Friday, November 02, 2007

Southampton preview

During our unbeaten spell, every game looked and felt winnable, even the tricky ones like Coventry and Hull away.

Now, after taking just 1 point from the last 12, you can't help looking at Southampton away and thinking, "If you offered me a point here, I'd grab your hand off." (and I would).

Looking back, that Barnsley injury time equaliser clearly stalled our considerable momentum more than we perhaps realised, not least because it occurred just prior to the international week.

Subsequently at Wolves and thereafter, we looked a shadow of our former selves, shorn of the 'devilment' (to quote Pards) that had characterised our play up until then. In short, we'd lost our va va voom, and as yet we haven't refound it. Southampton meanwhile have plenty of momentum after a dodgy start, and will provide a stern challenge in front of a noisy home crowd.

The idea that 'every team can beat every other team' in the Championship, is at once both a cliché and a truism. Nonetheless, the division is slowly beginning to take some shape, with some expected front-runners (Watford, WBA, Wolves), tucked in amongst the surprise packages (Bristol City, Plymouth, Ipswich). With the likes of Sheffield United and Palace firmly off the pace for now, the race for the play-off places at least remains wide open. It's important we stay in touch.

I've thought long and hard about why we've suddenly tailed off, and here's my general conclusion. We have some outstanding players (at this level), and arguably the outstanding squad in the division. When things were going well (after all we took the lead in 8 of our opening 10 games), then confidence was high, the players expressed themselves and our quality shone through.

However, we clearly lack natural leaders in the current team, and last week it became blindingly obvious. How? Because suddenly we found ourselves conceding the first goal three times in seven days, and to coin an American expression, no-one was willing and able to 'step up to the plate', and take responsibility.

For example, our central midfield of Zheng and Semedo is perfectly competent, but neither are leaders amongst the most important battle on the park; hardly surprising perhaps, given presumably neither speaks much English. In short, we're a confidence team currently lacking in confidence (how long did that take you? - Ed.).

Alongside them, the likes of Sam, Ambrose and Thomas are far too busy showboating to worry about rallying the troops, although I forgive Sam given his immensely promising form. With Therry Racon unlikely to be thrown in at this juncture, it is difficult to see Pards changing the constituents of the midfield four; more interestingly he may opt for a 'midfield five', dropping Varney, tucking Reid inside, and freeing up Zheng for a attacking role. Ambrose on the bench meanwhile provides a perfect alternative should Zheng begin to tire.

Meanwhile, in the similarly vital battlefield of central defence, both Bougherra and Fortune appear to be veritable wallflowers; at least Sam Sodje demonstrated a willingness against QPR to take a lead. Perhaps only Danny Mills and Andy Reid can be relied upon to demonstrate leadership when the chips are down, and neither had their finest weeks.

Frustratingly, our very own 'Captain Sensible' (Matt Holland) is sidelined, which probably leaves only the somewhat unconvincing Paddy McCarthy as another unused natural leader. For that reason alone, perhaps the Irishman should start alongside Sodje on Saturday. At full-back meanwhile, it seems profligate to have a player of Moutaouakil's quality on the bench, so perhaps Grant Basey should settle for a somewhat ill-deserved bench-warming role in his stead.

Up front, Pards has made it abundantly clear that he fancies Luke Varney (not in that way of course), but his partnership with Chris Iwelumo has not clicked yet, and again this seems an opportune time to relegate the former Crewe man to the bench. Hence, I suggest (though do not entirely expect) that Charlton line up as follows:

Weaver, Moutaouakil, Mills, McCarthy, Sodje, Reid, Semedo, Zheng, Sam, Thomas, Iwelumo. Subs: Randolph, Basey, Fortune, Varney, Ambrose.

NY Addick predicts Southampton 1 (Wright-Philips), Charlton 1 (Zheng). Attn: 23, 281.


At 9:25 PM, Anonymous Itchy & Scratchy said...

"arguably the outstanding squad in the division" - you're having a bubble mate! I'll give you Reid, Semedo and ocasionaly ZZ but no one else stands out as a class apart. Infact, the likes of Fortune, Bougherra and McCarthy are definitely a class below, leading to some of the most ridiculous defensive balls ups from scunthorpe onwards.

I can't help but feel that you, along with most of our playing squad have swallowed Pardew's, 'we're technically superior' line. It's Pardew's job to milk the players ego's, but there's no reason for us to fall in line. Even playing with confidence, an away trip to a resurgent Saints team is easily lose-able, and I'm fearing a bit of a drubbing.

I Just think that we've been 'found out' a bit, and don't seem to have an alternative. The likes of Stoke, Coventry, Wolves etc all wheeled out the, 'we had a gameplan' line suggesting that as long as you close down Reid you'll get some decent possession. If you can then pump some crosses into the box mistakes will happen, chances will occur, make sure you pick up the second balls and fill your boots.

Like yourself, I'll be hoping for a close game tomorrow and would snap your hand off for a draw, especially a 0-0. Beware though, a bit of stock rotation isn't going to see us promoted this season. I say, roll on the transfer window.


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