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Southampton At Blackburn Rovers The Verdict
Monday, 8th Apr 2024 09:22

There can be no dressing up this result as anything else other than the worst performance of the season, in the space of a few weeks, Saints have turned from a vibrant attacking side into one lacking organisation and confidence.

There weren't many Southampton fans shocked when the team line up was announced, there was the name that everyone expected in the side and there were also a few other changes.

But from the start it was clear that this was a side where all confidence, all motivation & all excitement has been crushed and although there were around 2,500 Saints supporters who had made the long trip, you felt that the same could be said of the Southampton fans present.

In truth to start with you could understand why Jack Stephens was in the side, after all Blackburn had just hit 5 on the road at Sunderland, so it was understandable that Russell Martin should be cautious.

But it seemed that very shortly after the start of the game the tactics changed, Jack moved into the centre of midfield and to be blunt he is not a central midfielder, Blackburn were there for the taking and we needed players in the centre who could surge forward and create chances and catch Blackburn on the back foot.

But instead for a large part of the game our play from the midfield was laboured and slow, on the bench we had Will Smallbone, good at moving the ball forward quickly and with an eye of goal, we had Shea Charles, a player who can play in several positions and has been criminally overlooked of late.

Both of them are central midfielders by trade, how did they feel to watch a central defender labour in the midfield. our attacking play was pedestrian, so many times we failed to create attacking moves as we just kept passing sideways or backwards.

Even when substitutions were made, it was not Captain Jack who made way in the midfield, it was Joe Rothwell who made way just after the hour mark for Will Smallbone, like for like yes, but surely better to have 3 midfielders who are actually midfielders.

It was not all Jack Stephens's fault, but truth was this looked a side that had lost confidence, it knew that it was not being lead by it's manager, it knew the manager was playing favourites and it knew that this was not the first time, but the culmination of 3 months of playing Stephens at any opportunity and now as we are finding out, at any cost.

I do feel sorry for Jack Stephens, over the last 7 years he has been a good squad player, a loyal servant to the club, dare I say it a fans favourite, but all that is being eroded, up at Ewood Park I did not see or hear a Saints supporter who wasn't critical of the manager of Jack Stephens.

That is a sad state of affairs, Jack should be playing his part in this promotion push and at times he has done so very well, but he, his team mates and indeed the Saints supporters know his limitations and that he not being picked on merit and this performance showed that.

But although it may not seem like it, this Verdict is more about the manager than Jack Stephens, how the hell have we changes in such a short period of time from a team that for 22 unbeaten league games, outscored and outdefended it's rivals and in doing so became firm favourites for promotion.

The answer is the manager, not just his stubborn determination to play Jack Stephens at every opportunity, but at all costs.

On Saturday we saw not only strange team selections, but strange substitutions, dare I say it but we missed the marauding play of Ryan Manning down the left wing, when it came for substitutions just about the only one you could agree with was replacing David Brooks with Che Adams, that actually was a chance to change things around, as discussed Smallbone for Rothwell was just wrong and showed the favouritism is real and not imagined when you leave a defender in midfield when you need goals.

On 75 minutes came another double change, we were looking for goals so we took off our top scorer and indeed the second top scorer in the division and brought on Sulemana and also replaced Ryan Fraser with Sam Edozie.

The problem with Adam Armstrong was not his performance but the lack of service he was getting from the midfield. Captain Jack was far from being the only culprit, but this was a team playing with fear, the fear of making a mistake and getting caught out.

Anyone who has played football will tell you, when your confidence is gone you keep it simple, that means you don't try and turn and take players on, you don't try to hit the killer ball or the shot from outside the box.

No you keep playing the way you are facing and keep playing it not only short, but also sideways and backwards, just when we needed the manager to change this he did nothing.

Then with 3 minutes left another strange one, off went Kyle Walker- Peters and on came Sekou Mara, again why take off one of the most potent attacking options we had on the day and leave a defender playing in midfield on the pitch, just when we needed to have a grand finale.

This was a team lacking in everything, the confidence has been shot, there is no discernible pattern to our play and more to the point there is no leadership from the manager.

It pains me to say this, I have stuck up for Russell Martin, when he came he talked about establishing an identity for the team, he did that and created a team that appeared to be heading for automatic promotion, yet after doing that he tore it all apart.

The problem now is that having gone along this path and in the face of mounting criticism from the Saints supporters, can he admit he is wrong, by showing he sees what we all see and back down, I would say that would be very difficult for any manager, they have to stick to their guns and not bow down to pressure, even when it is justified.

So it is going to be very interesting to see what happens against Coventry on Tuesday, can the manager turn things round in the dressing room.

Picking a man of the match is difficult, but there was one clear winner, Gavin Bazunu had little to do during the game apart from needing to act smartly as his defenders put him in trouble with a series of tight back passes, but in the second half he made a couple of smart stops to make sure that like Ipswich we didn't snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.

Photo: Action Images

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Centurion added 09:34 - Apr 8
Blunt but I have to agree with you.
But why has the manager taken this route? Why?

davidargyll added 09:38 - Apr 8
Once again you put the entire performance down to JS. What a load of tosh. It was the whole team and watching the game on a download, DULL was the best description I could come up with, as it was 100% clear from the way we played that the tactic was “DO NOT UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES LOSE”.

So was this RM answering his critics who had complained of his/the team’s inability to come up with a (no risks) plan B? It seems more than likely because:
* The team played as if they had been told not to even think about shooting when 20+ yards from goal, but, keep possession, get to the byline and hope to cross and hustle a goal or win a corner.
* Time and again players went down the middle, messed around without chancing their arm with a shot, and the ball ended up being passed sideways or backwards.
* If you count the shots on and off target since the turn of the year we’ve been averaging around 13 per game. Yesterday It was 7.

Earlier in the season we had some howitzer goals from the likes of Rothwell, Stuart Armstrong, Aribo, even Smallbone. So we know we can be more adventurous, even aggressive, but is caution - aka boring - now what we’ve got to look forward to for the next few weeks? I guess we can’t have it both ways, but, however we do it, I still think we will all be thanking RM for getting us to the playoffs when we get there.

But the question we will then be asking is, for the knock-out games, should we - indeed can we - go back to how we used to play? Or having got ourselves into this mindset of safety first, will we be able to snap out of it at the touch of a hat?

I reckon most of us would answer, we’ve done it before, so why not again, but will it be enough to get us promoted? Don’t bet the house on it.

kingolaf added 09:56 - Apr 8
That’s a really fair summary of Saturday. He’ll lose the dressing room shortly.

janecook added 09:57 - Apr 8
That game today was a total disaster from start to finish. Why does Martin keep playing Stephens when we have far better players to play in defence. If Martin does not buck his ideas up he will cost us a playoff place. If we fell to get promoted Mr Martin needs to go.

JoeEgg added 10:03 - Apr 8
"This was a team lacking in everything, the confidence has been shot, there is no discernible pattern to our play and more to the point there is no leadership from the manager."
Well I guess there's not much else left for me to criticise! From the very beginning Martin thought he knew best and how the team should play. He has an enormous ego and superior opinion of his management qualities, and now the sight of him parading after a game clapping furiously, is beginning to make me feel sick. He is exceptionally stubborn and determined no matter what happens to stay with his one chosen approach to prove himself right!
This constant fiddling with the team means there is no consistent pattern to the defence and our attacking players can manage just two shots on target between them against a team with one of the worst defensive records in the League. The tippy tappy sideways and backwards pattern of football is all Russell Martin can deliver, and we simply do not have the quality or understanding in our squad to make it work.
I refuse to discuss Stephens or any other individuals - we all have our favourites and those players we want out. Many of the players must be totally confused as to their role and function during a match. Now that Jason Wilcox has gone I cant wait for this total misfit of a manager to be shown the door, and lets start to enjoy the player talent that we probably have at the moment. I say, at the moment - by the time Martin has been sacked we will have lost most of our best players who must already be forming a queue behind KWP at the exit door!!!

SaintNick added 10:30 - Apr 8
David Argyll I made it quite clear that it wasn't Stephens performance that was the issue"Captain Jack was far from being the only culprit, but this was a team playing with fear, the fear of making a mistake and getting caught out."

In this and other articles, I do not say Stephens has had a bad game, only that he is being played in the wrong position and ahead of others who deserve more, against Boro we dropped Bednarek to the bench, against Ipswich we dropped Kyle Walker Peters and against Blackburn we had experienced central midfielders on the bench and in the case of Rothwell on the pitch and taken off who find themselves dropped and Jack being employed in their position.

It is not about individual players it is about the tactics

SaintPaulVW added 10:35 - Apr 8
I like Jack Stephens but as you say he's a squad player these days. We gained lots of points when he wasn't part of the team due to injury and we have squandered lots of points since he has been back. He's not the sole reason for our woes, we also really need strikers to be more clinical.

Russell clearly values Jack's 'leadership' on the pitch. However if you had been part of a winning team and suddenly someone who wasn't is in and shouting at everyone, wouldn't that demotivate/niggle you?

Russell claims he is steadfast in his approach and won't change things and then often does. Just hope he can do the same as we near the knockout stages. Really should get back to the players that were successfully round pegs in round holes just 2 months ago. Do that and the weight will be lifted from some players shoulders.



mgprobert added 10:49 - Apr 8
I think you've hit the nail on the head, totally agree, sadly

saintpete01 added 11:59 - Apr 8
The Handbrake is on
Our players natural ability is being stifled they have
Had enough of Tippy Tappy Football we have players
But unfortunately not the Manager Mr one Trick pony

davidargyll added 12:29 - Apr 8
OK Nick, so when you say you’re not blaming JS 100% for the team’s performance by saying he was in the wrong position etc, fine. And fair enough, you state that it’s not about individual players; but you did spend a large part of your main article discussing Stephens - in fact YOU MENTIONED HIS NAME NO LESS THAN ELEVEN TIMES! GO ON COUNT THEM! MORE EVEN THAN RM/“MANAGER”! - which most people would reckon speaks volumes about what you really thought of his performance. And it’s not as if this is the first time: time and again you go on and on about him. For goodness sake, change the record!
(And for what it’s worth, when you say it was our worst performance of the season, you ignore an alternative view which is that just maybe they decided, maybe even wanted, to play a defensive game. Boring and dull yes. But that is the way they chose to do it … and surely it’s at least a minor plus that we didn’t lose…?)

saintmark1976 added 12:56 - Apr 8
There is a saying in football “ Good players don’t become bad players overnight” and generally the same applies to managers.

Unfortunately for us,Russ Martin was never a good manager in the first place. A fact pointed out by numerous Swansea fans before he ever put pen to paper.

cotswoldsaint added 13:03 - Apr 8
Is it me, or are there worrying similarities between RM's blinkered intransigence and the wholesale arrogance of one Mr Nathan Jones? And we all know how that ended up.

LordDZLucan added 13:17 - Apr 8
At the end of the day if we had a quality left-footed player at left back we wouldn't have to have this tedious Jack Stephens debate. But the fact of the matter is we haven't got that player. Ryan Manning was brought in to be that player but has fallen short. Whilst we were winning his inadequacies were glossed over but once we stopped winning they became clear for all to see, hence the tinkering with the defence to try to find a more solid formation. In the meantime we have become less clinical in front of goal which I see as being a more serious problem and the one that needs sorting out if we are to have a chance in the playoffs.

SaintNick added 13:53 - Apr 8
David Argyll Yes I did spend a large part of the article mentioning Jack Stephens because like it or not he is at the centre of the issue, as I say it is not his fault, he is not a central midfielder, he is not a left back, he is being played out of position to give him a game, that is the managers fault.

Kyle Walker Peters has been one of our most important players this season, yet he is dropped for the trip to Ipswich, on Saturday Jack was mostly employed as a central midfielder, yet we had two central midfielders on the bench.

Adam Armstrong is our top scorer but if he was suddenly played at Centre Half and Taylor Harwood Bellis dropped I would be asking questions of the manager.

At the end you say that I should consider the alternative view that perhaps they wanted to play a defensive game, yes I can see that, but given that the manager had been publicly saying that we had to win the last 8 games if we were to have any chance of promotion, then why didn't we go for it in this one, especially near the end. I might have mentioned Jack Stephens a lot but leaving him on and taking Rothwell off was negative when we needed a goal.

It was our worse performance because we had no motivation, we had no leadership and we played with fear, we were happy with a point as you seemed to imply

YosemiteSaint added 15:27 - Apr 8
The record unbeaten run up the table has got us where we are. But while the players took it in stride, the manager appears to feel it means he has the Midas Touch. He needs to get his head out of mid-season and sack up for season's end, when a very different kind of football is being played. He ultimately couldn't play that kind of football at Swansea (where he enjoyed a similar mid-season purple patch before Swans whimpered into the last few matches of the year) and he can't play it now at Saints. Will he learn to? Time will tell.

landsdownsaint added 17:43 - Apr 8
Could theit be an external problem with RM atm ? He’s looking a bit distant & not what he was a couple months back , he’s a good manager & good guy I hope is still happy in the job .

IanRC added 17:45 - Apr 8
I have tried to be patient but Martin just is not learning. Jack has many fine qualities but moves the ball far too slowly from midfield. It was also apparent very early that Fraser and Brooks were having very poor days. Once again though we had to wait till the 75th minute to see Sulemana introduced. Yes he has things to learn but he brought (and would have done so much earlier preferably) much greater penetration when it was sorely needed in the absence of Stuart Armstrong. He needs to be given more game time and the team told to play the ball forward much earlier. We had a great chance to make up ground but again the manager squandered the opportunity. Unless we can beat Leicester and Leeds and a few others we look destined for the play offs when we will likely still have to beat one of the top three. Not a good day.

wibbersda added 19:57 - Apr 8
Sulemana = Style over substance.

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