Watt View - The Future Is Bright...Again.
Wednesday, 29th Jul 2020 08:22 by Matt Watts
It's been a while since Watt View graced the pages of The Ugly Inside (last column in 2017) and I am delighted to be welcomed back following the completion of a very eventful and ultimately successful season football-wise for the club.
It was always a pleasure and privilege for me to share news, views and comment with fellow Saints fans - and football fans in general – over many years via the fanzine-turned-webzine having been an avid reader myself from my teens onwards at The Dell.
So to be back is a great feeling and I look forward to catching-up with fans when we eventually get back into the concourses and stands.
Coming just a couple of days after the excellent 3-1 victory over Sheffield United at St Mary's on the final day of the season, it provides the perfect positive plaform to reflect on the progress we have seen from Ralph Hasenhüttl's men.
Having heard so much about it, I have to have a say on the infamous 0-9 defeat at home against Leicester City. Yes it was a disastrous night, but for all the learning points the game gave Ralph and his players, it was also a freak result.
The last time the same scoreline was recorded, 4 March 1995, when Manchester United knocked Ipswich Town for nine, the Tractor Boys went on to be relegated rock bottom and the Red Devils dipped out on the title by a point.
Leicester, meanwhile, dropped out of the Champions League places this season having sat pretty for the majority of the campaign and Saints finished up in 11th.
As it happened, in addition to taking all three points in the reverse fixture at the King Power Stadium in January, Saints went on to earn two more points than the Foxes – 44 compared to 42 – over the remainder of the season.
And if you ever feel down about it, just think back to the month before – 24 September – when Saints comprehensively disposed of South Coast rivals Portsmouth away at Fratton Park 0-4. What a night.
My only real gripe with the Leicester defeat now is that without the three goals handed to Jamie Vardy, our own Danny Ings - a school friend of my sister as it happens - would have bagged the golden boot (and he deserved it for what he achieved with a club in mid-table).
With 22 league goals though, what a season and just reward for someone who has been the ultimate professional through tough times in his career.
But the reason I've ventured into this territory is not to relive the nightmare but to focus on Ralph's comments prior to the following Premier League game against Manchester City.
He said: “I am now a better manager than before and this is the good thing from this game. And if the players see the same and learn out of it then they know they are better players in the future.”
He could not have been more right.
I had been longing for a return to the type of feeling experienced during Ronald Koeman’s reign charge and Ralph’s arrival signalled a new era - and a potentially very bright future after the slog that had occurred under Claude Puel, Mauricio Pellegrino and Mark Hughes.
The tenures of those three sent me into a type of “Saints depression” and seemed a million miles away from the joys we had seen under Koeman and his squad.
Despite’s Claude’s achievements in reaching the League Cup final and an eighth-place finish, his style of football and choices just didn’t do it for me.
I could never really get over his abuse of Saints’ Europa League campaign, something that still pains me to this day.
So for Saints to be the ones stung for nine for the first time in 24 years, it concerned me that Ralph may either not live to fight on in the hot seat or that he would lose his way.
However, a simply fantastic Christmas and New Year, along with the sublime post-lockdown return - as well as an outstanding season-long away record - put any misleading fears caused by that fateful night to bed.
And this is all following a transition period from the pieces Ralph inherited from three previous managers who had attempted, unsuccessfully, to bring their own styles of play and philosophies to the club.
The fact we are now looking at the squad without the need for any radical transfer action is a credit to the club, manager and squad.
With £11 million man Mohammed Salisu, 21, set to tick the box for a new young centre back, the return of Harrison Reed from a sensational season-long loan with promotion-chasing Fulham to potentially fill the void left by the imminent departure of Pierre-Emile Højbjerg and the late-season form of striker Che Adams, the appetite for need not be great.
While Højbjerg has been a valued member of the club and has grown in his time at St Mary’s, his departure will have minimal impact in my opinion.
Even were he to remain then he would not earn a place ahead of Oriol Romeu and James Ward-Prowse and the midfield of those two along with Nathan Redmond and Stuart Armstrong is first choice for me any day. And that is with the luxury of Moussa Djenepo, Sofiane Boufal, Will Smallbone and Harrison Reed waiting in the wings.
It will be important to wrap up Kyle Walker-Peters on a permanent deal, though I remain a fan of his back-up Yan Valery who has a very promising career ahead.
The real focus for Saints will be in offloading Wesley Hoedt, Guido Carillo and Mario Lemina, though with Belgium, Argentina and Turkey respectively all likely destinations for the trio, achieving that looks a real possibility and will be as welcomed.
Although I want to avoid negativity around the current squad, Jannik Vestergaard cuts a similar figure to Hoedt in my mind and is a player I would be equally as happy to see move on to pastures new as Højbjerg.
While he shows signs of promise, he has one mistake too many in him and, certainly in the relentless world of Premier League football, that costs goals and precious points. If we are to progress and make every point count then there is minimal room for simple errors of judgement or lack of quality.
I also have special mention for Nathan Redmond who I have been impressed with all season but particularly post-lockdown. The boy has skills and pace to burn and I really hope he can turn those performances in consistently next season.
He is another first-class professional who I would like to see continue to build his confidence and belief. There is much the 26-year-old can still achieve in his career and all the best to him in doing so.
The future is bright...again.
Photo: Action Images
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Letters from Wiltshire #48 by wessex_exile
“And now the end is near, and so we face the final curtain…regrets, we’ve had a few, but then again, too few to mention”. Not quite right Paul Anka, probably more than a few, but otherwise a fair assessment of where the U’s are today. It’ll be interesting to see how we perform with the relegation monkey finally off their back – I’m not expecting miracles, particularly with Tranmere needing at least a point to guarantee making the play-offs, but they’ll certainly be more nervous than we will be, so can we make that count? This will be my last blog of the season, and not yet sure what I may or may not do for next season, but suggestions are always welcome.
Letters from Wiltshire #47 by wessex_exile
Here we are, at the penultimate game of the season, and our last game in front of the cardboard U’s faithful at the JobServe. It has been a long, difficult, and definitely strange season, which frankly I’ll be glad to see the back of. That’ll we’ll be here again in August is definitely going to be something to celebrate, but I suspect we’re facing a summer of significant rebuilding both on the pitch, and possibly off it too. I won’t be the only one, but the biggest oddity for me has been being able to watch every single game – not always easy viewing, but something I’ve never done before, and probably never will again. But it doesn’t really make up for not being there in person, the long train journey away-days, meeting fellow U’s and other supporters, and of course sharing a beer or three. Fingers-crossed we can return to the terraces in 2021/22.
Letters from Wiltshire #46 by wessex_exile
That was quite a week for us all then. In the space of four short but remarkably tense days we have gone from having to take shoes and socks off to check how many more points we need to guarantee survival, or whether we would even achieve it, to breathing a huge sigh of relief knowing we’re almost there. But close of play this afternoon, whether by our own actions or the failure of others, I am sure survival will be confirmed. Of course, Tuesday night not only all but guaranteed it, it also virtually condemned local rivals Southend United to non-league football for the foreseeable. Looking at the host of fully professional former football league sides currently battling it out for the two promotion slots out of the National league (including Hartlepool, Torquay, Stockport, Wrexham, Chesterfield and Notts County), it is not going to be a walk in the park for Southend to return any day soon.
Letters from Wiltshire #45 by wessex_exile
Tonight, Colchester United face Southend United in what may not necessarily be the most important game of our respective histories (though it’s certainly very close), but is almost certainly the most important Essex derby ever. However this season pans out, by the end of it there’ll either be only one team in Essex, or worst case scenario, none at all. If the U’s win, then Southend will be 9pts behind with just three games to go, and a minimum of a -12 goal difference to overturn if they want to overtake us. Certainly mathematically possible, but that would rely on a remarkable turnaround in their form, form that they’ve shown precious little sign of achieving so far this season. The stalking horse is Grimsby, with their game in hand, who have rather belatedly shown an improvement in form, so their match against automatic promotion chasing Morecambe tonight is equally important, particularly if we want to avoid the unthinkable, with both Essex clubs dropping out of the league.
Letters from Wiltshire #44 by wessex_exile
So here we are, as the nation mourns the passing of His Royal Highness, Duke of Edinburgh, the U’s face the first of two season-defining moments, with our late kick-off match at home to Walsall. Before then, no doubt many will have been focused on events elsewhere, not least the early kick-offs for Grimsby (at home to promotion-chasing Bolton Wanderers), and particularly Essex rivals Southend United, who faced a tricky visit to Exeter City – still very much in the hunt for at least a play-off spot. As I finalise this blog, I know that Grimsby have beaten Bolton 2-1, and Southend earned a credible 0-0 draw in the West Country. More to the point, the U’s will know this too. Whilst I can’t help but feel that will ought to be to our advantage, it surely must also put additional pressure on a squad whose confidence is paper-thin. We must hope that Hayden Mullins, assisted by Paul Tisdale, get their heads right, and send the lads out this evening fired up with self-belief.
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