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Watt View - Can Home Form Concerns Be Put To Bed ?
Wednesday, 5th Aug 2020 08:54 by Matt Watts

In the latest "Watt View" Matt airs his concerns over the home form last season and whether these can now be put to bed after the end of season run or will the return of the fans at some point prove to have been part of a problem not resolved.

It was a pleasure to be back with The Ugly Inside last week and many thanks to those of you who commented or contacted me as a result.

One of the topics that consistently reared its head throughout the second half of the season and continues to is that of home form.

A question was also raised of whether or not Saints would have delivered their barnstorming three-goal second-half riposte against Sheffield United on the final day had St Mary's been packed with supporters disgruntled at the first half display.

My answer to that is unequivocal – they absolutely would. I have never been one to place too much weight on how that can affect results and performances, particularly among today's top-level professionals.

Ralph Hasenhüttl's men came back fitter, mentally stronger and with more bite both home and away and that is why they responded in the manner they did against The Blades.

Additionally, as has been analysed extensively, the squad went through a transformation after the 0-9 capitulation to Leicester in late October.

Some of the concern has no doubt been fuelled by the starkness of end-of-season home and away tables which show Saints sat second-bottom and, contrastingly, third respectively.

For me personally, I prefer to celebrate the remarkable achievement of nine wins and four draws on the road over the course of the season and take comfort in the knowledge many results at home could have gone either way.

I think when we look at results and performances at home, it is important to give some context and perspective and results away are intrinsically linked. Therefore, I tend to view the season as a whole.

If we go back to the start, a 1-2 defeat at home against would-be champions Liverpool was very nearly a superb point with Danny Ings inches away from snatching a draw at the death.

Either way, the result was a respectable one given the disappointment of the opening day performance at Burnley – 3-0 – which raised eyebrows though, in fact, the Clarets went on to have a very impressive campaign.

Two away victories followed before a point against Manchester United and, sandwiched between away wins against Sheffield United and the memorable Carabao Cup demolition of Portsmouth, was a 1-3 loss against a then-strong Bournemouth side.

A slim 2-1 defeat at Tottenham Hotspur was followed by a home humbling against a very clinical Chelsea – but tempered by an excellent point away against Wolves at Molineux afterwards.

We all know what followed, the freak disaster against Leicester which saw Hasenhüttl look to regroup in two consecutive away trips to Manchester City (3-1 and 2-1 defeats). Then came the first home game after the Foxes thrashing, a 1-2 loss against Everton on 9 November – always going to be a tricky occasion given what had preceded it.

However, a point away against Arsenal at the Emirates was followed by two home wins against Watford (2-1) and Norwich (2-1).

After taking the lead away at Newcastle, Saints suffered a 1-2 Toon turnaround in the last 20 minutes and the hangover lasted into the following week with a 0-1 loss at home to West Ham.

But what was to come was pure delight – and part of the rebuilding project coming to fruition.

A 1-3 win at Villa Park and a 0-2 victory against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge – avenging that home thumping – was complemented with a point at home against Crystal Palace in an entertaining 1-1 draw. This saw three wins, a draw and two defeats in December.

The resurgence continued in January with home wins against Tottenham and Huddersfield (in the FA Cup) before that all-important 1-2 win at Leicester.

Unfortunately, after taking a 2-0 lead against Wolves at St Mary's, the away side hit back to steal a 2-3 win in a thrilling encounter. If Saints had held on it would have made it five wins in the last six matches.

January was then rounded off with a comfortable 0-2 win at Crystal Palace immediately after and a 1-1 draw in the FA Cup against Spurs at St Mary's – this time Saints hitting back late through Sofiane Boufal on 87 minutes.

While a tough February saw three defeats on the road (Liverpool, Spurs and West Ham) and a loss at home against a well-drilled Burnley in difficult conditions, Saints bagged an important 2-0 home win against Aston Villa.

In the final game before lockdown, Saints fell to a 0-1 defeat at home against Newcastle but had to contend with Moussa Djenepo's sending off on 28 minutes.

When the Premier League returned to action, it is well-documented Saints hit the ground running and, barring a slip at home against Arsenal, recorded five wins and three draws.

So, what does this all tell us?

Well, had Saints earned an additional 10 points at home they would have found themselves bang-on mid-point in the end-of-season home form table with 31 points – the same tally they took away.

Realistically, that was easily within reach. Six of the 10 losses were by one goal – the majority of those being games Saints could – and often should – have taken points from.

By laying it out as I have above, I think it shows that, except a few disappointing home defeats, the season was very much a resounding success, with disappointments often swiftly rectified.

The fact the 0-2 defeat at home by Arsenal on 25 June, during which goalkeeper Alex McCarthy misjudged a ball from the back into the path of Eddie Nketiah, happened in an empty stadium says to me the suggestions of crowd negativity and fear of performing at home are tenuous.

Ultimately, I feel the concerns about Saints' results at home were the consequence of two significant factors: that Saints suffered a record-equalling 0-9 defeat and then didn't record a home win until 30 November.

Based on these two points, I can very much understand where fans' concerns and frustrations came from but they were overcome through wins on the road.

I have pondered the possibility that Saints' excellent away results potentially contributed to poorer home form given they so often responded to home defeats by gaining points on their travels – perhaps, as a consequence, reduced the need to rely on home victories.

I believe Hasenhüttl and his team turned a corner and the side we saw in the final nine games is how they will embark on the new season and continue – with or without fans present.

Photo: Action Images

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Chesham_Saint added 09:26 - Aug 5
A cogent analysis which brings a clarity of perspective to such a long season. Thank you.

davepid added 10:51 - Aug 5
Watt view thinks we’ve turned the corner but I would want us to be some way down the straight of the Promised Land before saying so.

In three of the last four seasons our Home form has been worse than the Away. In 16/17 we had the 17 th worst Home record (out of 20) but 7 th best away. Same in 17/18- 19 th worst home against the 10 th best away. And this year we were 19 th worst against 3 rd best. Only in 18/19 was our home record better than away, 14 th compared to 15 th.

So although tempting to blame this years appalling record on the Leicester game is interesting, it is wrong to do so.

Watt talks about narrow defeats at home. He may well have a point here. I think for some years we struggle against visitors, five across the back, intent on defending and then hitting us on the break.

That and allowing away fans to occupy a prime area behind the goal I think are more likely explanations for our poor home firm stretching back to 2016/7.

SaintNick added 12:29 - Aug 5
davepid i think the away fans behind the goal is a total red herring, Liverpool & Man City have two of the best home forms in the country yet they position away fans in exactly the same area as did Arsenal & Sheffield United.

Norwich put away fans on the side as did Palace and they both had poor home form, Newcastle should have the best home record given the away section is so far up, but they had a poor one.

Truth of the matter is it is about the quality of the team you have not the away fans

GeordieSaint added 13:38 - Aug 5
Part of it is the style of play, they definitely look happier defending deeper and breaking fast. A lot harder for that to be effective at home, that is a challenge for Ralph to tweak the home style a bit which was koeman’s biggest strength in our most successful recent season.

NewburySaint added 16:01 - Aug 5
Davepid: I hope I’m not tempting fate but I have to say it looked like we turned the corner towards the end of the season ref. struggling against teams packing out their defence & defending deep-before this season, before lockdown even, we never would have drawn & beaten Brighton & Sheff U respectively.

underweststand added 17:43 - Aug 6
perhaps ..the knowledge that Saints have picked up points in added time on several occasions may help those fans who boo and complain after we concede the first goal to have a little more patience until after the final whistle has gone.

Our recent away form has been fantastic and the best I recall in over 60 years as a fan. In those days it was "Fortress Dell" when we rarely lost at home, but there were street parties anytime we got any away points.
If we can retain the same momentum playing away, perhaps we can see some of that good fortune rub off when playing at SMS.

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