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Saints At Aston Villa The Verdict
Sunday, 22nd Dec 2019 09:33

The best performance of the season took Saints out of the bottom three and gives hope that we can surge upwards in the New Year and make the second half of the season a lot better than the first.

Saints pulled themselves out of the bottom three with their best performance of the season and hauled the teams above them back into view, I said several months ago that we are a good team but with a poor defence and that some days we would get away with it and on others not, that we need to turn around at the New Year with our heads above water and then we can bring in a new face or two in January and stay up.

That is looking more likely as Saints won 3-1 to go three points clear of Aston Villa who dropped into the relegation zone and we now need to pick up a point or two in the next couple of fixtures to head into the second half of the season with more confidence.

Ironically this was very similar to the same weekend last year where we beat Huddersfield away by the same score, it should be noted that from 18 games last year we only had 15 points, so those who claim this is the worst season ever are not quite correct.

This was always going to be a nervous game, but it was Saints who showed the spirit and after an early scare that saw Alex McCarthy make a smart save in a brief spell of panic, they took control and never looked back.

Several players who have not been in the best of form showed courage and made major contributions, not least Jack Stephens who had perhaps his best game in a Saints shirt and scored the second goal, he did have a little waver near the end but overall he stood strong.

Nathan Redmond and Ryan Bertrand were a constant threat down the left and Redmond especially looked like he was finding his form again with a sublime through ball for Shane Long who saw his subsequent shot saved only fro the rebound to be tapped in by Danny Ings for the opener.

But this was very much a team performance, not one player put in a performance that was less than 100% in spirit, fight and bottle, Pierre Emile Hojbjerg did not have a great game, but he battled as much as the next man and therefore played his part.

But it was Danny Ings who took the plaudits, not just for his two goals the second of which was a real poachers goal, but for his work rate in creating chances and making space for others.

This being Saints though we can't keep a clean sheet and although no one can doubt the class of Grealish's goal a strike worthy of Matt Le Tissier, the fact was we left him unmarked on the edge of the box and we have to get better organised as this is unacceptable in Sunday football let alone the Premier League.

Saints seem to play better away from home than they do at St Mary's and that could be because there is a fear factor at the moment in front of the home crowd and that too has to change, the Saints supporters at Villa Park were superb as they have been on the road all season, replicate that at home and we will have a better chance of staying up.

Indeed as I have mentioned before, in the three away games before this one we have conceded three late goals all individual errors that have cost us four points, take a look at the table and we can see that we are not far away from being a decent side, those four points alonside the points dropped by both Arsenal and Newcastle would have seen us level with Arsenal in 11th and only a point behind 9th place.

But the main job was done and that was three points that hauled us out of the bottom three, again I reiterate we are not a bad side and if we rectify the problems in January then we can still have a good season.

There is now light at the end of the tunnel, we will have setbacks, but we need to take them in our stride and not see every one of them as a disaster, there are still things not quite right at the club, but if we can put things right on the field that is a start, I support Saints because it is my club and my City, I have never been in any illusions about what we can and cannot achieve.

If Gao is not the sugar daddy some hoped that does not make him a bad owner, it just makes him an average one and no different from the Liebherr's in that respect, football is a fickle game and Everton have showed us all that spending money does not guarantee success.

So Saints have given us a Happy Christmas for the second year running, we have a better team than a year ago and we can build on that, the good times are made all the better when you have ridden the bad ones.

Photo: Action Images

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Boris1977 added 09:58 - Dec 22
Good report Nick and great to see the optimism is still intact. There is a very long way to go and I relieved by yesterday's report rather than encouraged but as the correctly pointed out everyone pulled their weight and contributed to a desperately needed win.

If we are to get an experienced and solid CB in the new year I think Stephens should be utilised in midfield and paired with Armstrong in the middle. Stephens is a great ball player and is an attacking minded player rather than a natural CB. I realize a team in saints position can't afford to experiment too much but I think Stephens can offer a lot more further up the field compared with the other options we have, particularly if we can get some class in at CB which will take an enormous amount of pressure off the rest of the team.

TimSaint added 10:12 - Dec 22
Great win and a good day out in Birmingham again !!
It was really a question of what could have been, as we played really well, created so many chances and should really have scored a few more to help out our goal difference.
Villa losing McGinn certainly helped, but the key factor for us yesterday was the early goal. This made Villa try to attack us, but we were more than capable of breaking up their moves (most of the time) and launching our own counter attacks and to be fair to the team, controlled the game for long periods.
The goals certainly kept the Holte End quiet and I don't think they sang at all until after they pulled 1 back.
How Long missed his chances and Hojbjerg near the end kind of sums up their seasons, but nevermind, as you say Nick, it was a team performance and others got the goals.
Perhaps your view was distorted from the top tier Nick, but I thought Redmond was poor. Unwilling to take people on, make runs, or give options, but I guess that is down to confidence and he is severely lacking at the moment. He picked up a bit 2nd half but I still expected Boufal to replace him. PEH showed improvement, but still tends to look to pass backwards as a first option.
My only other moan was that with Armstrong, Ings and Long looking knackered, the subs were a bit late. Also, Romeu for Armstrong changed the shape and invited pressure for the last 15 mins. With Boufal on the bench he should have gone like for like.
Still a great win and got a few Villa mates so makes it even sweeter !!
Hopefully we can now our in similar performances in our next few games.

Funniest moment of the day. We parked between the ground and the Aston Express Way. As we walked to the ground approaching the Holte End, there is a pub called The Holte and is has massive lettering on it's sign. My teenage daughter saw this and said Look, they are so thick around here, they can't even spell Hotel !! That even had a few Villa fans laughing.

LordDZLucan added 10:56 - Dec 22
Why did we play better yesterday? Because we had that little bit of extra quality in midfield i.e. Stuart Armstrong. He was so comfortable on the ball and read the game brilliantly always making himself available. That is what we have been missing and is why our defence has come under so much pressure of late. Hopefully he'll get up to full fitness over Xmas and last the full 90 minutes. I echo Boris1977's comments about Jack Stephens. Had a great game and looks born to end up in midfield.

aceofthebase added 10:56 - Dec 22
Great performance by the team.
My gripe was PEH who made no attempt to close down Grealish, just stood frozen to the spot and then turned his back when Grealish shot.
That said I thought the team played with a very good attitude. Long winning knockdown headers always put their defence under pressure and despite not scoring he had a good game.
Ings, well what would we be like without him!
Redmond is playing well without getting the breaks
Armstrong played his part in strengthening the midfield, a pity we didn't see Boufal as a sub.
Great that we are out of the danger zone for Christmas

Finally Merry Christmas for all the Saints supporters and families, nah all supporters

davidargyll added 11:27 - Dec 22
Cannot fault any of these comments. I would only add that the Villa defence made ours look like the Rock of Gibraltar. And the spaces they left in midfield was frankly criminal. But we’ll done our guys for exploiting them to the full.
And re the villa goal, it did look to me that it took a slight deflection; and without it I think McCarthy just might have parried it away.
So now it’s Chelsea Palace and Spurs. And of course Huddersfield in the Cup. If we can get three points and b*lls to the Cup, then I will be happy.

Saintsforeverj added 11:28 - Dec 22
This was a feel good performance. It was excellent. Stephens had his best game in a Saints shirt, they all battled hard and Ings was class. We destroyed Villa. This is a rare glimpse of a Ralph team that presses and attacks. Long may it continue!

halftimeorange added 12:18 - Dec 22
Let's not get carried away by beating poor opposition even though it shows the players are still trying their best. I think that our improved results are partly due to a relatively settled team being picked week in, week out. I also believe that our lapses are due to poor organisation rather than individual breaks in concentration and that is down to the coaching. We do not see many of our team having that understanding of knowing where your mate is going to be next, hence so many misplaced passes and loss of possession. A positive in that respect is the inclusion of Shane Long. Surely it is his jumping ability and speed that are partly responsible for the opportunities Danny Ings is getting to score. Maybe that is a partnership which will continue to develop. I agree with the comments about Jack Stephens. He looks to be more effective carrying the ball forwards than marking determined attackers. Alex McCarthy seems to be finding his form again and for that we should be thankful.

wessexman added 12:30 - Dec 22
We faced a very poor Villa team without Mings and McGinn who was injured early on. After the west Ham horror show, it is baffling how the team suddenly fought and grafted. I am not convinced we are good enough to stay up but yesterday gave me hope there might be three worse teams than us in the Prem, nothing more. This squad needs major surgery, even though a lone arrival in the shape of a good centre half would be more than welcome.
The author alludes to our owner as being average and in some respects no worse than Liebherr. After nearly three years of sitting through dross and desperate relegation battles, I beg to differ. As a club, Saints will never climb into the top 6 or 8 on a consistent basis but surely, a comfortable mid table finishes and the odd cup run are not too much to ask for? Can Goa offer us this? Yesterday's 3 points were vital and very welcome but looking back on various horror shows this season, forgive me if I don't get carried away.

legod7 added 12:38 - Dec 22
I can’t see Stephens in midfield. If we do get an experienced CB in January then play Stephens at right back. After all that’s where he played when we first signed him from Plymouth.

SaintPaulVW added 13:13 - Dec 22
Worst case:You can only play what's in front of you. At least there are seem to be 3 worse teams.

Best case: Great performance, with a couple of players seeming to be on the verge of coming back into form and something to build on.

I suspect that any additions in January will be cheap players so the commanding £20 million + CB seems unlikely to arrive. If that is true I just wish we would go back to the days of picking up an old Pro with a few years left to give us a bit of leadership on the pitch even if it isn't at CB.

At least Ralph seems to have a settled team and formation. Hope Ings stays fit. Going to have to rest him at some point. At least he seems out of Southgate's plans.

So all in all, things are looking up after last week's debacle. COYS.

IanRC added 13:18 - Dec 22
Whilst I don't agree with all that half-time orange said, I think his comments about Long are spot on. He still has an issue with scoring the rest of his play has been exceptional and has been a major factor in our recent wins. I hope he is offered a new contract. PEH will come good again as will Redmond.

I_would added 13:24 - Dec 22
We just happened to find a team a lot worse than us for once. Let's see what happens over 2 or 3 games against better opposition.

If the FA scrapped offside and Long stood on their goal line he still couldn't score, a waste of space.

Colburn added 14:23 - Dec 22
Agree with most of the article, we did beat a poor team but you can only beat what's in front of you.. A couple of tweaks and we have a decent enough team to stay up. In Nick's defence, we are a good team at times and we outplayed Newcastle last away match. Look at their position in the table. I don't believe we are worse than Sheff Utd so any spot outside top 7 will be up for grabs. We just need to get our home form right and be brave enough to drop people who don't perform to their abilities...with no exception...

allsaint54 added 14:30 - Dec 22
Boy oh boy did we need that result. A much better performance albeit against a pretty poor Villa. Playing with just the one wide man gave us much more balance between defence & attack.
Pluses today were:
Armstrong - Surely must be given a run in the side
Stephens - Best game for a long time
JWP - Showing what he can do, a real 90 min effort (& I'm one of his biggest critics)
Ings - Continues to shine
However, the negatives were:
PEH - Still struggling despite all the huff & puff, his passing is woeful
Cedric - Still looks a liability, roll on the transfer window
Obafemi - Doesn't look PL standard. Please give Adams more of a chance
Let's hope they can start reproducing this form at St Mary's.

KriSaint added 14:46 - Dec 22
We have to keep the 4-4-2 for now , and as long as Shane Long has his pace and engine and attitude he deserves to keep his place. It is of such importance to have two strikers with the mess we are in, and with Longs presence he seems to take some pressure off of our midfielders AND Danny Ings because he does well in build up play and - of course - not least airial duels, not only offensively with flick ons to Redders and Ingsy but ALSO when we defend dead balls. And Stuey Armstrong is much, much, much better defensively than Djenepo, which we really need, and he has good attacking skills in his game too from midfield that we badly need when he is not playing. He makes very intelligent deep runs that JWP and PEH don´t.
We might FINALLY have found our strongest starting 11. Let´s keep it for now but not forget the probable need for rotation in the festive periode with many games - to avoid exhaustion and injuries.
I wasn´t too impressed by middleweight boxer Obafemi when he came on if I´m honest but let´s not forget that he is only 19.
Cedric today was a less liability than normally, and I thank him for that and wish him well when he - hopefully - leaves SOON.
Today Stephens did very well, so let´s give him some credit when deserved, and..... with a classy, physically strong leader type CB next to him (costing 20+ million pounds, I´m afraid) he might become good, because - though he is very far from being the finished article - he does have some good understanding of the game as a "playing CB". Also I think he has a positive influence on the bounding between players and other people around him in the club, because he is obviously a good lad as a human being with a good attitude towards gaffer and team mates.

oldeastterrace added 15:07 - Dec 22
Credit where credits due. Terrific result yesterday. let's just see how we perform in the coming weeks. i have been critical of the side and critical of certain players. One result will not alter my views. For me to alter my view i need to see consistency i need to see players step up to the plate more often. We know that some of our players can look great on occasions but that is it 'on occasions' . We know we have defensive weaknesses and 'hopefully' we will FINALLY address these in January. So to sum up chuffed with the win but let's follow it up with some more decent performances that produce results.

oldeastterrace added 15:12 - Dec 22
Just want to add. Danny Ings is amazing, He certainly looks like he cares, being a Netley boy helps a lot.,His work rate is fantastic and when you have a good work ethic aligned with ability you have a proper player.on your hands Good on you Danny keep it going lad!

HythePeer added 15:42 - Dec 22
RH started with nine men and two joke players again. But one change was forced upon him, which made all the difference. He resisted the temptation to mess it up until near the end by which time it was too late and the team won! Well done to Ings and Stephens. The latter should start at right back with Vest coming in so they defend corners and set pieces better.


I_would added 15:54 - Dec 22
Hythe perhaps you'll get your regulation rose tinted specs for Xmas to align you with the rest of the blinkered saps on here.

highfield49 added 16:45 - Dec 22
I don't consider myself to be a blinkered sap I_would but, like most posters on TUI, I've supported the team for many, many decades. Strangely I've never worn rose tinted specs to a match and consider constructive criticism essential to any debate. However, if you can't see what Shane Long adds to the team effort, despite his goal scoring abilities, then I suggest that you at least remove your own blinkers for a few minutes each week. Merry Christmas to all.

I_would added 16:52 - Dec 22
Oops I just fell over again. Oh was I offside? Did I really miss the goal from one inch from the line? You must be a dedicated masochist. Happy New Year.

underweststand added 16:56 - Dec 22
This most of you (above) have covered the main points, in a well-won game.
With rare exception (Cedric, PEH) most of the team put in a good shift and Danny Ings continues to snap up chances from nothing. Hope someone else can chip in a few.

Most improved player ?..has to be Jack Stephens. Not easy for him being in and out of the side during the last year, but in recent weeks has looked commanding and shows he's come to terms with his role. Not sure he's best CB, but might not be out of place in MF?, as he looks really aggressive going forward.

Whatever it is that's made it work? ..Shane Long?, a little Djenepo? or a fit Armstrong ? it's beginning to look a more balanced side, and stats. show that we picked up 10 points in last 6 games, after gaining only 8 points in the first 12 matches.
We must overcome the habit of conceding late goals, (Arsenal, Newcastle) and costing ourselves valuable points. Our GD looks terrible, but if Leicester had only won by 1-0 on the night our GD would look no worse than half a dozen others around us.

If only we could duplicate some of our away form at SMS ?


saintmark1976 added 17:37 - Dec 22
Nothing to add to the comments of wessexman except to wish Nick and his team together with every Saints fan wherever they may be in the world, a happy Christmas and a prosperous New Year.

lemmsy added 17:42 - Dec 22
David Argyll
If you think McCarty got any where near that or it took a deflection I can only guess you’ve been on the Xmas booze already

dirk_doone added 19:45 - Dec 22
With players like Ings and Stephens we are developing a nucleus of players who are really happy to be playing for our club and for whom a Saints win is more important than a payday. We are getting a Southampton team identity back again and the fans are now beginning to respond to it.

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