4:50pm Monday 6th September 2010
By Adam Leitch
Things never stay the same for all that long in football.
One moment you’re a hero, the next a villain.
One minute you’re on top of the world, the next picking yourself off the floor.
One day you feel you can take on the world, the next you can barely imagine how things will ever get any better.
If you need a perfect example, look at Saints.
Take the long term picture first – wind back seven or eight years and you would never have dreamed the club would be playing Rochdale in a league fixture, let alone losing 2-0 to them at St Mary’s.
The fall from grace is underlined by the fact the Rochdale chairman did media interviews in the tunnel after the game, such was the almost unbelievable nature of his club’s victory.
In the medium term, who would have believed around 15 months ago that the club would be saved from extinction by a billionaire and given a fresh start?
Even when that became a reality, after an understandably ropy start to the season that saw the ten point deduction take an age to wipe out, who would have thought that Alan Pardew would guide Saints to one place outside the play-offs and some silverware at Wembley?
In the shorter term, think back to just before the end of last season.
Optimism was as rife as it’s ever been.
The summer was a good chance to recharge the batteries for what most believed would be a rare treat at Saints – a promotion charge where a club, so divided over the past five or ten years, would be united and tasting success.
So wind on to now and you find a football club floundering.
First, fans were up in arms over season ticket prices and the scrapping of the instalment plan.
There has also been the hugely negative national media coverage as a result of a ban on photographers.
Then, just a few games into the season, Pardew is sacked and the team, within five days, is losing home games to Swindon and Rochdale by an aggregate of 5-0.
The trick in football is not to avoid problems along the way – that is impossible.
Instead, it’s to try and make as few self-inflicted mistakes as possible.
Sadly, the recent ones have been of that nature.
And as much as we keep hearing that it shouldn’t effect the team, it quite clearly has.
Not everything was perfect under Pardew, but to go from battering Bristol Rovers 4-0 away from home to two awful defeats is evidence so clear it’s a bit embarrassing to hear anybody suggest it hasn’t had an impact.
People can say footballers are professionals paid to do their job, no matter what the circumstances.
But instability doesn’t help, being knocked by sections of the media doesn’t help, being a victim of scorn in some parts of the football world doesn’t help.
But remember, it can all change so quickly.
When the new manager surely comes in this week, it could all switch around again.
The charge could be on, the gap – already appearing as it did last year, only this time not as a result of a points deduction – bridged in double quick time, and all the problems will be packed up in a box and put away.
But Saints need a swift appointment of a new manager.
And it has to be a good one – and somebody who has experience of this level and is a strong person, experienced, able to get a grip of the situation.
Saints were in clear need of such a person against Rochdale.
They were a bit rudderless, a bit listless, a bit lifeless.
Everything felt flat all around the ground, including on the pitch.
The pattern of the game was along the lines of so many others at St Mary’s – away team defends deep, is organised, doesn’t give much away.
Saints have lots of possession, especially across the back, and are set the challenge of breaking down their opponents.
They created a few chances and on another day the result could have been different.
But make no mistake, Rochdale deserved their win, as hard as it is to accept for everybody connected with Saints.
In the first half Saints saw David Connolly volley wide and Jason Puncheon force Josh Lillis into a good save.
But they were hit with a suckerpunch in first half injury time when they over-committed pushing forward and were caught by a swift counter attack.
Gary Jones carried the ball most of the length of the pitch before feeding it to his left wheree Chris O’Grady produced a low first time finish that went under Kelvin Davis.
The second period had a similar tempo – lots of Saints possession but a lack of cutting edge.
Morgan Schneiderlin fired wide before Puncheon somehow put a half volley from inside the six yard box over the bar.
After Arron Martin’s sliced clearance had fallen just past the far post of his own goal and Jose Fonte’s shot had deflected off of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and gone narrowly over, Rochdale bagged a second Some slack Saints play saw striker Anthony Elding receive the ball on the edge of the area, he laid it back into the path of Jones who unleashed an absolute screamer that flew past Davis diving to his right.
Inevitably, the chants for Pardew started up and the mood wasn’t helped by the substitution of Oxalde-Chamberlain who had played well.
The fans let their feelings be known but, to be fair to Dean Wilkins, he is only trying to do what he thinks is best.
This situation is not of his making.
Taking off Oxlade-Chamberlain seemed an odd decision, but would have been justified had the two systems Saints reverted to in the last 15 minutes not been such a disjointed mess.
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