The Championship – Saturday 8th December 2007
It is just after 1pm, and we have just arrived at the ever-welcoming Chapel Arms pub on Albert Road North. Drenched despite only a brief walk from the carpark by tha banks of the white-topped Solent as the rain that has fallen since just north of Mansfield teems relentlessly down, we place wet outer clothing close to a radiator and warm ourselves with a pint – only to hear the barman gravely inform us that a pitch inspection is due at 2.30pm, and glumly we contemplate the prospect of a wasted journey to the South Coast.
Whether this inspection actually took place as the rains finally eased we are yet to discover – that our journey was wasted anyway is beyond question. For as our craven capitulation enabled Southampton’s fourth to fly in and Hull seemed about a billion miles away, suddenly the idea of travelling all the way to Hampshire without having to watch City play seemed positively wonderful.
On a wet – did I mention it was wet? – and windy afternoon at St Mary’s, Phil Brown made several elementary mistakes of varying predictability with his team selection, sending us out aligned in a 4-4-2 formation staffed thus: Myhill; Ricketts, TurnerBrown, Delaney; Okocha, Ashbee, Marney, Hughes; Windass, Folan. It meant the luckless Richard Garcia was relegated to the bench, where the equally unfortunate David Livermore accompanied him alongside Matt Duke, Andy Dawson and Stephen McPhee.
City began attacking the hardy band of loyal who’d defied the rain, cost and memories of Preston to make a 500 mile round trip to the South Coast – and as per Tuesday night, there was little indication of the horrors that were to follow as City made a decent opening. Indeed, we should have led after just ten minutes when Sam Ricketts send a deep cross in from the right that saw Dean Windass evade his markers, but he sent his low header wastefully wide. A superb chance; a poor miss.
It was a not a particularly good match, perhaps unsurprisingly given the unwelcoming conditions. The lively Skacel then had a chance for Southampton, attacking the unusually empty home end, but his attempted chip floated wide. Back came City, and a free header from a corner was headed over by Delaney – another great opportunity missed, and we really should have led a fairly even match at this point.
Sam Ricketts found himself cautioned for a challenge whose clumsy nature owed as much to the sodden turf as any lack of technique on his part, but referee Mike Thorpe opted to flash his yellow card. Not that what was to follow can in any way be attributed to Mr Thorpe, who kept the match ticking over adeptly in trying circumstances. For with our initial burst spent and Southampton looking more controlled in possession, we were forced onto the back foot and were grateful to Boaz Myhill for a flying save that denied Andrew Surman’s great shot from 25 yards, and increasingly the action was taking place at the far end of the pitch.
However, as the interval approach and we looked to have taken a reasonable parity into the break, calamity struck when Damien Delaney wandered out of position (as centre-backs at left-back are wont to do) and Hammill sent in a perfect cross for the mostly unattended Bradley Wright-Phillips to bash home a firm header. Two pieces of skill from Southampton, let us not disregard this – but an easily preventable goal and it was wretched defending from City. We trooped off at the break, heads down.
Why were heads down? Why was losing 1-0, arguably undeservedly, against a team we started the day above in the table apparently a situation beyond repair? For pity’s sake, the last time we found ourselves losing here we were playing a much better Southampton side and we were considerably weaker ourselves, yet Kevin Ellison, the ultimate Third Division trier, salvaged a point. Sadly his attitude was nowhere to be seen, and the second half was as dismal affair as we shall see all season.
Andy Dawson replaced Michael Turner at the break – our player of the season to date had not appeared to be struggling with injury, but nonetheless on came Dawson to replace Delaney, the Irishman slotting in at centre-back with Wayne Brown.
Southampton, unfortunately now kicking towards us, nearly scored a minute into the second half when Andy Davies’ header flashed a fraction wide. However, despite the pattern of play being decisively against us City had a very good claim for a penalty when Windass was pushed in the back in the area attempting to bring down a high ball. Difficult to tell for certain from over a hundred yards away – it definitely looked a foul, although it is just a week since we were given a very generous penalty ourselves at the Circle. Mr Thorpe was generally content to let things go, perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised that he turned down Deano’s impassioned entreaties.
Moments later, we trailed 0-2. Hammill was once again given far too much space out wide, and he crossed for Stern John to barge past Delaney to power home a header past Myhill. For fuck’s sake City, had the lessons of earlier in the game not been learned at all?
The game was over now, and many longingly eyed the exits as we completely collapsed, permitting Southampton to look like Real Madrid. The excellent Hammill had a go next, bringing a good save out of Myhill.
The hopeless Okocha was withdrawn for McPhee. One of his first actions was to put the ball in Southampton’s goal, although this was disallowed for offside – a close call, but the flag had clearly been raised well before he shot.
Euell came close for Southampton as the game became a total rout, missing a great chance with his head. Marney sent a volley fizzing narrowly over, his final non-contribution before being brought off in favour of Richard Garcia.
Southampton made it 0-3 with quarter of an hour remaining, Stern John’s shot taking a massive deflection and spinning past the helpless Myhill and into his bottom-left corner.
Incidentally, Southampton play music after a goal. That they engage in this witless American practice and still were not the biggest embarrassment on show may hint at the depths we were plumbing. Minutes later, it was 0-4.
Your humble correspondent missed it, having sagely deduced that a fightback was somewhat unlikely to occur after the third went in, and trudged onto the paddling pool that doubled as a concourse for a piss and to see if the bar was still open, though I understand it was a fantastic volley and the goal of the game. Meh, whatever.
Southampton had more chances to make it 0-5 before Mr Thorpe thoughtfully brought the agony to and end – the City players slunk off to a less than pretty reaction from those who’d stayed to the bitterest of ends.
Total miles travelled: 748
Total expenditure: circa £175
Hours of my life wasted: 23
Points accumulated: 0
Goals scored: 0
Goals conceded: 7
That’s what I did my last few days, City. So thanks for that. Anyone who travelled to both Preston and Southampton will be must be wondering what the hell has happened to us. From a side with legitimate top-ten ambitions, we have collapsed into a total mess of a side.
Few of those responsible for this week can avoid blame. A previously tight defence has taken to dishing out gifts to all-comers. Dean Marney is tired, Ian Ashbee is good enough only for Championship football only in the minds of two people – unfortunately one of them being Phil Brown. Jay Jay Okocha is beginning to look horribly like the typical faded superstar looking for one last pay day. Up front, Windass looked every one of his 39 years, while Folan much to do to justify his colossal transfer fee and he is yet to begin this task.
And the manager? He is in charge, it is his job to train, select and motivate the side. We’re 14th, which is roughly in line with many pre-season hopes and expectations. So far, so good. No one should seriously imagine that he should not be allowed to build upon a generally promising first year in charge.
However, he has some serious sorting out to do if our recent spell in the top half is not to be the highlight of the season. Firstly, he needs to drop Ian Ashbee, if only to prove that this is actually permissible under international law, as legacy is in grave danger of being forever tarnished. He needs to decide whether Jay Jay Okocha can successfully play in a 4-4-2 formation, or whether he’s made a costly error. He should give Garcia the right-wing slot. He needs to sign a left-back, urgently.
Most of the basic ingredients are there. The manager is a good one and much of what he is trying to achieve is eminently praiseworthy. Unfortunately this attempt at reason and logic is battling with the memories of two successive surrenders on the road. Losing games is one thing, and we can all accept it happens. Giving them up is totally unforgiveable, yet it’s happened twice in a row now. Those responsible should be ashamed of themselves. (AD)