are you Wenger in Disguise...."!! It was even less of a pen than the Arsenal one.
It was a fairly routine win against a poor side but we did what we needed to. If we can follow up by winning on Sunday then things will be looking a lot rosier than after that poor performance vs Sunderland (I count the Arsenal game as a positive because we got a draw really). I agree with those who still have concerns but would rather those concerns came after a 3-0 than a 1-1 given the standard of Sparta. Also, I am now thinking that the visit to the Negev desert might be the most difficult game in the group...

REEDYREEDOREEDZ added 11:59 - Sep 16
Great result but the diamond system needs to change at home. For the majority of the game (especially the 2nd half when the full backs tired) we had no width in the final third. It meant no-one could find a forward pass because our attackers had no space in the middle. We were continuously having to play sideways or backwards and resorting to some hopeful balls over the top that rarely found a player.
We will seriously struggle to break down teams who defend in numbers if we don't get attackers (wingers) playing out wide. The only width came from the full backs and because it takes a little while for them to get up the pitch in a position to cross, the opposition defence has time to organise and mark. Better defences than Sparta wouldn't have conceded the Austin header.
The diamond should work away from home because you effectively have 3 defensive central midfielders to stifle the opposition and shield the defence, with two strikers playing off the last defender ready to counter attack, but its the wrong system to play against teams who'll sit back.
We'll see how they get on against Swansea but if he plays the diamond instead of 4-2-3-1 then I think we'll struggle to score.

bstokesaint added 12:05 - Sep 16
I'm slightly less overawed by the result, much in the same way I don't get too despondent when we're not winning.

It's the first time I've got to a game this season (not through choice I might add) and it was interesting to see the new look set-up. In the first half I was a bit worried by the high amount of sloppy/misplaced passes from us and some of the space Sparta were afforded around our box. Better opposition would have punished us. Also, a couple of players still seem unfamiliar with where they're supposed to play. For his sharpness in the box Austin shouldn't be running the wing. He was blowing on 40 minutes and that's not a good thing. Glad he scored the penalty after Tadic did his best to put him off. That was just a bit embarrassing.

Anyway, back to the positives. The best performances for me came from Martina and Hjojberg. The latter looks a class act. Puel did a great rotation with the squad and the subs were well used. Redmond looked very sharp and tricky when he came on and was chuffed for Jay Rod to get in on the act. His getting back to his best is key for us.

As others have stated the referee was very good. It was the same last season. I like these Euro refs. Better than the chumps we have in the PL. Let's just hope this result picks us up for Sunday. I'm feeling positive.

bstokesaint added 12:16 - Sep 16

bstokesaint added 12:18 - Sep 16
And we've got our record signing to fit into this team. That'll spice things up a bit.

schatfield added 12:58 - Sep 16
Hojbjerg was great, Martina even better. And our defense did their job. Great to see Austin and JRod scoring. Overall a good game (Sparta were awful though). Looking forward to seeing our record signing fitting in with the formation.

landerwal added 13:56 - Sep 16
Disagree that Sparta were a poor side, they made some good attacking moves (many of which were scuppered by the superb VVD) and defended well. Despite the scoreline they were no pushover. They were beaten by a Saints side who gave 100 percent the whole game which I think was the most important aspect of our performance. Another plus was Austin. Written off by some fans, his eagerness to take the penalty, plus 2 goals and I know one was offside, but it just shows that given the right service he is lethal inside the penalty box.

Consigliere added 18:38 - Sep 16
Interesting point to add to previous comments - I met a chap this evening who had been standing right behind our goalmouth in the first half. He is French and a genuine neutral, and he told me that he had no doubt that it was without doubt a correct penalty decision - the Sparta man clearly put his hand out to stop the ball. I was pleased about this because from where I was sitting in the Itchen, it didn't look like it.

aceofthebase added 19:24 - Sep 16
Nick, when will you recognise that at right back Martina is the man. To not even mention him in your report is well just not right. I know you worship the ground that Cedric walks on but we are a stronger team whenever Martina plays. The critics who said he was not good in attack are now silenced. His enthusiastic attitude had an effect on all our team and I hope he now plays in our league games and please Les give him a good new contract. The reason why RK wanted him and not Cedric is blindingly obvious.

zonehead added 20:12 - Sep 16
Completely agree with last post RK is a good judge of a defender Martina was superb also it looked like we were playing 4-3-3 last night

truthfulsaint added 04:50 - Sep 17
That penalty for all you detractors was text book. Ball was blocked by his arm in an unnatural position. I know I defend the same way keeping my arm up to block a ball that would go past me. The fact it deflected of his other hand which would not have been a penalty makes no difference. That's why there was little argument.

TeamCortese added 12:25 - Sep 17
Was at the game and I thought VVD is by miles our best player. He is so assured on the ball and his positioning is top drawer. He is the type of player the club should build the team around for years to come and we shouldn't sell under any circumstances.

Apart from VVD I thought Martina was very good and I couldn't for life of me understand why he's rated so lowly---maybe I haven't seen him at enough matches. Also thought Romeu, Hojberg, Targett and JWP had good games. Tadic is definitely our most creative player but he looked a bit frustrated and I think he needs to change his attitude to be more positive.

Despite our performance I still have my reservations about our overall quality. With the greatest respect to Sparta Prague I didn't think they really lived up their reputation. We shouldn't forget Sparta Prague are regulars in the Champions League and I thought they would bring more going forward. That aside it's a testament to our organisation and defending that we kept a clean sheet and look comfortable for most of the match.

Charlie Austin really has stamped his mark to be a regular starter upfront. However, I still think he needs to work on his workrate to justify leading the line. I personally believe Shane Long should be our first choice striker if only he was a better finisher. His workrate is phenomenal. He never stops running! If he could finish better he wouldn't be too far off from the likes of Vardy and Kane.

Anyway really positive result and I'm looking forward to Swansea match #COYR

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