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Southampton V Leeds United The Verdict
Wednesday, 19th May 2021 09:37

The return of Saints fans to St Mary's did not turn out to be a happy homecoming, but it will have shown manager Ralph Hasenhuttl a few home truths about the shortcomings of some of his squad.

This game had a familiar feel about it as the game against Leeds at Elland Road three months ago, Saints had the better of the first half and in the second kept getting caught on the break by Leeds who took their chances when they came.

The starting line up saw Ralph change his line up from Saturday's win over Fulham, Danny Ings was on the bench with 3 games in a week being a little too much for him it seemed and also into the starting line up came Nathan Tella, Moussa Djenepo & Theo Walcott.

But there would be no place for Oriol Romeu who seemingly wasn't quite fit enough to make his return to the side after three months out.

A noisy St Mary's saw Saints dominate in the first half and pen Leeds back, but for all the attempts on goal there would be too few that would trouble the goalkeeper too much although he did have a couple of smart saves to make.

So the game went in still even at half time, but as in the first fixture at Elland Road Leeds would come out a different side in the second half.

Saints still had some good chances but Leeds were looking more menacing on the break, Alex McCarthy looked hesitant and the writing was on the wall when he came, stopped and then went again with Patrick Bamford through, if Bamford had gone down it would have been a penalty but he tried to stay on his feet and was forced wide and Saints escaped.

But it would be the last 15 minutes or so that would see Saints again concede late goals to Leeds and the game taken out of reach and sadly McCarthy has to take a big share of the blame for both.

On the first with Bamford again put through the keeper really should have claimed the ball, it looked simple, but McCarthy didn't go to ground and could only watch as Bamford stuck a toe and nudged it into the net, did the keeper think it was going for a goal kick, no one knows but we do know he was indecisive and failed to make what was a simple block, it old school terms he bottled it.

The second goal deep into injury time just confirmed the result but it saw more lack of reaction from McCarthy, Leeds broke and he made a bog standard save, but as the ball was hit back in he failed to make an attempt to save it ,the ball was side footed along the ground, yes there was a crowd of player but there was no real pace on the shot and the ball went past him barely two feet from him as he seemed to do a little spin, this is when a keeper has to gamble and throw himself, but the disappointing thing was he didn't react.

So not a great performance, but we have to learn from it and I think Ralph will have learnt a few things about his squad.

Firstly in goal, McCarthy is a good back up keeper, but he has rarely been a first choice in his career, he lacks the concentration and reactions that make the difference between Championship level and the Premier League, in the last two games he has conceded three goals, in all of them he has barely made an attempt to stop the ball and remained on his feet, his reactions are not fast enough.

In Ralph's rotation challenge, Fraser Forster has come out the clear winner.

In the centre of defence Jack Stephens like McCarthy is a good back up, but he is not a first choice 38 game a season man, he too lacks a little something, yes he can carry the ball forward, but it is a slow build up and rarely an end product, good club man, good back up, but he wouldn't get in any other Premier League side as first choice and he shouldn't be in ours.

Jannik Vestergaard I think has flattered to deceive a little of late, earlier in the season we succeeded by getting the ball to our wide players quickly and catching teams on the break, Vestergaard can play a good long ball and switch play, but moving the ball out of defence he slows the game down too much and takes the urgency out of play.

Mohamed Salisu had another good game and surely has to be first choice next season, he can read a game and therefore get himself and the team out of trouble with such a clam ease that makes it look well easy.

He can move the ball and pass it and of all our central defenders is the nearest to Virgil Van Dijk when he arrived at St Mary's, Van Dijk arrived having played several seasons at Celtic, Salisu doesn't have that experience yet but will do.

In the centre of midfield we are well served, Ward Prowse again had to play deeper and this affected our build up play, but with the return of Romeu we can get some options to utilise JWP in a more forward role and don't write off Ibrahima Diallo just yet, he has an ability to win the ball and retain it and he has quick feet.

The phrase quick feet is one where I think we can pin down some of our problems, as a player you either have it or you don't , at the back Bednarek, Stephens and Vestrgaard don't have it, Salisu does and Kyle Walker Peters as well, in midfield in the centre we have it in JWP, Stuart Armstrong & Diallo, players who can get the ball and beat a player not with pace but guile and be gone.

Out wide tow many of our players don't have quick feet, yes they can beat a player, but you need quick feet when you have three player hemming you in, how many times do we see our wide men beat one man and then another and even a third in a tight spot, I see the opposition do it to us regularly, but not our own men.

Overall Ralph will be pleased with his squad in the circumstances this season and it is circumstances that mean we will be in the bottom half and not around the top, not a lack of quality.

But we do lack at least two players for next season and I would not be surprised if we had two out and two in, personally I would sell Jannik Vestergaard if Spurs and Leicester are truly interested and i think Nathan Redmond is also a sellable asset, the abuse he get is uncalled for, but this season hasn't been great for him and for a player that has been here 5 years and has produced some wonderful goals and moments not least the goal that gave us a first leg lead in the League cup semi final against Liverpool and a goal at Everton 3 years ago that gave us a chance of escaping relegation.

Sadly he will never succeed at St Mary's whatever he does, time to cash in.

With Nathan Tella coming through and Theo Walcott here for a couple of years we have plenty of wide options, Moussa Djenepo is another that we could take a decent offer on.

So this season will peter out and all that matters now is how much prize money we will get, the game is now at a watershed, in it's history it has always been boom and bust and after almost 30 years of boom I think a bust period is due.

Some fans will not return to the stadiums next season and clubs will have to work harder to get them back, that might result in cheaper tickets and lower wages and transfer fees etc, but we only got appeasement with the European Super League fiasco, we were made to feel grateful for keeping a status quo that sees the rich get richer and the poor poorer.

Photo: Action Images

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WestSussexSaint added 09:49 - May 19
Firstly although I wasn’t one of the lucky ones to attend the match, just watching on TV with a proper crowd made a huge difference. I didn’t realise how much I missed the rendition of “We hate Pompey” so much - something they forgot to include in the artificial crowd noise.

On the match I think the article is a fair reflection. I was convinced that Bamford was offside for the first goal, even with the Slo-mo replay but clearly VAR’s lines disagreed. I think the defence and McCarthy in particular thought the same and hesitated fatally as a result.

In the first half there seemed to be acres of space between the Leeds midfield and defence for the likes of JWP and, Stephens and Vestegarard to advance into but the final ball was always lacking. Leeds addressed this at half time and that changed the game with no really alternative attacking threat. Disappointing result but it means little in the grand scheme of things.

IanRC added 10:06 - May 19
Not much to quibble about in your review Nick except with regard to Djenepo, think he has very quick feet is always committed and is an asset to the team. Am I the only one who is disappointed we have doubtless inflated our wage bill with the Walcott signing ?

corkcitysaint added 10:30 - May 19
First 45 mins was probably the best we've played all season. Sadly, with all the possession etc, our chances were limited and Leeds when they attacked looked more like scoring.. Sums up our season.

Stand out for me last night was Armstrong. He never gave up and we could do with more players with his attitude. All pretty much had a good game for the most part but I thought Walcott and Djenepo were quiet and ineffective for the most part. Redmond when he came on was the same..

For me, McCarthy was totally at fault for the first goal and his kicking wasn't impressive either.

The building blocks of a good team are there in the shadows but we really do need to strengthen. Hopefully we can and get the players and get them in early for a good pre-season to hit the ground running.

sandywelsh added 10:35 - May 19
I agree with you Nick. Last night Stephens, Djenepo and McCarthy had terrible games and need to go before next season starts. Redmond could also be added to this list. Salisu is looking like a very good defender should start in the middle alongside either Bednarek or Vestergaard next season. We already need 2 left-backs and a right-back before we start to get any other new players in.

halftimeorange added 10:36 - May 19
I also agree with much of your review, Nick but, like IanRC I don't think we need a played-out Walcott and Djenepo looks to have more to his game than we have so far seen. I find it odd that a club with our tradition of unearthing real talent seems to have faltered in that area and maybe the board should be looking at who undertakes recruitment for Brentford. They deserve a shot at the EPL despite having their pockets of talent picked by clubs like ours. Leicester and Wolves are a similar size to us and haven't wasted their money whereas we have several years littered with poor signings (plus some good ones).

DorsetIan added 10:36 - May 19
I don't doubt Djenepo's commitment. But he is not a very good footballer. Trying hard when he doesn't have the ability to back it up just leaves him chasing shadows and, at best, being nuisance to the other team. He was involved in hardly any of the good attacking play in the first half and was on his own without the ball on the left wing for much of the second.

Taking off Tella and leaving Djenepo on was, for me, Ralph at his most insane.

ElijahK added 10:37 - May 19
Yesterday was just a simple game that we lost down to the players! As what else could Ralph have done, as starting lineup wise, it’s pretty clear that Ings wasn’t fully fit and that Tella can’t last the full 90 minutes at the moment, along with che getting a supposed groin injury. So really what could he have done any differently? We just simply lost as we didn’t have the players performing today and didn’t take our first half chances, as we were all over them in the first half, and even in the second half we were still better than them until they scored which just caused a drop in our play. Today’s loss was just simply due to poor performances up front, as our defence are doing well keeping them out, and a bit in midfield too, which cost us the game!

JerryO added 10:41 - May 19
Agree with a lot of this. Time to offload McCarthy who can’t kick to save his life, Redmond, Djnepo and Stephens. Not so sure about Vestergaard and Bednarek who served us well in early part of the season.

davidargyll added 10:44 - May 19
It always used to be the case that if you bossed the midfield you certainly didn’t lose the game and quite likely won it. But last night’ s performance proved the exception to this age old rule. JWP, JS, JV, MS completely ruled the middle and always looked threatening when going forward. But “looking” just didn’t turn into “being” - and of course scoring.
And your point about quick feet - or lack of - only emphasises this.
Leeds are a very good team, they go forward really fast with long balls to left and right with two or three charging down the middle at the same time. But when it’s done to them, they sprint back and crowd out any attack. And we just had no answer to either, except luck because we sure as hell didn’t have our shooting boots on, or our defensive ones on a couple of crucial occasions. .
I’ve said this before but could someone please tell me why we mainly cut the ball back rather than cross it into the centre from deep down the wings. Yes we do it a bit from the left but rarely if ever from the right. We like to take the ball so far, cut it back and generally look for a way through the (inevitably heavily congested) centre. When I think of the open-play goals we have scored, a lot have come from getting to the by-line and crossing, eg Nathan Tella’s vs Fulham.
KWP is a cracking player but if he sees anybody in front if him, he just doesn’t seem to have the bottle to run at them and centre it, rather run, stop, cut it back. And guess what, we lose momentum, the oppo gets back and the attack is snuffed out. NT and Theo and MD are also guilty to an extent too.
We’ve talked numerous times of no plan B, but if I pray for one improvement or change/alternative to our present mode of attack over the close season it’s that.
As for last night, Leeds basically beat us at our own game. I think AM should have stopped the first goal, but then he made a couple of excellent saves as well so they cancel each other out. No, we were beaten by a more skilled team, but there is no crime in that.
But I do remain optimistic for next season especially as we do have some decent players, with one or two coming through but, so long as our transfer budget remains where it is, we are bottom half team and need more than luck to consistently beat top half teams.
Meanwhile here’s hoping that the buyer of Gao’s stake - assuming Martin Semmens’ recent comments about that situation being resolved soon have some credence - has deep pockets and long arms.

dirk_doone added 10:54 - May 19
McCarthy getting beaten from a narrow angle at his near post is costing us so many points this season. Top flight goalkeepers should never be beaten there but all opposition teams now know about MCarthy's weakness there and capitalise on it. Bamford clearly knew.

We can't afford to keep playing McCarthy next season. I suggest a good alternative goalkeeper within out budget would be Brentford's David Raya.

Boris1977 added 11:00 - May 19
Missed this match but feel I've watched it too many times over the last 18 months.

Did Ralph really need the penultimate game of the season to learn about the players?

The signing Walcott is a head scratcher - I thought we were tight for cash? If so why are we spending scarce resources on a very patchy performer?

The board need to make some very important decisions over the summer, including attracting an engaged owner, and identifying several improvements on the playing staff. Signing Walcott isn't an encouraging start by them but I'm prepared to give them enough rope.

Last night's game sounds illustrative of the last two seasons. Will the necessary changes be made over the next month? Watch this space.


SaintPaulVW added 11:25 - May 19
I didn't see all of the game but from the bits I saw I think Ralph has to take a fair chunk of the blame for this one. Why change a winning team? I am guessing the idea of not starting with Ings was to be able to manage his game time and then boost our second half performance. Instead it meant that we were unable to take full advantage of all our better play in the first half. The keeper swap strategy is just ridiculous. Forster is the one in form and should stay there having earned his place.

Diallo looks more like a box to box midfielder than a defensive midfielder to me. He's good at receiving the ball, running and laying it off. I have yet to be convinced by his tackling and robustness in defence. We may therefore need to look for another understudy for Romeu.

Not Ralph's finest hour (and a half)


SanMarco added 12:15 - May 19
I think it is a fair report on the whole. Was that an open goal JS missed at the end, 10 seconds before 0-2??

I thought it was an even game between two decent sides but, as so often, we faded and also looked more lightweight than our opponents. Even so a point or, even a win was not out of the question until a lamentable goalkeeping error. I would keep FF as back-up and get a new one in to be first choice. If that is not possible then FF as first choice and get a new second choice in. McCarthy costs us too many points.

I agree with those querying the Walcott decision - he was conspicuous by his absence again.

Stupid decision to play Ings second half. Just like at their place he came on once the tide was turning. He is our main man for goals and have in on when he has the best chance of scoring one. Then replace him with Tella at half-time to add to our energy for second half.

As for who we sell: I see the point on Vestergard but if we sell him and promote Salisu that leaves JS as first reserve. The player coming in as fourth CB would have to be better than JS. If Ings decides to go we musn't simply promote Adams to main goalscorer role - he's never going to be a 20 goal a season man. The only ones I would definitely keep are JWP, Romeu, Armstrong, Bednerak and KWP. The good offers for the rest should be looked at.

JoeEgg added 12:27 - May 19
Well first of all the result and game pattern was just as I predicted after a sudden bout of 'euphoria' from some fans having beating Fulham and made it two home wins on the trot! We were beaten by a very good Leeds team and its worth mentioning that they were without two of their best players rested for the Euros.
I agree with Nick's comments about the future prospects of the likes of McCarthy, Stephens,Djenepo and Redmond, but really, his suggestion that Ralph learned a few things about his players from this the penultimate match of the season, makes me wonder just why it has taken him so long! It also seems to me that both Djenepo and Redmond have always remained favourites of Ralph's !
Nick talks about the probability of 'two in and two out' during the close season. More likely three out and they will be three of our best players. I worry that we will most likely soon hear that there is no money to spend on replacements and still the problem of dealing with all the lame ducks, on inflated salaries, that we had to loan out to other clubs
I have repeatedly referred to the achievements at Leicester, West Ham and Leeds, this season, clubs we can reasonably compare to ourselves. We, in our turn, must do everything possible to avoid being stuck firmly as a recognised bottom half club, where the best players will always want to move on, and the best we can hope for is a Semi Final appearance in the FA Cup.
At half time the Leeds boss , Bielsa, changed tactics and with the excellent Bamford leading the attacks, turned the game and scored the crucial goals. I am not convinced that Ralph will ever be able to do the same for Saints, although on this occasion in his defence, it has to be realised that our players only managed TWO shots on target in the whole game!!
I have a strong feeling also that our prospects for next season will once again depend on what happens, or doesn't happen, with ownership, management and player issues in the next two months.

teamster1 added 12:58 - May 19
Cannot argue with a lot that has been said. McCarthy for the 1st goal was pathetic. A lazy inept attempt absolutely ridiculous and he wasn’t much better for the second. If we can I would offload Gunn and the former and keep Forster as back up. A new keeper who can play with the ball at his feet is needed. Djnepo is like watching a schoolboy run about totally out of his depth.
I would look to get rid of the two keepers mentioned Djnepo, Redmond, Stephen’s, Vestergard as I think we have a far superior player in Salisu.

Nomaesaints added 13:38 - May 19
Agree with most of the posts.

Leeds sucked us in to their tactics. Absorb the Saints attacks and don't venture forward too much especially in numbers in the first half. In the second half up the tempo as Saints will have tired a lot for their first half efforts and the chances will come although I put down both goals courtesy of McCarthy. We all know about the first but the second is puzzling as he had enough time to get to the ball instead of dropping to his knees!.

I thought Stephens was doing ok until he ran into a dead end lost the ball and they scored, although I still think VAR was incorrect in allowing the goal to stand.

The singing of Walcott is a mistake as he is not the player he once was. Che Adams is really not a premiership player and both him and Obafami should be loaned out next season. Inngs should have started the match and not as a sub. Minamino should have started as he did well against Fulham.

Ralph stop tinkering with the team and trying to please everybody it rarely works!

Colburn added 13:40 - May 19
No surprise with the result. Wrong keeper and at nil nil we brought on the great pretender, who as usual was woeful. You can blame players who are the stand ins as much as you like. It's easy to do this when players don't have a run in the side and lack match sharpness, but it won't solve a thing. So people on here knock Djenepo and Stephens again because we lost and yet you Nick, have consistently praised Redmond when he has had poor game after poor game. Those of you who blame players who have not been regulars are deluded clowns. How is Djenepo a Ralph favourite? Have you seen the line ups this season? What's with this Ron Greenwood goalkeeping decision Ralph is playing so badly? Quite simply, Mccarthy isn't good enough, he is air headed and Redmond is selfish, greedy and a spoilt brat with his body language. He has been the main problem for ages because Ralph has kept playing him out of form with hungry youth missing out on development. He shoots from stupid positions and never puts a foot in. How many clubs have made offers for him? None! Why is that? I agree that Walcott signing makes no sense but we keep carrying passengers and you can't do that in this league. Ralph is not the man for me anymore, as proved yesterday, we can't beat anyone decent, just those already relegated or those already on the beach..

Colburn added 13:45 - May 19
Why didn't Obafemi come on up front? Looked very lively at Anfield, can't believe he played second fiddle yesterday to a sub who used to be a winger and now reckons he's a striker, basically because he doesn't work hard enough to be a no.10 for us and bottles all challenges. Pathetic Ralph...

RiverRatGats added 14:40 - May 19
I have been very critical of some of the content on this side in recent times, but I have to say this article is first class. These forums are here to enjoy a good debate about the club we love, but at the same time, it's always nice when your own views are echoed on here! A very sobering and accurate assessment of the game last night, as well as where we are as a team and club. It will be an interesting summer for all of professional football and its fans. I hope it's a positive one for Saints and that we can enter next season with a lot optimism.

underweststand added 14:40 - May 19
A lot of differing comments (above) but in the end the scoreline was a tad unfair to Saints who effectively lost the game in the first half. Our attacking style in the first 45 was way beyond what I expected and with better luck we might have gone in at HT 2-0 up.
As a fan who vividly recalls the bygone Don Revie Leeds teams it seemed that the present day squad hadn't lost the "hard-man" reputation they were renowned for in the 1970's, and they were lucky to finish with only 3 yellow cards and with 11 men on the pitch.

Whatever anyone says about VAR decisions, it's been clear all season that Bamford is a better player than his reputation rates him, and he was the difference between the sides.
For Saints it was more of a case of what might have been. Like Yoshida before him, Jack Stephens has his critics and is often the scapegoat for a defeat, but he is more of a threat going forward, rather than being in the back-line waiting for a mistake to happen.
Those criticising Djenepo can't really think that Redmond is a better option, or do they?.

Armstrong looks better in his central role alongside Prowsie, but the continual change of personnel means that chances are missed by those not knowing what pass to expect.
Walcott looked better than he has for weeks, and was often well-placed, yet ignored by those in possession. His critics should wait a year before claiming he is /was /a poor deal.

Tella looked as lively as ever, but those expecting him to become a match winner every week should recall his career is just starting. He will look better in a side playing well.
Salisu looks better in every game, cool, calm and collected is a good description.

Sorry fans, but I'm not convinced by McCarthy's hot and cold performances and think that Forster looks much improved since his " rehabilitation" to the squad.
One game left, and a last chance for Ralph to decide who will be following " his way , or the highway" after the summer.


saintmark1976 added 16:14 - May 19
Yet another inept managerial performance from our one trick pony tactics manager.

Changes a winning side. Leaves our top striker out. Plays McCarthy when it’s obvious to every man and his dog that Forster is the better of the two.

A record since the turn of the year which if maintained next season will get us relegated, probably by Christmas.

Two 9-0 defeats in eighteen months. The longest run of consecutive defeats in the club’s history and an F A Cup semi final where we failed to get a single shot on target.

Yet in spite of all the evidence there are those who think he’s the Messiah. I despair.

YosemiteSaint added 19:06 - May 19
I'm afraid that yesterday's match finally fully convinced me that Hassenhüttl just doesn't have the tactical nous to succeed in the Premier League. The match was an exact carbon copy of the reverse fixture: Leeds wait us out, clogging the wings and the top of the box, letting us pass it sideways and backwards, inviting our central defenders upfield into ample space in the middle of the pitch, and hitting us on the break when we inevitably cough it up, the trap is sprung, and we're caught out. Vestergaard took the bait time and again. I'm unsure it's fair to blame him entirely, though, because Ralph set us up precisely the same way he did last time. It was abundantly evident that no one learned anything from the last time we played Leeds. They may have been the best at exposing our naivete this season. But if you look at each of our losses you'll find the same theme to varying extents.

felly1 added 19:53 - May 19
Disappointed with the result and yes Saints were back to their default mode of good 1st half, don't take their chances, opposition work us out and the rest plays out in fairly predictable fashion.
Have to say though it was brilliant to be in the stadium with my 8 year old, in the Northam, singing and shouting at the ref...this matters more than the result to me right now.

AmericanSaint added 23:44 - May 19
So many hear are quick to throw out the baby with the bath water. I understand the criticism, but I think there is more happening behind the scenes than we know. I will say that after the game yesterday, I agree with all who say to get rid of Redmond - his time has come and he needs to go, but the problem is I doubt anyone will take him. As for Djenepo, I am not sure what game the detractors were watching. He created some decent chances and causes the defense some problems - He is a better option than Redmond for sure. I also agree that Foster needs to be our starter. The 1st goal was all on AM. He should have been barreling out to get that ball. You play until the whistle. As for Jack, I agree that he is a ok squad player, but also think he might be a better midfielder as he seems to do better when going forward. Jan V is a tough one for me as I think he offers enough to us especially his long ball to the wings. That can break a defense very quickly. But if MU or MC come calling for $40M, then sell him BUT you have to use the money to buy more players. Finally, I have not been able to find out how much Theo is being paid for the next 2 years. I think he could be useful as a off-the-bench player. I also think we need some older players who come from a winning mentality club. He might be very useful in the dressing room. We need someone like that on defense for sure. Some real metal and who can teach the younger lads what it means to have a winning mentality. So one more game and the the summer and all the chaos that it brings. I hope the following happens: (1) we get a more involved and productive owner; (2) we are able to keep Ingsy; (3) we get rid of the dead weight players on loan even for a few pounds; (4) we are able to invest in 4-5 new players at key positions. I know this is asking for a lot, but one can hope and dream. COYR

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