Saints V Stoke City The Verdict Monday, 22nd May 2017 12:40
The final game of the season saw Saints secure 8th place, but it wasn't due to their own merits but the results elsewhere, this left the fans a little peeved with the manager and his tactics.
Ultimately this season will go down in the record books as successful with 8th place secured, a Wembley final and a Europa League campaign, but for those that watched this game it typified what the season has actually been like to watch and the frustration at watching a good squad not playing to its full potential.
It should be noted that Saints did not play badly in this game, they created plenty of chances and did not have any luck in front of goal with Jack Butland being Stoke's man of the match in goal.
But they had their customary lapse in concentration and got hit with a sucker punch to lose the game and send the fans home with little to cheer about.
This was the entire season condensed into one game, it had everything that has caused our problems this season included in the ticket price, strange selections, strange substitutions , strange tactics and little sign of leadership on or off the pitch.
Saints have been like a ship without a rudder all season and it is a testament to the quality of the squad that we have come through it into 8th place, but even the most optimistic Saints fan will have to agree that their is something drastically wrong with the squad and the major question is if it has now gone too far to put right without a change of manager.
We seemed to have one tactic, that is get the ball down the flanks and cross it in, this is fine till you realise that Stoke are a team of giants and we are one of midgets, even our central defenders are not that tall, it was only going to have one outcome unless we changed tactics, we didn't and the end result was Stoke easily headed out the ball from their own penalty area and then caught us out at the back to head home via Peter Crouch.
Claude Puel had a strange bench and not enough attacking options on it, no Long through injury and no Rodriguez leaving only Manolo Gabbiadini and Sofiane Boufal as game changers.
When they did come on shortly after Stoke's goal on the hour mark, it was just like for like with Austin and Tadic off, why did Puel not try something different for one, perhaps go with both Gabbiadini and Austin.
The third change was again baffling, with four minutes to go why do you bring off a midfielder having a reasonable game and perhaps the best passer of the ball and bring on a full back to play in his place, I could have understood it if he had played Pied at the back and pushed Soares forward, but that wasn't the case, I just can't see what benefit this had, the only person pleased was Mark Hughes who had his opposite number help run down the clock for him.
So a game that Saints dominated but again could not score, yes they had a lot of bad luck as teams do at points when they struggle, but the real problem is that we are too predictable, we keep doing the same things and in the main keep getting the same result and that is not getting the ball in the back of the net enough.
Otherwise this was a comfortable game for us where we only really looked like losing it on a couple of occasions and we did.
The plus point for me was Jack Stephens, I have often criticised both him and Yoshida this last few months and I do feel I have a point given the goals we have conceded, however this was in my book Stephens best game and he carried the ball forward well, I would be unhappy if either were our first choice central defenders next season and I don't think too many would argue with that, but perhaps Stephens could have a future at the club as back up judging by this performance, he is now starting to find his feet.
All in all a poor end to a season that in terms of playing style and consistency has been poor, but on paper is arguably our 4th best ever in terms of achievement.
The big question now is Claude Puel's future, I have always said he should be judged on a full season and he has now had it, back in February after the Cup Final I said that hopefully we would see the real Puel and he would show he is the man to take us forward, sadly I have seen nothing in our final 13 games to give me any cause for optimism that he can do.
All is not well at Saints and it’s too simplistic to point the blame at Claude Puel for playing boring football. Blame needs to be apportioned in a few more directions. The fans are fickle and lacking passion – we get outsung on our own song now by most sets of away fans and the booing really doesn’t help the team; some players didn’t want to put the foot in on Saturday (Oriol Romeu being a notable exception) and two or three were simply anonymous; and Bertrand and Cedric seemed to be saying their own personal goodbyes to the fans after the game which means that, if Virgil goes as well, we will have sold the whole first choice back four in the space of one season. I think these issues all stem from our selling club ethos. We have lost two managers specifically for that reason and it would be a factor if we were now to lose a third. We must stop the flow of players out of the club NOW and start investing in the team if we’re going to stop the rot.
In the end of season review with the board I'm sure Puel will point to the 8th place finish, cup final and juggling this with Europa league and injuries to key players. On the face of it he could be justified in saying he has met all his targets.
However, in my view I think these targets have been reached INSPITE of Puel not because of him, and that is testimony to the quality of our squad.
I'm not saying we could have finished much higher in the league because there needs to be significant investment to break into the top 6 or 7 but I think we would have been much closer to that group and further away from the rest of the league also rans.
The definition of madness - Doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. Puels crazy logic might have been enough to survive Ligue 1 but not the Prem I'm afraid. My concern is the Board won't want to pay off his remaining contract and as we had a Cup Final and 8th they consider this enough for another go next season.
Agree that we didn't actually play too badly. Imagine what could have happened if half the team had actually been bothered. However, for entertainment and effort the under 8's were much better. What a depressing end to the season.
What really gets me is not the booing (although I don't think it helps) but it's the fact that most of the ground makes no effort to get behind the team or create any sort of atmosphere - it's the lack of passion that I don't understand. Why not just stay at home and watch on TV?
I’m not sure that I’d agree that something is “drastically wrong with the squad” right now. I’d agree perhaps that there is something wrong drastically wrong with a large segment of our “supporters.” I had one idiot behind me saying he hoped Puel “would just die!” If “drastically wrong” is finishing eight, in the position that realistically we couldn’t expect to finish any higher than, then I’d hate to know what words you’d dig out for a lower half finish.
I’m not completely above the fact that this was not a great season in terms of the football played, but I think a lot of the responsibility falls on the players too. Ousting Puel now would just be making a scapegoat to excuse some below par performances from the players. We’ve missed a number of penalties on the pitch and close-range efforts. We got ourselves in positions to win games, but ultimately a number of the players have let the manager down. I also believe the lack of leadership is largely down to the absence of VVD, again beyond the manager’s control.
It was a disappointing result yesterday and walking away from St. Mary’s it was gutting to see yet another home match without a goal, but ultimately I don’t feel it changes my views of the season. I thought Redmond and Bertrand were causing some real issues for Stoke in the first half down the left hand side and that it was only going to be a matter of time before we scored. Stephens did have a very good game as you state Nick and I think Yoshida’s last ditch tackle should get a special mention. Oh yeah and tackle of the season for me from Romeu in the middle of the pitch. If there was a tackle to sum up his season for us and why we need to keep him then that was it.
Roll on next season, whoever is in charge. I just hope we can hold on to the quality players we do have and perhaps ship out some of the non-performers.
finishing 8th is pretty good really given cup run and Europe. However, we are very boring to watch now and that is the point that pains me most. I would rather finish lower in the league but play in a more exciting manner. Football is, after all, an entertainment industry.
Yesterdays game was quite similar to many. Started well, then went down our familiar corridor, nearly fell asleep, late goal by the opposition, then lose..
Nick -- Not many centre backs have the ball skills that Jack Stephens displays. He will make in the Premiership. He just needs to play alongside a top quality partner while he gains experience. He can really play!
The players are not good enough at controlling the ball and shooting straight. They also have no confidence which exacerbates their lack of flair on the ball. This is happening because of Reed. He has recruited players on the cheap due to their parent club wanting to unload them due to them not being good enough. We create loads of chances game after game but never convert into goals. This is worse for the fans than never going up the other end. Puel has failed as well with his team selections and subs. Playing Romeu, Davis and WP together only results in one thing, failure to score. In the Boro game he rotated them and and we scored two. We were losing yesterday and he subs a full-back on. Puel's not an idiot, he must be taunting the board to sack him by playing as bad a possible. Puel wants, and needs, to go. We also need to recruit QUALITY players and not cheap rejects that we hope will come good.
I am expecting Reed to cover himself by keeping Puel to save face, sell 3 of our best players and buy last minute 'bargains' to replace them. Reed is an idiot and when he come out with statements like 'We have the best midfield choices in the Premiership' everyone with an ounce of brainpower knows the man is seriously deluded. When Reed is walking his dog instead of wielding his wrecking ball on Saints the club will have hope again.
I cannot help but think we should have been competing with Everton for 7th. If I remember correctly, apart from spending a fortune on a manger, they didn't really bring in many players over the summer.
They finished 11th last season, 16 points below us. This year 15 points above us. What difference that manager made to the two teams! A good manager will make the most of the players he has and play a system that suits them and gets them competing a winning. Puel rarely did that (City away, Inter at home and the EL Cup semis and final are the few exceptions).
Yes they had Lukaku, yes well lost our 2 CBs mid way through the season. But if you really think about it there is not a lot of difference between the 2 squads. Some might even say we have the better squad. At no point at all were we ever in touching distance of them.
I have nothing against Puel at all, but the spark isn't there. As the article and the comments say there is no enthusiasm from anyone associated with the playing part of the club - manager, team, or fans. I cannot see how Puel is going to solve that, if he could do he would have done it by now.
Even if Les buys every player Puel asks for and lets him form a team to play his system I still cannot see us competing for long. His history in France is always 1 good season followed by 1 or 2 seasons where the results tailed off and the club finished lower than the previous season. And this was our good season!
Starting line up looks like we're getting ready to try to eke out a 0-0 draw. Only a few players putting in an effort. A few chances but either hit the post or shoot wide. Fall behind to a team lower on the table-players' shoulders slump as they think, "Well, this one is a loss." Don't come out attacking in the second half. Need just one goal-JUST ONE-and take off attacking players. (Hey hockey guy Ralph-a goal down late in the game you pull the goalie and put attacking forwards on, don't you? Not put more defence on!) Pundits and fans play the game "Who's Leaving Next?" Only thing missing was a missed penalty.
Don't be fooled by the 8th place finish, because its nearer 13th place only 2 points than 7th place 15 points that's 5 more wins. Weve been told that we are a progressive club and we have been every season so far but this season we have gone backwards. We have not beaten a top six side and to finish 15 points behind Everton is a total disgrace.
The bottom line is that we finished 8th, but to focus on just that would be naive. The points total and the goals for and against are actually more telling.
Whoever is in charge next season, they must be supported by the board. We cannot sell our best players again because our squad isn't good enough to cope, and the black box is as mythical as the pot of gold.
If the last few summers are anything to go by, we'll sell van Dijk, Bertrand and Romeu - which could be disastrous.
its been an erratic season for sure and disappointing overall not to give us the glow of lasting satisfaction with hope for the future that recent seasons have Given.
But it did give me some high emotion situations I've not previously experienced: a visit to Inter Milan, beating Liverpool over two legs, celebrating the winning Sims/ Long goal at Anfield long into the night and going to Wembley. Scoring 4 at Sunderland was pretty good to.
I have stated many, many times on here that Jack Stephens really is a centre back with tremendous promise and is destined for the very top. I know as of today 22nd May 2017 that most on this board feel that he might be an able 3rd or 4th back up for centre back next year rather than 1st or 2nd. Every game he has progressed, sometimes being the only brightness in an end of season of gloom. His composure on the ball, his movement forward have all been plusses. Of course he has and will make mistakes, though not of the number his fellow teamates have managed to individually accrue throughout the season. Jack Stephens for England within a year, yes i predict that as well. Everyone has to remember that before being becoming a regular tailend of this season he had only played Div 1 with Swindon and Coventry.
I agree with many of the comments made above. The only point that I haven't seen is how close we were to not maintaining our position as the South Coast's leading side. Unless we sort a number of things Bournemouth and Brighton may be challenging for south coast bragging rights next season.