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Southampton 1 v 2 Millwall
SkyBet Championship
Saturday, 24th February 2024 Kick-off 15:00
Southampton V Millwall The Verdict
Monday, 26th Feb 2024 10:13

Saints made the same old mistakes and made it 3 defeats out of 4, but more crucially slipped 5 points shy of the automatic promotion spot, it has to be said that once again Russell Martin got his team selection wrong.

In the last four games Russell Martin has rotated his squad, but to be blunt he has made the wrong selections for the wrong games and this was the case for the visit of Millwall to St Mary's.

Bearing in mind that we were playing Millwall who arrived in Southampton facing the prospect of dropping into the bottom 3, his tinkering didn't make sense, at the back he dropped Ryan Manning, who for all his faults is an attacking full back and brought in Jack Stephens who is very much a defender.

But perhaps the most bizarre decision was to drop top scorer and perhaps just as importantly top assist provider Adam Armstrong, this was a game that we needed to get back on track and keep on the shirt tails of Leeds who had beaten Leicester the previous evening.

But this was not about playing our best team, the team that had gone so long unbeaten and knew what it was doing, it was about trying to be too clever, the formation although on paper looking 4-3-3, actually was more 3-4-3 and late in the second half when we were pushing for an equaliser was 2-5-3 and had no real organisation to the play, other than all charge forward.

The game started well until the 5th minute when Gavin Bazunu came for a cross, he really should have got it, but it was a Millwall head that got to the ball first and we were 1-0 down.

The visitors then got stuck in and I mean stuck in, for 20 minutes or so they kicked us off the park, Ryan Fraser was a particular target and after numerous fouls on the Wee Man, he was forced off through injury on 19 minutes, Millwall continued where they had left off on his replacement Edozie with the referee failing to control it.

There was no need to panic and we equalised with a fine glancing header from Che Adams on 34 minutes, surely this would be the catalyst for the comeback, wrong Millwall took the lead again a minute before the break, from the stands it did not look a penalty, from TV replays it was one that you scream for if you are the attacking side and feel is harsh if you are the defenders, so can't really argue with it.

So surely the second half would be better, in terms of possession it was, we had 81% in the entire game, Millwall parked the bus and went on the break, the problem was that we had no organisation and no leadership and in the last 20 minutes we had thrown on virtually every attacking option, but as I have mentioned we were no longer a disciplined organised side, we were a disorganised rabble, with no pattern to our play other than charge forward and with Jack Stephens often sat in midfield leaving just two at the back.

Adam Armstrong had come on at the hour mark, but like Adams whom he replaced, he was starved of the ball, and when he got it often found that with virtually 17 of the 20 outfield players camped in the final third of the Millwall half, there was no space or room to create chances.

Joe Rothwell should have scored with 20 minutes remaining, but fired straight at the keeper, if that had gone in then perhaps the game would have taken a different turn, on level terms we would not have thrown everything at Millwall, but stayed disciplined and perhaps got a winner.

Just about the only clear Saints chance after came in the dying minutes when Adam Armstrong powered his header into the bottom corner, but the keeper somehow got a hand to it and kept it out.

It was not to be Saints day, but we were architects of our own downfall, in truth other teams have now worked us out, but that should not have been a problem, what is the problem is that we are constantly changing the side in key positions and at the wrong time.

As I have said why is arguably one of the best players of the season in Adam Armstrong dropped and that coming after being substituted in the previous game when we were 2-0 down and chasing the game.

It seems to me that David Brooks and Joe Rothwell agreed to come as they weren't getting game time at Bournemouth and we are obliged to give it to them here and then there is Russell Martin's tendency to play Jack Stephens whenever the chance arises, I am not blaming Jack for this defeat, but we did not need an extra central defender in this game, even if the intention was to play 3-4-3.

Shea Charles stayed on the bench when he would have been far better coming on for Stephens as he would have offered pace, aerial power and strength.

As I have always maintained Russell Martin is learning on the job, it his hard to criticise him too much in terms of the fact that he has led us to a record breaking unbeaten run and that although the last week or so has been a disaster, we are still a nailed on play off spot place.

But he has to turn things around again, he has to show leadership off the pitch and find someone to do that job on it.

It is no coincidence that our bad run has coincided with the injury to Flynn Downes, we have missed him badly, he is essential to the way we play and when he is not there we lose our shape.

We need a leader on the pitch, there is no natural captain in the squad, Adam Armstrong has mainly been the Captain, but in truth having a forward as a captain is not a good thing, Jack Stephens is Captain when he plays, but to be blunt, he is not a first choice player, a Captain need to be respected firstly as a player and then as a leader, it cannot be a player who is not a first team regular.

The team were quite rightly booed off, but the issue is not with the players themselves, but the fact that the wrong teams have been selected over the past few games, it is a managerial issue, you cannot just stick 11 players on the pitch and then make 5 changes, ie half your outfield line up and keep shape, not unless you have that Captain on the pitch to hold that shape in place.

Russell Martin had done brilliantly this season for Southampton, it is hard to pick fault with him given the job he has done, but now he has to take stock of the situation and as he did back in September, get the squad into a solid unit again, keep that shape and make sure that the players know the position they are playing and the job they have to do and not make changes for changes sake.

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davidargyll added 10:35 - Feb 26
Headlines in the Echo said that Neil Harris had studied the way we played against Gillingham (when he was manager there) and got his now Millwall team to play accordingly.

Meanwhile Russell Martin said after the game that the reason we lost was because we gave away two crap goals.

Whoever is right, Millwall played with great purpose, suggesting they were a damn sight better prepared for the game than we were, ie “know your opponent” was key. Indeed on one occasion they (Millwall) were able to get five - yes five! - players forward to our two defenders (but still did somehow contrive to make a mess of it). But did such a thought (of studying how Millwall play) even cross RM’s mind? Well given the way we played - “stick to the system” - I would say that, if he did, then it was cursory at most, because we seemed to continue our one-dimensional style throughout the match and to little avail, the relative positions of the two teams suggesting massive overconfidence on his and/or the players’ part.

We read about what an incredibly talented squad we have. The fact remains that, from now on, if he doesn’t start plotting every game more carefully, and most of the players (with a few honorary exceptions) don’t try one helluva harder for the full 90 minutes, then our quality will not prevent us from sliding down the slippery slope, because every opposing team has got us well worked out.

As it is I sensed a certain air of resignation, if not exactly desperation, after each goal creeping in to the team on Saturday. Hopefully RM isn’t a one-trick pony but he’s got to start showing us evidence to the contrary and pdq. I’m not losing faith yet but, if he doesn’t, like Private Fraser said, “WE’RE DOOMED!”

halftimeorange added 10:48 - Feb 26
The Russell Martin system plainly has ceased to work and Russell faces the same fate if things continue in the current vein. I venture that our players, with a couple of exceptions are either not capable of maintaining this retention game or do not possess the foresight to change when the situation demands. As boring as Saturday's performance was, if only the forward runs made by Joe Aribo, Che Adams or Adam Armstrong had been recognised with a through ball over the top instead of passing sideways and backwards, we might well have capitalised. As it was, the only time Stuart Armstrong did execute such a move, Che Adams ran through to be on the end of it. Millwall frankly created nothing, we did it for them. Although Gavin Bazunu has much about his game to applaud, his propensity for letting in soft goals cannot be allowed to continue if we want a play-off place. Oh, and all our corners lead to nothing. Where are the variations?

Centurion added 11:12 - Feb 26
TBH if we get into the play offs I will be more than pleased. This was what I hoped for at the start of the season , but I was also realistic about our chances. RM is still learning and I think he has the capacity to achieve.
If we fail to make the Premier League then so be it.
I said at the start of the season that we need to build over two or even three seasons, the best place to do that IMO is in the Championship.

JoeEgg added 11:19 - Feb 26
I believe RM will be given at least the rest of the season to prove his worth. I have never enjoyed his tippy tappy, possession based style of football but as you say, it produced an outstanding run of results for which the manager must be given some credit . However we have some talented and promising players who still lack organisation and leadership both on and off the pitch. So with the likes of Steve Cooper and Graham Potter around with no jobs, if it were my decision, I would replace Martin with immediate effect!
Leeds and Leicester look a class above us and dont mess about worrying about 80% possession statistics. You say RM has done brilliantly this season. I say he has done well and been more than a little lucky on many occasions to retain his reputation. I dont think he will change his approach or tactics. He will still insist that all his players are 'brilliant' but still leave them curious as to why he hasn't found his 'best' line up by now. Its the play-offs at best now, and these will test to the full the our players and manager and will serve as the most realistic and relevant evaluation of RM's achievement this season!

Centurion added 11:34 - Feb 26
Hi Joe Egg, I think chopping and changing manager will get us nowhere.
We live in an age of instant gratification and patience is a quality that is often overlooked.
As I said, let RM have time, at least three seasons to build his team.

JoeEgg added 11:47 - Feb 26
Hi Centurion. i respect your view on RM and probably many others would say the same as you I dont think he will change his approach to the game and I'm just saying he's not my kind of manager and I dont believe he will ever get the best out of our players! As for patience - I dont think the word exists any more in todays football world!!

saintmark1976 added 11:51 - Feb 26
Get a grip everyone all is not lost. Yes, we have suffered three defeats out of the last four games but we are still 15 points ahead of the seventh placed team with just 12 games to play.

Automatic promotion now looks unlikely and this may be a blessing in disguise. It may give Martin a breathing space to come up with an alternative way of playing, rather than attempting to chase Leeds and Leicester’s coat tails using his now discredited tippy tappy system.

A minimum of 12 points from the remaining 12 fixtures will almost certainly see us in the Playoffs.

With a revised playing system together with the quality of our current squad, I would back us to beat any of the current playoff contenders over three games.


IanRC added 12:05 - Feb 26
When will he give Sulemana a proper chance. Saturday was a perfect time to put him on when Ryan Fraser was injured but instead he put on Sam Edozie, who will be a great player in time but is too lightweight for a very over physical Milwall side. When he did eventually cam on for his usual too late 20 minute cameo he was our most incisive player (including the cross for Armstrong's header) but Martin refuses to learn from his mistakes. Incidentally I seem to remember Bertrand being given a straight red against Leicester for a less dangerous challenge than the one on Fraser. Symptomatic of a truly appalling referee as it turned out letting Milwall get away with murder, awarding them a soft penalty and refusing us perfectly warranted free kicks / penalty.

Really hope Ryan Fraser's injury is not too serious although the omens are not good and that Flynn Downes is back soon as promotion is slipping away fast. Even assuming we make the play offs if we continue to misfire as we are doing presently we will not win through those.

Come on Martin get a grip and come on owners keep tabs on Potter as if this goes on, despite the winning run, Martin will have demonstrated he is just not up to it.


Jesus_02 added 12:52 - Feb 26
Just play the best team we have available - sorry Jack

Block8 added 13:07 - Feb 26
Ironically Jack was actually one of the best players on Saturday. Both defensively and offensively?

onetowatch added 13:28 - Feb 26
Saintmark, I admire your confidence of Saints prospects against other play off contenders, but that includes Hull currently - who completely outplayed us this week....

bryanK added 13:39 - Feb 26
I like all fans love to see our team do well, regardless of how they play and from time to time playing ugly to get the right result. I am really please with the great run we had been on and give the players credit for this.
As you may suspect there is a but coming. Why do I find I am totally bored in the style of play Russell Martin insists on playing. There is no real creative play and apart from Walker-Peters there is no excitement generated. I can look away from the game and find the predictable play insisted by the Manager takes us no further forward. Sideways, backwards,forward, backwards it goes on.
Millwall were a poor side and our lack of creative play is finding us out. Team selection is an issue but we should(on paper) have enough to beat teams like this.

redwight added 13:55 - Feb 26
Plenty of teams play a possession based game now - indeed the suggestion is that teams that don't are stuck in the dark ages, but no one ever said it had to be ponderous. Arsenal, to pick just one example out of many, are fluid and fast paced. They see no need to pass endlessly along the back line, allowing the opposition to get as well organised as they could possibly be, before venturing forward. In addition, whatever the sport, if you do the unexpected, the opposition can often be caught off guard. So yes, why not give the 'keeper licence to kick it long once in a while. There is nothing to be gained from being predictable and that, on Saturday, is exactly what we were.

Farlow added 14:07 - Feb 26
Ther are a lot of outstanding Keepers on the championship,unfortunately Bazunu is not at that level yet.Surely he should have punched the cross instead of trying to catch it.I think RM was right to rest A.A rmstrong to freshen him up.I agree with IanRC
Sulemana needs to start before his injury he was our stand out attacker.

derbydog added 14:35 - Feb 26
I think this selection, not risking Downes and resting Adam A in particular, may have had one eye on the Liverpool game. That would have been fine had we actually won the Millwall game.

ronniedavies added 14:40 - Feb 26
Shooting on site would help instead of trying to pass it into the net.
This needs to be coached by RM and would at least give us a chance of scoring by deflection or accidental handball as was the case on Saturday with Millwall’s goal and with Leeds Archie Gray.

Boris1977 added 18:46 - Feb 26
As mentioned before we've got a decent squad but an average one speed manager. Swansea and MK Dons is his level. During the unbeaten run we rode our luck in several games and could have lost the game due to RMs over self confidence.

There have been several voices on this forum who have never warmed to RM as his one way of playing is high risk. When it works fine but when it doesn't and opposition don't let us play that way we're stumped.

RM has done a great job in creating a united squad in a pretty quick timeframe. He's also incredibly young (38) so is essentially servicing a managerial apprenticeship. I can understand the call to replace him with a more experienced manager but this squad isn't good enough to survive in the top flight so I think it's worth keeping him into next season and give him time to prove the likes of me wrong.

Will he change and adapt possibly - if his methods ultimately don't achieve his idea of success then he'd be a fool not to change and his time in the game will come to an end quickly.

He of course hasn't been helped by injuries, particularly to Flynn, but ultimately he has to get the big calls right 95% of the time at least. Also as others have said we need a few players who don't mind sticking the boot in when necessary.


Boris1977 added 18:48 - Feb 26
The Swansea game is the one I'm talking about in the post above.

saintmark1976 added 20:23 - Feb 26
onetowatch, hopefully by the time of the playoffs Martin will have had a chance to revise the style of play which caused us to lose to Hull. If not, I agree that the playoffs may well be a problem.

At least now the 15 point cushion gives him an opportunity to try something different. Should he choose not to, he will only have himself to blame.

SanMarco added 22:56 - Feb 26
The point with RM is that he is (proudly) a one-trick-pony. Opposing sides are now asking him some questions and he now needs to earn his money by showing us that his one-trick can turn results around.

I find the tippy-tappy tedious. I like football with pace and energy. Those are actually the two things we have been missing lately - along with accurate passing, which, let's face it is essential for the RM style.

It would be absurd to start Martin Out campaigns now. We are still doing pretty well. If we miserably fail in the play-offs he will have some questions to answer but that's all for later.

Like one or two others I do wonder if minds have been on Liverpool...

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