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What Brought About Russell Martin U Turns Against Preston
Wednesday, 17th Apr 2024 12:54

For the last two months Southampton manager Russell Martin has doggedly pursued a selection policy that tore apart the foundations of a team that had gone 22 League games unbeaten, but against Preston he suddenly had an unexpected change of strategy.

In recent weeks both Jan Bednarek, Shea Charles & Ryan Manning had found themselves out of favour with Russell Martin, in fact only a week of so ago against Blackburn Shea Charles found he couldn't even make the bench and again he was missing against Watford on Saturday and against Coventry Ryan Manning too found himself watching from the stands after a month of being an unused sub.

Most Southampton supporters had grown accustomed to the fact that however much he shuffled his squad, one player was now seemingly a permanent fixture in the starting XI, he even had a position created especially for him by the manager, the Left back/central midfield hybrid role.

This was a revolutionary role, perhaps the most dramatic tactical role to be created since the "Rush Goalie" rule was invented on a park somewhere by some schoolboys in about 1910.

Spies from Staplewood had reported that Russell Martin also had a prototype Left back/Centre forward hybrid at the planning stage .

So the team news at 7pm had a big shock, first Captain Jack was on the bench, secondly Ryan Manning was back in the team thirdly so was Jan Bednarek and thirdly Shea Charles was back in the squad.

This all came as a bit of a shock to some Saints supporters and undoubtably some were in such a state they could not bring themselves to even attend the game, surely this would be the night our promotion hopes at least automatically ended.

But there was to be a further shock, Gavin Bazunu was mysteriously missing from the line up when the teams took to the pitch, he had definitely been in the team list put up on various social media platforms and indeed Sky Sports pre match, but where was he now.

But if this was a shock then came a bigger one, the man now in goal wasn't deputy Joe Lumley who has been an ever present on the bench since back in November, but Alex McCarthy who has been out of the picture almost completely since his one previous appearance this season over 8 months ago in the EFL Cup against Gillingham on 8th August.

It had been assumed that McCarthy had made his last appearance for the club.

This must have been a big kick in the teeth for Lumley who would have expected as the named goalkeeping substitute to be now in the starting line up.

But all joking aside. Russell Martin had a very big change of direction on Tuesday evening, before this game he was ploughing a path that seemed baffling to many Saints supporters, in the case of Bednarek & Manning they must have both wondered what the manager was up to and the way they had been axed, Alex McCarthy too, he was third choice now and seeing out his contract, even Shea Charles whose only appearance in the past 2 months had been 6 minutes against Coventry sandwiched between two games he didn't even make the bench, yet here he was being brought on at half time ahead of several other regular contenders for the midfield including Joe Rothwell & Will Smallbone.

So Russell Martin's actions are strange to say the least, are they the action of a man who has finally seen the light at why Saints form over the past two months has been so patchy or are they the actions of a man who has lost the plot completely.

Certainly this turn round has been so quick that it is hard to give a definitive answer and to be honest the game against Preston on the pitch gave no clues other than all the players mentioned came back in and did a sterling job.

Our back four again looked solid and commanding and gone was the pedestrian possession football where we would not go forward but always sideways and back whatever the situation.

In fairness that could be because Preston were poor, partly because we made them look so, but once the 3rd went in they were a spent force content to make sure it was not a complete rout.

Maybe it was because we knew that Alex McCarthy wasn't a great player with his feet and that meant a change of tactics to accommodate that, it could be said that Lumley is good with his feet so we could have played him and played the same way.

So was our big tactical turnaround where we didn't muck about with the ball at the back and were more forward looking, all about Russell Martin suddenly realising what the issue was or just down to Preston being poor, possibly a combination of both to some degree.

So the big question now is what Russell Martin does on Saturday, will he keep McCarthy or will he play Lumley given that it now looks like Gavin Bazunu will be out for the season, will he stick with both Bednarek & Manning in the back four or will our Captain return ?

Will Shea Charles after showing against both Coventry & Preston that he is a player who can do a job and a good one at that in the centre of the park keep his place on the bench at least.

All this and more will be answered at 2pm on Saturday in Cardiff.

Photo: Action Images

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131153 added 13:15 - Apr 17
Can't say it appears as above, I think for better or worse RM has stated it is a squad game all along and that for better or worse is how he has run the team. Seems to me he is running things like Pep.

Colburn added 13:28 - Apr 17
It must have been your constant abuse of Captain Jack.. where would we be without you.
Again you show how deluded you are by thinking you speak for most saints fans. Most saints fans don’t constantly slate our captain or manager, skates do.. good work agent skate..
As stated, it’s a squad game which is why we have most players fit and relatively fresh, hitting our straps at the right time of the season.
We’ve had an amazing season and you still spend all your time questioning the manager. Have you thought for a moment that perhaps you are wrong? Clearly not!

Flamingbankers added 13:55 - Apr 17
Occasionally, and by a lot of it is by luck or being forced into it, Martin finds the right combinations. Last night was one of those nights. So if Martin's got any sense whatsoever, he'll start with the same team but swopping Lumley for McCarthy. Pick the best team possible and make changes from the bench when necessary not from the starting line-up. Credit to Manning for his last two performances but then again he is a left back.

SaintEPW added 13:56 - Apr 17
Its not a U - Turn - Its just managing a squad - Which he has been doing since he took over. Managing a squad requires that you change things - Four factors seem important when you think of the Changes that RM has to make over a season :

# of Games - 1st Team Squad has to be able to play more than 54 hard physical games in something over 36 weeks - plus you will get injuries. It is essential that the squad is maximised and you have to work out not just your so called " best team " - you must have " multiple best teams " - Rotation is a fact of life - and this is not easy - because no player is a clone of another player - so when you rotate you must accept that players will play differently.

# 2 Building the System of Play - Each manager evolves their system of play - and all the squad needs to learn it together. That takes immense effort and time. The system also evolves and changes as the Manager learns about the players- the opposition - and what works and what does not. This also takes time and requires change - or " tinkering" as some folks call it. Some folks may dislike the current system of play yet it has produced the longest ever run in Saints History - not bad. It is also recognised in Europe even if we don't like the style of play. Brighton FC certainly also like what RM is doing- because he is creating a system of play.

# 3 The squad make up in the summer and early part of the season was not clear - and the club was in disarray for a host of reasons associated with relegation and prior season decisions. He has radically changed that. The squad are committed and together. Great achievement. That would not be possible if they did not buy into the changes being made.

# 4 The Manager needs more than One Season to make all this work. Arteta is a good example - he has been given time and he is getting results. He joined Arsenal in 2019 as Manager - they were 8th for two years - then 5th - you could argue that it was not until last year - when they came 2nd that he is delivering - that has taken 4 years. Ferguson joined Man Utd in 1986 - and did not win League until 1992 - six years- and it took him 4 years to win the FA Cup.

SaintPaulVW added 14:03 - Apr 17
Personally I think Bazunu getting injured had a lot to do with it. Wanted an experienced keeper, so McCarthy over Lumley. Then a settled defence in front so the famous 5 get reassembled.

The disadvantage of McCarthy is as we saw last night, he's not great with his feet. That means that there is going to be less playing around at the back.

Shea Charles looked great last night. Just hope he gets to alternate with Flynn.

McCarthy was a pretty good keeper for us, until his near post disasters crept in. Bazunu's inexperience seems to give up the odd goal through poor positioning, wrong choices etc So McCarthy doesn't have to be perfect to be a good enough replacement.

Bowlercow added 14:45 - Apr 17
The whole team performed well against Preston who must be a candidate for the worst team to visit SMS this season We now need to win at Cardiff and hope that 2 of the top 3 drop points in the next round of games

saintmark1976 added 16:55 - Apr 17
Come on Colburn give Nick a break. He doesn’t really mean it, he just needs a hate figure every season to up the site’s click bate.

At the moment it’s Jack, next season rumour has it that The Saints Band are in his sights.

HythePeer added 18:17 - Apr 17
I think Jack Stephens should go in goal.

FrankSaint added 18:37 - Apr 17
Thank you SaintEPW for reminding us what's involved. Could i add a fifth point? The fifth one is that the other clubs are all scouting us every week picking at individual and team weaknesses. And those other teams arrange their tactics accordingly. We then have to evolve again to cope.

SaintEPW added 18:53 - Apr 17
Very good point FrankSaint - So oppo have worked out that the only way for them to respond when they eventually get the ball back ( which for Preston was not much ) - is to break super fast and in some numbers.

So RM has had to work out how to counter that - which did work in some games - and did not in others.

He does recently seem to have got greater intensity in the team when we lose the ball and when we tackle - and - echoing Nick here- he has changed to slightly more secure defensive system when ball is lost

But that does not represent a U - Turn - in my opinion

LordDZLucan added 09:26 - Apr 18
When I heard that Jack Stephens wasn't playing against Preston my immediate reaction was 'Oh no, who's Nick going to blame when it all goes wrong'. But then, whilst having a leisurely pint in the Gasworks before the game I saw on the tv screen what looked like Alex McCarthy warming up. No, it couldn't be. A quick check on the phone confirmed that Gavin Bazunu had been injured in the warm up and Alex McCarthy was in the side. I breathed a sigh of relief as Nick had a ready made replacement scapegoat.

onetowatch added 10:01 - Apr 18
I do think that a lot of comments above are misguided, 'managing a squad', 'it's a squad game' etc....that is no excuse for playing players out of position when we have perfectly good options in that position, or, giving such little pitch time to players that are better alternatives - Shea Charles is a shining example of that!!!
From Tuesday of last week, we have literally 7 'çup finals' to play, and win, to even have a chance of automatically going up......we've successfully come through 3 of them,with a certain amount of luck at times involved, but we've done, am I allowed to suggest, no tinkering where not necessary, no rotation, just start with your strongest 11 in each of the remaining games, and be smart with your subs as needed....

SaintEPW added 11:59 - Apr 18
Agree with analysis ref 7 Cup Finals onetowatch - however 1st 6 games are across 32 days. You simply cannot just pick the " best 11 " and be smart with subs - That is simply not a strategy that can realistically work.

The players cannot cope with that level of mental and physical intensity. RM will be measuring the physical states of the players ( we do not get that info ) - we do already know that Downes is feeling the physical pressure; that Armstrong cannot cope with heavy game schedules; that goal-keeper who can play with his feet on the ball is now out of action; that Adam Armstrong was very tired v Blackburn and did not play as he usually does; that two of the games are with the Top teams in our league also going for it.

So he has to manage and tinker - and work out how the play has to change as he must bring enough players on to cope - including Stephens

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