NUFC vs Southampton FC – Sky Greed League Premiership.

Date: Saturday 6 February 2021 KO 3pm at a behind closed doors SJP.

Media: BT TV if you are all hooked up that way, otherwise listen and learn with my new heroes on BBC Radio Newcastle John ‘One Woman Man-derson’ Anderson and his sidekick and housewives’ favourite, the boy wonder: Matthew ‘Chick Fit’ Raisbeck in Studio 1.

Attendance: Zero fans as behind closed doors due to COVID restrictions, though Billy JoeLinton might have his hairdresser there too (Covid: Joelinton’s barber had salon closed for breaching rules – BBC News).  Is there no end to this lad’s haplessness?  He literally cannot even go for a haircut without screwing things up.

Fun Fact: The Dell, an absolute sh!thole of a ground, where NUFC, even when we were great, always tended to lose, usually to a ‘goal of the season’ from fat Matt le Tissier, allegedly cost £10,000 to build.  If you ever saw Southampton’s former ‘stadium’, you would wonder how it could have cost even half that much.

Football Trivia:  In 1909, an Athletic Bilbao representative who had played for Atlético Madrid travelled to London, but could not get enough football shirts there, so when leaving by ship from Southampton, purchased 50 Saints shirts, which were shared between those two Spanish teams.  This is the reason why both Spanish clubs’ colours (shirts and crests) are red & white – so NOT due to Sunderland AFC; good: Southampton F.C. – Wikipedia

Preview ramblings: 

Yep, me again, filling in while NC is off under the bridge and the temporarily teetotal PK is sitting back sipping a black coffee.

So, if you want to party, let’s get started, and I’ll be honest, I like the cut of their team, their manager and how he gets the Saints to play.  This isn’t a bootie call – I just think they play attractive, fast football.

However, I fear that after their 0-9 reverse at Old Trafford on Tuesday, goal limitation will be the name of the game and they will implement a more defensively minded strategy at SJP.  We’ll see.

I have referred to SFC as Scousers’ Feeder Club in Saints’ previews (you should be able to get 10 players easily – think Brendan Rodgers’ purchases for a start); but let’s look closer and see if these current all Saints are more than just that now?

Some players do go the other way from Anfield to St Marys, notably the excellent Danny Ings, and, on the night the transfer window ‘slammed shut’ (note: it never ever ‘closes gently’) 26-year-old attacking midfielder/winger Takumi Minamino – arriving too late to take any part in their OT hammering – so I think a lot will be expected of him if he starts.

Southampton always have a threat with the tattooists’ best friend the Ings-ter on the park.  He’s a proven Prem goal-scorer, that Preview Posse leader Nicky C has lusted after for many a moon, and now SFC have shipped out on loan the woeful Shane ‘not six foot two’ Long (to Bournemouth) and added that Japanese spice to their on-loan Toffee Walcott, clearly they have a goal threat that our defence might find hard to swallow.

The Saints have ‘muscle’ as well, with the huge forehead of 6’6” Jannik Vestergaard (hopefully still injured for Saturday, bad knee) and the 6’2” slightly shorter, but still a hefty unit: Jan Bednarek (very harshly redded at OT, so also likely to be out, unless his appeal is successful).  Both of these can knock the ball, and opponents, about a bit: Saints & Sinners indeed.  However, without that partnership, they have started to slide down the table; they were even top at one stage this season!

The Saints have silk in Redmond, Bertrand and some lesser lights, but have a lot of first-teamers out and/or injured (which was partly why the Red Devils could run up a rugby score on Tuesday gone).

Giving away cheap free-kicks around the box is not a jolly (green giant) thing to do, as Jamie Ward-Prowse can grab the game by the throat and use his dark side of the force to score with some his well-honed, dead-ball skills.  I knew he was decent, but did not realise that JWP not only holds the Southampton record for Premier League free kick goals, but also has the League’s best free-kick conversion rate since 2003, when Opta started recording them (James Ward-Prowse – Wikipedia).

Apparently Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola remarked that the Prowse-ster is: “The best free-kick taker I have seen in my life”.  I have to assume Pep never saw Le Tissier, Laurent Robert or Roberto Carlos play?  One to watch, anyway.

Like his Liverpool opposite number, Saints manager Ralph Hasenhüttl not only likes to sport a club baseball cap, but is also a notable proponent of Gegenpressing (stop sniggering) which, as you should know, is a playing style in which the team, after losing possession of the ball, immediately attempts to win back possession, rather than falling back to regroup (or in Jonjo Shelvey’s case, ambling aimlessly back, stoop-shouldered with a face like a slapped arse).

This, and Austrian Ralphie’s general good humour, penchant for sportswear and likeable attitude, has seen him nicknamed “The Alpine Klopp”; there are worse nicknames out there I suppose.

So, despite a rocky start when he first hit Southampton’s pure shores, he has steered the good ship St Marys to Premiership comfort.  You’d have thought this is a war trying to manage a team after a second 0-9 defeat, but he has recovered before and then some; which is testament to his convictions and obvious ability.  With a new contract signed last summer, it appears he will fly the red flag on the south coast up to 2024 at least, or until a big club poach him, unless there are more 9-0s appearing on the scoresheet.

The style he plays is, to quote: “Pressing.  Hunting.  Be hungry.  When you have the ball, find a quick decision, quick transition to the front.  It’s about being emotional, being full of passion.  Also, keep the tempo on a high level and don’t slow down the game.  That’s what I think the people want to see.” (Ralph Hasenhüttl – Wikipedia).

These words, nor anything similar, have never ever been spoken by Stephen Roger Bruce.  Needless to say Ralph has made no enquiries about buying Joelinton.

So who will win this war of nerves between the red & whites and the new, rock steady coaching line up, ignited since the Gateshead Genius Graeme gatecrashed Gallowgate eclipsing the Corbridge Cabbage into something of a Silver Shadow?

Shelvey got a fluky goal (no way he intended to hit that into the ground to loop over the Palace keeper, no funking way, he just hit it badly), so it’s likely he will still be stinking out our ponderous midfield for some time yet – but I hope not.  Saints will be up for this and want to put their 9-fold misery behind them, but we have now proven we can score; so: it’s get the ball to Callum, score first and then actually defend resolutely.

New loan lad from Arsenal Joe Willock won’t yet have been Bruced, and perhaps will provide that box-to-box energy and enthusiasm which has been sorely lacking in NUFC teams (apart from Everton away).  We need points on the board from those mid-tablers above us; and we need them now.  I hope he plays from the start and hits the ground running.

My Betfair account history would tell you that rarely do I know where it’s at, but Bruce has proved he is a manager as streaky as the bacon for which his love lasts forever.  So my message in a bottle is that after all is done, one strike should settle it, so put your lady marmalade money on 1-0; I’m not saying which way though.

Castle Farm Mag

Fun quiz – You should have already spotted a few of the more famous ones that I have shoe-horned in, but, unbelievably, there are 25 ‘All Saints’ songs and albums in the above article – can you spot them all?  (NB: ‘All Saints’ were a pretty, sassy, combat-trousered girl-group from the late 1990s, which now are all high-heeled boots, pleather-jackets, and heavy panda-eye make-up giving out a milfy vibe).