View from the Kingsland: Russell’s Rollercoaster

View from the Kingsland: Russell’s Rollercoaster

By Nick Mabey.

Am I the only one who thought the days of wild swings in emotion supporting Saints were over, at least for a while? Sure, it has been a turbulent summer in terms of players leaving and joining, but that was always going to be the case. Our new manager, Russell Martin calmly talked us all through that, and we set sail for a new season with settled ownership and leadership, good form and a restored sense of peace and hope among fans.  Well that didn’t last long. 

Three consecutive defeats is not the end of the world, it’s more the manner of them that has invoked the stomach-churning, fist-clenched rollercoaster. It started away to Sunderland where I sat confidently in front of my TV screen for all of 60 seconds before we conceded. When the second went in, six minutes later, I felt that first wave of nausea that a rollercoaster induces. Southampton had 69% possession in that match, which you would imagine is a good thing. The scary thing it implies is that Sunderland managed 18 shots and 5 goals with only 31% possession. Assuming the ball was in play for 70 minutes (high by modern standards), this means the Black Cats managed to shoot every one minute 12 seconds and score every four and a half minutes of possession they had. I would describe this as catastrophic defensively and thoroughly miserable to support.

Amazingly in our next match things managed to feel worse. Leicester at home. On a Friday night. Live on TV.  What could possibly go wrong? Plenty is the answer, and although the scoreline didn’t match the infamous 9-0, it could easily have done. Leicester scored four, missed three absolute sitters and our much-maligned keeper, Gavin Bazunu, made at least three excellent saves.  It was a surreal experience to be at St. Mary’s.  We managed to concede an even faster goal than at Sunderland and then proceed to play in the strangest formation I’ve ever seen.

Afterwards Russell Martin said Saints ‘went toe to toe’ with Leicester. That’s not what I witnessed, and his words were met with plenty of derision.  The surreal thing though was that in one respect his description was accurate.  In the second half the formation when Leicester had a goal kick was the oddest I’ve seen in football for a long time.  We were literally toe to toe.  They had six players around their penalty area attempting to receive a short pass, we had six players next to them attempting to stop them.  They had four players strung out along the halfway line, we had four players next to them.  Which meant there was a gap of 40 yards between defence and attack with no one in it.  This happened many times and turned the game into a form of foot-basketball. I wish I had taken a photo but was too traumatised.

The third instalment of this unholy trinity was a regulation 1-0 home defeat (it seems we save our spectacular losses for Sky cameras).  In this match Ipswich appeared to have no ambition or creativity right up to the moment we gifted them a goal, after which they looked like world beaters while we crumbled.  It says much about the power of the rollercoaster that I was grateful nothing worse happened.

I’ve written about Ralph’s Rollercoaster before, but I genuinely thought those days, and the madness of the Nathan Jones mini-era, were behind us. The appointment of Jason Wilcox (Director of Football) and Russell Martin, and his coaching team, seemed to signal a calming of the chaos, and the Championship offered a season of stability and potential success.  So far it’s not turned out that way, goodness only know what the next few weeks will bring.


Erratum:  In an earlier article I suggested the Championship marked a return to predominantly Saturday 3pm kick-offs, with no hype and pyrotechnics.  I’d like to apologise for this clear error. It seems this once ordinary league has been infected with some form of ‘Premier-itis’.  Only two of our seven games have been at the traditional time and, even worse to this grumpy old man, the pre-match build up for the Leicester game registered ten on the overhype scale.

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