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Can Saints Get A Top 10 Finish ?
Tuesday, 23rd Jun 2020 09:06

This season has been a strange one for Saints, but the fact remains that after the first round of the Re Start games have been completed we are still in with a good chance of a Top 10 finish and that would be something remarkable.

I have always said that going forward Saints are a top 10 side, but our problems are that defending we are bottom 2, this is not something new, over the past three years we have failed to land a central defender who can hold the back line but more than that organise it.

But for all that, after the first tranche of games in Project Restart, although we lie 14th, we are only 3 points off of Arsenal in 10th place and 5 away from Tottenham in 8th, even Sheffield United in 7th are not an unrealistic target given that we have to play them at St Mary's on the final day of the season, so that 7 point gap is not insurmountable.

So 10th place is well within our grasp and perhaps higher.

But I am a realist, we are where we are because of the problems mentioned earlier in defence, that is not suddenly going to change, at Norwich we could easily have been 2 down in the first 15 minutes, at the back we were all at sea and appearing to be practising our social distancing with the Canaries attackers.

This was one of the occasions that we got away with it and this is going to be the issue in the final 8 games, can we get away with it more times than we don't, the final four games before the suspension, saw us lose three of them, all to lapses in concentration and individual error and don't mention the Wolves game that saw us blow a 2-0 half time lead.

I know the old adage is that these things even themselves up over a season, but this really isn't the case, we have been the architects of our own downfall, this hasn't been about bad luck it's been purely our own poor defending, not just the back four but sometimes others.

So the fact that we are still in the mix can give us hope that a top 10 finish is attainable, away from home our form is good and the teams we are playing are not in the best of form themselves, Everton is usually not a good ground for us, but it is a place where the lack of fans will help us, as it will in the trip to Manchester United a few days later.

Watford will be a tough one as they are fighting for their lives and Bournemouth could be as well, but they are not games we should be frightened of.

The home form has been the problem all season, but perhaps there is a chink of hope here, there are several reasons why it has been poor, not least the issues I have just mentioned, but these issues have been made worse by the pressure from the crowd.

It is not the crowd's fault that we play so badly at home, but the crowd can affect results, it can be that extra 15% that snatches a victory or costs you a defeat.

The majority of Saints supporters have been good this season, the initiative from the fans in the Itchen/Northam corner has meant at times the atmosphere has been good, but there is still that air of negativity and that can be worse than shouting abuse, it has made some players scared to try anything in fear of losing the ball or giving it away, as when they do there is an audible sigh or worse.

This doesn't help and erodes confidence, many can't help it, over the past few years we have talked ourselves into this apathy, we need to snap ourselves out of it and this can only be of help to the team.

So bizarrely I think it will be an advantage for us to play at home without a crowd, I think we might see the team play with confidence and without fear and we could go from having the worst home record in the division to being fortress St Mary's in the final part of the season and if we do and maintain our home form then we will be looking upwards.

The acid test is going to be on Thursday when Arsenal visit, they are far from the team they were and are in a period of rebuilding, if we can win this one then we will have momentum and could be well placed to travel to Watford and push ourselves into the top half of the table.

I am not counting my chickens, as I have said, the issues still remain and one thing that has been proved over the last couple of years is that the solution to the problem is not at the club, but needs to be brought in, that doesn not mean to say that Jan Bednarek & Jack Stephens do not have a future at the club, it is just that as a pairing they are not good enough.

But we can get away with it at the back sometimes and if we can do that more than not, then we may just look back on this season for it's final quarter not the first.

Photo: Action Images

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stmichael added 11:33 - Jun 23
Have said for a long time to blame the centre backs is a bit lazy.
Yes they have been lacking at times but the protection from midfield has not been great either.
We just don’t defend well as a team and as a result the centre backs are fighting fires and emergencies far too often.
Vic and Spider-Man were key to our success defensively every bit as much as Fonte or Toby or VVD..

schatfield added 12:49 - Jun 23
I really think you overlook how good a defender Jack Stephens really is. He will be wanted by a top 6 side before long and I wonder what your comments will be then. As Stmichael says, they lack protection in front more than anything as we don't really play a proper holding midfielder anymore.

But anyway to the point of your article, I do agree top 10 is within grasp especially with no home fans to put a spanner in the works.

A1079 added 13:22 - Jun 23
No. I think we will finish roughly where we are now. Norwich was a good and important victory but apart from the first 15 mins, Norwich were woeful.

Arsenal have had a poor return but I am expecting a reaction from them this week. Also, past experience says that whenever we think we are safe (though I would still be happier with at least another 4 points) our players tend to stop playing.

Having said all that, if we roughly finish where we are now, considering the awful start to the season and the debacle at home to Leicester it is quite an achievement - but I expect much better than that next season!

LordDZLucan added 14:09 - Jun 23
I agree with stmichael and schatfield. Our problem is not the central defence but giving the ball away in bad areas. To an extent this is a consequence of how we try to play football but it shouldn't happen as often as it does. And I agree Jack Stephens is quality. He has time on the ball which is always the sign of a good player. He could move into midfield if Hojbjerg leaves.

Colburn added 14:19 - Jun 23
I said I wouldn't comment again on this site, but really feel the need to today. So after 3 months out, we manage a comfortable win with 3 beautifully taken goals. As with every side, unsurprisingly, the opening exchanges showed how rusty all teams were. After 15/20 minutes Saints gained control against an average team and won the game easily. Why do I keep reading vitriol for our defenders?

You say the problem at St Mary's is the crowd, because of the feedback from the fans, yet you keep knocking players no matter what the performance, as we see again this last week with your self-brainwashed stubborn opinion about Jack Stephens etc. Are you saying people like you are the problem? The ones who are never satisfied, getting on the backs of players even when they play well? Maybe the players are nervous about hearing people like you knock them every week, no matter how well they play. You continue this arrogant mantra of 'got away with it again this week, but for how long..?' rubbish. Seriously shut your row on our defence after a 3-0 win after 3 months out! Jeez!

Stephens has turned into a fantastic player while some fans are knocking him.. As for Valery, he had a nasty virus, has hardly played for a year and is obviously going to be a few games off being up to his peak match form. He improved in the second half, regaining some confidence and he needs game time, he was fantastic last year when fit, give him a chance for goodness sake.

And grow a pair, Nick... Cheers.

AmericanSaint added 15:14 - Jun 23
I think you are off the point on this one Nick. As others have right pointed out, our main problem has been giving the ball away in the midfield or worse in front of our 18 yard box. We are then out of position, especially on the wings as our fullbacks are going forward per our game plan. I will agree with you that there have been individual errors that have cost us games and Valery has been susceptible to these. At Norwich in 2nd half he almost gifted them a way back. He needs to learn to just punt the ball into the upper section and allow the defence to reform. He might be better off being a right=sided midfielder. Finally, if we are to realistically have a chance at the top-10, then we need to take every chance we get and not miss gilded ones. It will be interesting to see how the team plays at home without any fans. Let's do this against Arsenal. COYR

SanMarco added 15:31 - Jun 23
I know there are those who think that Nick is over-enthusiastic in his lambasting of our defence but weakness in defence is the MAIN reason we have had a bumpy ride since Koeman left. Not the only one but the main one. Of course a very good defensive midfielder helps and flowing attacking performances where the opposition don't get a chance to attack helps too!!. If you polled Saints fans on which type of player they would buy first to strengthen centre-back would win.

As for the crowd it will be interesting to see our points ratio over 4 games in an empty stadium compared to the previous 15. I think a nervous crowd and a nervous team tend to feed off each other. Has our home crowd really been any more negative than any other team's would have been given the pretty atrocious record over the last few seasons? We are basically a relegation home team and a top six away team. It is hard to explain.

claus5 added 16:19 - Jun 23
Jack Stephens simply can not win a header, surely a very important part of being a cb?

davidargyll added 20:22 - Jun 23
Although I have been a downer on some - but by no means all - our defenders i think it is worth pointing out that the number of goals scored throughout the league continues to be pretty high, i.e. we are not alone in our leaky defence. Last season the average number of goals per game was 2.84. At the moment this season, whilst it is running at about 5% less than that, it’s still one helluva lot more than 5 years ago. The simple fact is that attackers have consistently got better - courtesy of an import of a whole load of top foreign goalscorers? - but defenders haven’t. So we are not the only ones who are suffering from a leaky defence because guess what, good defenders are not only hard to find but also expensive.

underweststand added 15:13 - Jun 24
There are still 24 points to play for , and some teams may not perform so well in empty stadia AND if we get more than 2 points from the two Manchester games I'd be well pleased.
If we could only transfer some of our good away form into wins at an empty St.Marys - then we get well past 50 points.

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