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Clean Sheet Needed
Tuesday, 5th Feb 2019 10:52

Saints were on the cusp of a rare clean sheet at Burnley on Saturday but as usual they threw it away with sloppy defending, if they are to avoid the relegation dogfight to the last day of the season then they need to start getting a few shutouts.

Once again at Burnley a good performance was ruined by poor defending and an individual error, in the last 15 Premier League games Saints have managed a clean sheet only once and that was ironically at Chelsea.

Strangely in the first 10 games four of those saw us keep a clean sheet and although that first half of the season was poor, we did have the capabilities to defend well at times.

The problem we have is that we have the same old players making the same old mistakes and costing us dearly, I have been saying for two years now that we need to sign a quality leader to play in the centre of defence, it's all ifs and buts but if we cut only half of these defensive errors out of our game we would be safely in mid table now.

Burnley was typical of not just this season but the last one and a half before that, teams know that our positional play at the back and the concentration of certain individuals is suspect, that when they launch the ball into the box there is a good chance they will find one of their players not marked properly.

That is what happened at Turf Moor, Jack Stephens knew that Crouch had pulled off him and that he was the wrong side of his man, yes there was a foul in there but Stephens panicked and threw up an arm and gave away a penalty.

But this poor marking and soft goals is epidemic, Wesley Hoedt was the scapegoat of the fans, but nothing changed when he was axed, in fact it got worse, in the 7 games in the Premier League after he was dropped we conceded 14 goals and virtually everyone of them saw either poor defending & individual error and in some cases both at once.

Anyone who has read this site for a while will know that a favourite saying of mine is "Do the same things get the same results" that is very true of Ralph Hasenhuttl's reign so far, he has brought a discipline and spirit to the club, but ultimately at the back he cannot turn certain players into Premier League quality defenders however good he might be, yes he can get them playing with spirit and discipline, but he can't give them quality.

So how can he turn things around at the back ?

WE ll firstly he has to look at the game when we kept our only clean sheet, what was different and the answer is the goalkeeper, Angus Gunn made his only Premier League appearance of the season and put in a great performance, strangely for the following League game McCarthy was back.

It would appear that Ralph wanted to gee up McCarthy a little to inspire him to find his form again, but if that was the idea then it has sadly not had the desired effect.

McCarthy has not looked anything like toe goalkeeper he was in the final four games of last season, and he has slowly slipped into a dip in form which seems to see him low on confidence, his performance against Crystal Palace was not great and he came and missed several crosses and was caught out on his near post for the Palace goal, put bluntly Fraser Forster last season was slaughtered when he had better games that that and would have been crucified.

At Burnley McCarthy was no better, he seemed hesitant and that almost cost us dearly when he dithered then charged out and was lucky not to see a penalty awarded against him, he did make one decent save and his handling was good, but hsi decision making was poor and that is the crucial part of any keeper's games, not only commanding your box but knowing when to come and when to stay and doing so with impeccable timing.

So the good news is that Ralph Hasenhuttl does have one option to change things at the back.

With three central defenders seemingly his preferred choice he has to look at which three, Jan Bedanrek is perhaps the only one of the four who is truly an automatic choice, Jannik Vestergaard is starting to get to grips with the Premier League so would be my choice to go alongside him, but then we are in lottery territory.

Yoshida and Jack Stephens are good club men, but they are that for a reason and that reason is not because other clubs are bettering down our door to sign them, at times they can both put in good displays, but both cannot concentrate for the full 90 minutes, they get caught out and more to the point they know their own flaws and that means they are not playing with confidence.

So Ralph has four choices here, firstly Yoshida partering the aforementioned two, secondly Stephens doing so as has been the case whilst Yoshida has been away on International duty, thirdly perhaps using Ryan Bertrand as the third defender when he returns from injury or fourthly reverting to a four man back four with only two central defenders.

None of these options are completely tried and tested, but we have to o something different.

Against Cardiff that could easily have been a game that saw us virtually safe if we had cut out these errors but instead is a game that could see us drop in the bottom three, I think the returning Yoshida will come in for Stephens, but after this game I think Ralph will try something different.

Whatever he does though is not going to be great, Yoshida and Stephens have both been here for 7 years or more, neither have been truly first choice except in emergencies, they are not going to turn into World beaters now.

What we have to do is make the best out of a bad situation and Ralph Hasenhuttl is certainly the man for that, he has to make sure that letting Wesley Hoedt go and our failure to replace him will not bite us in the rear end come the end of the season, Hoedt was not the fans favourite, but of those five clean sheets he played in four of them, tat tells you something.

It is a big game on Saturday, if we come through it unbeaten the last three games will have been a little disappointing but not disastrous, if we win it then we will take a big step towards safety, I for one are sick to death of games being thrown away by poor defending, there is no easy way to say this, but the evidence is out there for all to see.

Photo: Action Images

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helpineedsomebody added 11:10 - Feb 5
apart from lamina the midfield we now have is brilliant ,they would walk in to any top 10 epl team
if they had played on saturday we would have won & with nathan he must be close to getting called up for england

saint22 added 11:16 - Feb 5
true, how we could do with Yosh and Bertrand this weekend
On the other hand we need goals too!
That window that just closed is looking all the more like a huge failure

petedoors1 added 11:21 - Feb 5
Good summing up Nick I agree 100% with you in starting Yoshida and Gunn. Don't know who will start up front with Ings likely to be out injured we seem very lightweight in that department. At the moment it looks like a big mistake not to buy a striker and a defender in January.

highfield49 added 11:24 - Feb 5
We're going round in circles here Nick, yes, frequently unforced defensive errors have cost us points but we're also not dictating games at the other end of the pitch. As many posters have pointed out, if we had a real goal scoring threat we wouldn't have every opposition player in our goal area in the last ten minutes. Until Obafemi gets fit and stays fit Redmond is the only pace to threaten defenders. Neither Ings, Gallagher nor Austin, and certainly not Long, is going to outpace defenders and get the ball on target with a chance of scoring. I'd agree that Ings and Austin can finish but that fact is negated by the time they spend on the treatment table. In the meantime we're putting enormous pressure on defenders to make zero errors. That's akin to asking the forwards to score with every shot on goal and it's just not reasonable to expect.

legod7 added 11:42 - Feb 5
I can see only two changes ,maybe three, for Saturday. Yoshi for Stephens and Long for Ings. The third could be Valery instead of Armstrong so that JWP will start in midfield.

aceofthebase added 11:52 - Feb 5
You are being particularly cruel on your judgement of Stephens and the penalty. The shirt pull downwards provokes an involuntary response to raise the arm and in addition the ball only hit his arm after it came off the head of Crouch.
We should be thanking McCarthy for his incredble save in the dying minutes instead of playing the cheap blame game.
Nick, I think that your comments are more suited to a Championship level.

A1079 added 12:28 - Feb 5
Our problem is in scoring and putting games to bed when we have had opportunities, as much as it is our failure to defend and keep a clean sheet. Knowing that we have a suspect defence means that those that get into position to score need to be more lethal and effective.

Our goalkeeping is a concern as well. We now seem to have 3 keepers who once all looked capable, that suddenly no one has complete confidence in any of them. Why has that happened?

SaintNick added 12:51 - Feb 5
Ace of base you are right the ball came off Crouch as he headed it down, Stephens arm was in an upright position, or an unnatural position as they describe it, so it doesnt matter if he meant to do it or not, yes Crouch pulled his shirt, but that goes on all the time, if he hadn't stuck his arm up it wouldnt have hit it, how many times did Van Dijk have his shirt pulled, how many times did he leap with his arm up.

You are right McCarthy pulled off a decent reaction save late on, but anyone who was at the game would tell you he was not playing well, he looked hesitant and short on confidence, these are not cheap shots they are pointing out what happened in the game.

I have made criticisms and I have pointed out just why I am criticising, I have not resorted to the type of ranting which has gone on with certain players in the past year like Hoedt, Forster, Redmond etc, I am pointing out where they went wrong.

These thigs keep happening time and time again and it is always the same players making the errors

GeordieSaint added 13:21 - Feb 5
Really? Fair enough I had a few jars before the match but as I stated in the match report I thought Stephen's use of the ball was excellent throughout. For me he is a proper footballer who with a small improvement could be a top player. That ball through for Redmond against Derby was orgasmic, more of that please.

BoondockSaint added 13:59 - Feb 5
Nick, this is the same old, same old: Blame the defenders/goalkeeper.
Yes, we need a clean sheet. Why? Because we can't score more than one goal!
A glaring problem since Pelle and Mane left!
The forwards are just as much to blame (if not more).
Teams flood our third of the field knowing they have no worries if they lose the ball. They are not going to be caught out. They just wait for our forwards to kick it into the stands or their goalkeeper's hands.

wessexman added 15:28 - Feb 5
Interesting read. Stephens is older than Hoedt and has been in the prem a lot longer. Stephens should have walked against CP early on and would have cost us the game. I agree though...Hoedt is a scapegoat and not the worst culprit.

straight_pass added 19:51 - Feb 5
Both Stephens and Vestergaard were pressured into making silly mistakes once Crouch came on, but we all knew it would happen!

The big surprise and dissapointment was our lack of pressing and running down the wide men in the final 15 mins! They constantly pumped high balls into the box, and were mostly unchallenged. Knowing the threat surely meant we needed to cut off the supply, not try and deal with trouble inside the box!

SanMarco added 22:34 - Feb 5
Can't we just agree we are rubbish in the centre of defence, blame Les Reed and move on? Those CBs will always give goals away. Ralph thinks he can get us over the line without a signing and at the moment he walks on water. It doesn't mean he thinks they are good though. In the summer, assuming we stay up, he can get out a very big axe and start chopping the dead wood. For me that would be the lot of em apart from maybe Bednarek.

Give us a solid defence and this squad under Ralph could be challenging for 'the best of the rest' position - alright maybe another goalscorer would be good, and if I am being very demanding, even perhaps one who doesn't get injured every five minutes, but the defence is key and must be the priority for Ralph the lumberjack.

simmo400 added 07:47 - Feb 6
We need a clean sheet for a point that's for sure. Are we capable of producing a goal ? Maybe. Most were hoping for 3 wins in the scrap around us I thought 1 win 1 draw 1 loss would be realistic. 4 points. A win Saturday would be 5 points total decent as we are lightweight in most areas of the pitch.

TimSaint added 09:13 - Feb 6
We all knew what Burnley were all about - pumping balls into the box, especially when Crouch came on. RH should know this too and he should have ensured our wing backs and midfielders cut out the supply line and prevented balls into the box in the first place.
Then the central defenders' job is much easier !!
It seems that week after week, players take it in turn to make errors and these cost us our clean sheets. We tend to concede from errors as opposed to quality !!
Cardiff up next and despite the fact they have been improving of late (Arsenal/Bournemouth), we are more than capable of beating them and keeping a clean sheet. Vest owes us a performance and a goal after his error at the away game. Just hope we can have the likes of Bert, Lemina, Hojbjerg and Ings in contention.

SaintBrock added 13:03 - Feb 6
I stopped reading this entry Nick when you came to another one of your unfailingly extraordinary conclusions, that it is all McCarthy's fault! FFS

Now that Maya Yoshida has been rehabilitated and exonerated from any blame why do you need to turn your attention to finding a new villain of the piece on whom to heap all our troubles and woes. Our failure to keep clean sheets has SFA to do with McCarthy, we play as a team and we win or fail as a team.

If you need reasons for our troubles, they are the same troubles as we have had for the past 3 or 4 years, we do not have the gumption, ability or players to create and score enough goals. If we had then we would not be in the position of hanging on by our fingertips at the end of games to get anything from them.

Stop criticising the team and get behind them is another of your oft used adages so take a leaf from your own book, Nick!

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