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2017/18 The Post Mortem Part 4
Monday, 18th Jun 2018 10:33

As we get to the business end of our end of season review we take a look at perhaps the most key area of a football team the manager.

There are those that say that Saints demise started two years ago when they appointed Claue Puel, but that would be harsh, Puel was not the most charismatic of persons, but he will have left St Mary's feeling that he did a good job in the circumstances.

In hindsight he did have a point, he came straight into a problem with Jose Fonte, lost his leading scorer Charlie Austin, saw his best player also injured in Van Dijk and then had to perhaps sit down and change his tactics to ensure that Saints did not did not dip into the relegation battle.

Yes it wasn't pretty to watch at times, but after January Puel had to abandon pretty and concentrate on getting results, to a degree he did this, the fans weren't entertained, but 8th and a Wembley cup final was as good a season as most Saints fans had ever witnessed.

So Mauricio Pellegrino's season started off in pretty much the same way, Van Dijk in dispute with the club and after 16 games there wasnt that much difference in points, Puel had 21 points (ironically exactly the same as Ronald Koeman at that stage a year earlier) and Pellegrino 18.

But this is where the season's took different directions and Pellegrino after an average start sitting in 11th place would win only 1 more Premier League game in the next 14 as manager, drawing 7 of these and losing 6.

As mentioned earlier Pellegrino had problems way beyond his control, it was not his fault that Van Dijk had been tapped up by Liverpool, he could not help Charlie Austin getting injured, he could not be blamed for the goalkeepers loss of confidence and I'm sure he would have preferred Saints to sign a central defender in the January transfer window, but that does not excuse the job he was doing.

He was a likeable enough man and therein lies the problem, he was a coach and not a manager and there is a very definite difference.

On paper Saints did not have a bad squad, it had quality and it had depth, it did not need coaching it needed managing and Pellegrino appeared to be unable to to this.

Although in mid December Saints appeared comfortable as we have shown, the issues behind the scenes were tearing the squad apart, the Van Dijk situation was abysmal, but there was more Pellegrino had fallen out with Mario Lemina after questioning the midfielder's verdict he was not fit to face Everton and that was certainly not conducive to squad morale.

I questioned after the defeat at Liverpool at the end of November whether Pellegrino was the man, the team had no heart or fight that day, but we came back and beat Everton, but from now on in the season would follow a similar pattern, one of bad luck, late goals and poor marking.

Each game seemed to have at least one of those elements in it, certainly the seson could have taken a different path had we held on against Arsenal and beaten Huddersfield, but it didn't.

The club board seemed to be unable to decide what to do, there always seemed to be a glimmer of hope, after the Boxing Day debacle at Spurs we went to Manchester United and drew 0-0, then after throwing the game away at home to Palace, January was a month that gave hope, at Watford we were cheated out of a win, a fine draw against Spurs and starting February with a win at rivals West Brom, a victory that at the end of the season was crucial.

The board tried to soldier on, their view appeared to be that appointing a manger mid season is always a panic job, most manager who come into clubs in that situation rarely last long, Les Reed was gambling on Saints getting up and then finding the right man.

In fairness to him, evidence backed him up, the three relegated clubs all sacked their managers, in the case of West Brom twice in quick succession, it did not improve their situation, Les Reed was perhaps right to stick with Pellegrino, but he was gambling and at some stage the panic button had to be pressed.

Most fans would agree though that it was left far too long before being activated, in truth the FA Cup run covered up a multitude of sins and led the club to hope that there was not much wrong that a win or two would not put right, they were totally correct, the problem was that in the League at least it never came and the manager had to go.

The problem now was that Mark Hughes had a squad in complete disarray, Hughes himself made mistakes in his early days, the debacle at West Ham for example, but he soon worked out what the problem was and whom should be the core of his team and although we could hardly describe the end of the season as a great escape, more of a great survival, Hughes last five matches would see only one defeat, that coming in the final minute of injury team against Manchester City with the fans knowing that Swansea V Stoke was already over and we were safe whatever happened now.

So Les Reed took a big big gamble in sticking with Pellegrino, but he will say that it paid off, that we weren't relegated and that has some credence, hopefully we got the right man in to take the club forward.

I still maintain that this was not a bad squad, it was just poorly managed, when you see that the club player of the year only played half a season, the runner up Pierre Emile Hojbjerg, was completely ignored for the first three months of the season and despite major issues at the back Jan Bednarek didn't play a league game till April, Pellegrino had no real excuses.

That was the crux of the problem, he was a good coach, but a poor manager, he could not seem to change games, he seemed unable to spot when the pattern of a game had changed and deal with it.

Classic examples were in the number of late goals conceded, at home to Arsenal as the game entered injury time with us a goal up we were dead on our feet, yet at this point Pellegrino's only substitution had been to bring on an attacking midfielder in Boufal and a striker in Gabbiadini, yet he had Wesley Hoedt on the bench along with Steven Davis and Mario Lemina, all the sort of players needed to close out a game, Davis stood watching waiting to come on as we gave Giroud an unmarked header in the final minute.

Likewise Watford away when we threw away a two goal lead, in the final minute we had used only one substitution and we really should have brought someone on if only to break up the game, stop the home sides rythmm, if we had done that then perhaps we would not have been cheated out of all three points.

From the very start Pellegrino showed flaws, but we hoped that it was more about learning the Premier League rather than fatal flaws, virtually right up to his sacking at times we threatened to win a game or two and suddenly pull up the table as Les Reed was gambling on, indeed when Pellegrino was sacked in March he could still have had the best season in the history of the club if he had kept us up and won the FA Cup, but he never got the chance as he couldn't win a League game.

So in conclusion the managerial situation was a big part in our season but it was not the only part, Pellegrino was not just a poor manager, but an unlucky one and sometimes in football a good lucky manager can have ore success than a great unlucky one.

We took a big gamble in keeping faith with him, yes there were reasons to sack him in December, but we gave him a fair chance, but he should really have gone after the defeat to Palace on January 2nd, after that it was a case of a decent squad getting the odd point every now and then but just floating aimlessly with no real sense of direction, there was no excuses other than finding a replacement after that date.

But we stayed up and the three clubs who sacked their managers early doors went down, so Les Reed kept his nerve and can claim that was the right thing to do, I'm not quite sure of that myself, but on a plus point we did keep our nerve and did not panic and that is why we stayed up, with the squad we have there is now cause for optimism with the right signings.

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SanMarco added 11:11 - Jun 18
"So Les Reed took a big big gamble in sticking with Pellegrino, but he will say that it paid off, that we weren't relegated and that has some credence..." Does it really!? We stayed up because we stuck with MP for so long? I know you don't mean that and it should surely say 'no credence' rather than 'some'. Was Les carefully timing the sacking to give us maximum chance of staying up?

I fully agree on the wider point that MP wasn't 'managing' the squad but I still feel the 'strong squad led by donkey' argument has the dangerous implication that the squad was excellent and just needed the right manager - again , I know you don't mean that but it is an implication that could be used by a complacent director of football to say everything is alright now. We stayed up because Hughes, after conceding 9 in his first 3, had us only concede 3 in the last 5 (and 2 of those with the last kick). We defended a bit better, something we wouldn't have done under MP, but we weren't suddenly a good team, and we will struggle again without good reinforcements in certain key areas.

SaintNick added 11:19 - Jun 18
I think we are a good squad but we are weak in a couple of areas, strengthen these and we will be all right, I didnt suggest we had an excellent squad just a decent one that should have been capable of a top ten finish.

Ultimately football is a results business, after Xmas it was clear that success for us would be avoiding relegation rather than top 10 we had to reassess our short term target for the season. Reed had to decide whether to stick or twist or at least when to make the change, history now shows us he got it right and 3 clubs didnt, Lambert, Pardew and Carvalhal were all linked with us as replacements for Pellegrino

helpineedsomebody added 11:42 - Jun 18
now we have mr AVERAGE manager in he will play with the same system that played the last 5 games of last season. 8 at the back & play counter attacking football WOOPEE
now he says he wants the team to be on the front foot all the time next season ive never seen his teams play that way. cant wait to here his excuses next season ONLY A FOOL LEARNS FROM YOUR MISTAKES
we havent even got one player in yet that just shows who wants to play for him, have plenty of money in the owners account but he has got to pay off his loans for the club every mth .
still lots to look forward to next season still in the epl watching yoshi& jack stephens being payed a fortune & both of them out of position watching the ball hit the back of our net.

Butty101 added 11:44 - Jun 18
We stayed up becuase Swansea imploded. Not becasue of anything else.

Whiteknight added 12:30 - Jun 18
I'm surprised you haven't mentioned the fact that the squad obviously wasn't fit enough from day 1 - this is also down to Pellegrino and, to my mind, was one of his greatest failings. The writing was on the wall when we lost to Wolves and he should have gone as quickly as de Boer.

1970 added 13:14 - Jun 18
It was a surprise to me that statistically puel did so well his teams make no effort to retrieve the ball he just puts everyone behind the ball and hope to crowd out the opposition and in fact my money is on him to be the first sacking of the season not much of a tip I know but the common theme between puel and Pellegrino is they come from a pool of unemployed managers which I've said before is not a bad thing except at times the pool is very small but we still scrape the barrel for these managers never will we organise a compo package and take someone with a style or back bone,i would of taken the new leeds manager bielsa instead of any of the last two managers as we did have a good squad two years ago,
saying we have a good squad now nick is like saying we have the best lilo on the beach but it just has a small hole in it, as I and many others said before a ball was kicked last season if we turn up for a prem season with stephens and yoshida as our defenders were doomed and as the comment above says only Swansea imploding kept us up,
we need some good players coming in even before we lose our annual quota, our transfer strategy is a joke I base that on the fact we finished where we did and have only agreed a fee for a midfielder from the championship that only has a sell on value that's all,

Jesus_02 added 13:53 - Jun 18
To be honest I'm becoming a little confused by this piece.
It seems incredibly defensive of Les to the point of absurdity at times.
“So Les Reed took a big big gamble in sticking with Pellegrino, but he will say that it paid off, that we weren't relegated and that has some credence,”
This kind of thing is mentioned a couple of times and seems to suggest that delaying the decision somehow ensured (or helped the fact )we stayed upp.
“But we stayed up and the three clubs who sacked their managers early doors went down, so Les Reed kept his nerve and can claim that was the right thing to do”

I also disagree with the following statement. “8th and a Wembley cup final was as good a season as most Saints fans had ever witnessed”. I Know a number of season ticket holders that simply stopped going and the only time I can recall this happening was under Jan Portvielt. It was simply not a good season.

halftimeorange added 16:41 - Jun 18
Watching Saints during the past season and a half (with odd inexplicable exceptions) has been disappointing, boring and frustrating. The causes were poor signings, no on-pitch leadership, no fight, no chemistry, poor passing, lapses of concentration, injuries, loss of form, substandard refereeing, lack of fitness and weak game management. In short, we've got away with one. All these points can be addressed and the one thing I am sure about with Mark Hughes is that he will have sought assurances that the signings situation will be rectified pre-season and he and his team will ensure the players start up for it, in the same way that they finished under him. He might not be everyone's favourite but Hughes won't tolerate unfit non-triers.

underweststand added 21:46 - Jun 20
Rightly or wrongly - (according to your opinion)...keeping Pellegrino as long as we did made things worse, but hey look...we did do something about it and got Mark Hughes in ..and guess what ..we are still in the Prem. Blame Les , or praise him?

Several of the problems started before MP even arrived. Despite the League Cup Final "robbery" (where was VAR when we needed it ?)...and Puel's "safety first style" lulled the players into a passive mode that they never got out of after Pellegrino arrived.
Many clubs might have considered a Cup Final and an 8th place finish a good season, but not the Saints fans. out he went.

Pellegrino had very little time to decide on his best team ; Lemina needed too much time to adjust and Hoedt didn't get a start until game 4 and MP's persistance in using Redmond ..(plus everyone else in turn) was a disaster . Gabbiadini just wasn't the same player as the previous season, and by the time Charlie Austin started getting game time , we'd already lost 13 HOME points and were barely midtable after what was considered by some to be "an easy start" to the season. Add to this a group of experienced strikers - all of whom (seemingly) had lost the capacity to put the ball in the net.

The one advantage now (theoretically) is that Mark Hughes already knows the squad and their strengths and weaknesses , and probably knows half of the team he will start with, (allowing for newcomers to integrate into the squad and /or any departing names).

The biggest question now is ...Was last season just a "blip" the way ahead ...or the beginning of the end of Prem. football (as we know it)?

A good look at " the 25 squad" in early August may give us a good clue.


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