31/10/2015: October 2015 Round-Up
October has been quite a positive month for Saints. We chalked up an impressive win at Chelsea, a credible draw at Liverpool and progressed in the cup. The Leicester game at St Mary's was the only real disappointment. Certain aspects of our play have improved considerably. Saints have been noticeably more threatening on the counter away from home recently, whereas previously we rarely utilised this tactic. Last season we scored six goals from set pieces all season. This term we already have five. Virgil van Dijk has been particularly useful when it comes to deal-ball situations. He looks like another excellent find.
As things stand Saints are 8th in the table. It's certainly a more than satisfactory position to be in, but I can't help but feel we could be doing even better. With Chelsea seemingly in crisis and Liverpool very much in a state of transition, there is an ideal opportunity for middle ranked clubs like us to push on. The standard at the top in the Premier League is not what it once was. Had Saints shown a bit more ambition in transfer market during the summer and had Koeman not made so many misjudgements early in the season, we could have easily been in the same position we were this time last year. There's certainly no reason why we shouldn't be doing at least as well if not better than West Ham and Leicester.
I attended the fans forum at St Mary's on October 19th. Previously an annual event, the Q & A session ceased after 2009. Some bemoaned its demise, but I'm not sure they're as important as some suggest. The only vaguely new information dispensed on this occasion was the stuff about a potential women's team. Les Reed said the club had plans to build towards having a Women's Super League side, starting by taking over the Hampshire County FA's centre of excellence. At the moment Saints are one of only two Premier League teams without a women's outfit. The previous team was axed after the men's side was relegated in 2005, but Saints have been on a sound financial footing for some time now, so this development is long overdue.
There were no other major revelations. Reed relayed details on how the recruitment process works among other things which he and others have already discussed extensively in many newspaper articles and on the clubs in house YouTube channel. Ralph Krueger talked vaguely about plans to build the Southampton brand abroad, but shutdown any talk of expanding the capacity of the stadium. Ronald Koeman wasn't asked any challenging questions.
I think a fans forum is a good idea in theory, but this one wasn't particularly worthwhile. While plenty of the questions were well meaning, some were kind of self-serving and irrelevant. At only one hour in length it wasn't nearly long enough to get enough questions in either. I feel there were plenty of relevant issues that weren't even touched upon, but could have been. The question I was planning to ask had I been given the opportunity was about the change of policy when it comes to loaning out young players. At the back end of the 2013/14 season Reed said academy products were better off staying at Staplewood in preparation for the first-team. That has obviously changed now, with several players out on loan at lower division clubs this season. Further to that I would question the role of the academy in the future, with the declining quality of youngsters coming through the scholarship programme over the last couple of years.
Krueger could have been asked to look into why we occasionally take a lower allocation of seats for away games, when we would be capable of selling more. Since promotion Saints have always opted to take only half the available allocation at Chelsea. We didn't quite sell out during the 2012/13 fixture - Nigel Adkins' last game in charge - but the three times since tickets have been snapped up very quickly. Other issues that could have been touched upon include changes to recruitment since Paul Mitchell's departure, the Toby Alderweireld transfer saga and Dani Osvaldo's disastrous stint at the club.
I was really pleased that Maya Yoshida got his goal on Wednesday. Some of the criticism he has received this season has been a tad harsh. Yes he did make an awful mistake against Manchester United, and was below par on other occasions, but that doesn't mean the valuable contributions he's made at St Mary's over the last three years should be forgotten. Yoshida was written off as a liability after the Man United match, with many declaring that the Japanese defender simply wasn't up to it. It's so frustrating that some fans seem to forget all the good work he does on a consistent basis the moment he screws up. Yoshida is technically sound and has a good grasp on positional sense. The good has more than outweighed the bad since he joined in August 2012. He proved against Aston Villa that it's a bit of a fallacy that he's out of his depth at full-back. Yoshida played there a few times last season too and did totally fine. Koeman at least a few weeks ago believed he was more reliable defensively than Cedric and Cuco Martina, and he's proved adept at the attacking side of the game too. In a squad full of dull players, Yoshida is one of the few who regularly displays some personality. He's a real asset for us and should be appreciated by everyone.
Lloyd Isgrove joined Barnsley on loan on 24th October. I'm not quite sure what the point in handing him a two-year contract extension in the summer was. Isgrove has impressed in pre-season in the past and in the occasional cup game, but at 22 he's almost certainly missed any chance of breaking through to the first team. He's further away than he was last season and indeed the season before. Isgrove wasn't even an automatic starter for the U21s before his move to Oakwell. He proved to be a capable Championship player last season at Sheffield Wednesday, but Les Reed and the rest of the Southampton hierarchy can't have seriously expected him to breakthrough this season, with so many other attacking players already fighting for places in the first team. Players at that age should only be kept on if they have a serious chance of making it, otherwise what's the point?
Sunderland are next up on the road. Nothing against their fans, but it would be nice if they finally got relegated this season. Sunderland is by far the worst away trip in the league. It's a long way to travel and we nearly always perform badly. The only time we played well at the Stadium of Light since promotion was the league game in 2013/14, and even then we blew a 2-0 lead and had two players injured. It would be nice to put one over on Sam Allardyce too. The myth put out by Allardyce that nobody could have done as well as he did at West Ham has already been dispelled, with Slaven Bilic achieving better results with more attractive football. During his first season at Upton Park Allardyce missed out on automatic promotion to Saints and Reading, despite possessing a budget far greater than either team. He did fairly well in his first season up, but the last two campaigns were disappointing. He did the very least required for all the resources he had at his disposal.