This weekend is the third away trip in just over a month where we find ourselves travelling the length of the country to an away game at 4pm on a Sunday evening. This weekend will make it 2000 miles travelled in our last three away games for Sunday 4pm kick offs thanks to Sky TV scheduling. I know Rafa’s mags are a joy to watch but I just don’t see why we are being arsed about by Sky as much as we are at the moment (Ed: Cos we’ll not leave lots of nasty empty seats in the away end like 50% of other clubs in this league who would have to play at Southampton on Sunday night).
We haven’t played an away game on a Saturday yet. Man Utd on 18th November has been moved to 5.30pm so as it stands our first 3pm Saturday away game will be in December (assuming that our trip to Stamford Bridge on the 2nd doesn’t get moved). It seems that the powers that be don’t want Rafa to take last season’s away form into this one and will do everything they can to make things more difficult for us. The fans of course are being done as well. As it stands we are waiting with baited breath as to whether we’ll also be forced to travel to London on Xmas eve.
I like to think that in most cases the extra day to prepare actually gives us the advantage because it’s an extra day for Rafa to prepare tactically, however it sure must be more disruptive on the Away team overall to have to travel on a Sunday evening for these games nearly every week. The atmosphere in the away stand also suffers as the pool of people able to attend these sorts of games is significantly reduced.
Alas this is just a minor gripe that would have been more of an issue in seasons gone by with the likes of Pardew, McClaren, Carver. Back then, a 4pm Sunday trip to St Mary’s was an inevitable heavy defeat. It’s no longer the case as with Rafa we go into any game with a chance. Brighton and Huddersfield were poor performances and results but we were never out of those games and that bodes well.
There are several factors to look at here, the first of which is that, actually, Southampton are not as strong as they have been in recent years. In fact they have lost their last three home games. Our lads have been short of quality and goals away from home so far but if there was ever a time for us not to get hammered 4-0, this is it! As an aside, we’ve never lost by more than 2 goals under Rafa. He has instilled some pride and resilience into this side and we just don’t let heads drop and capitulate like we used to.
Rafa’s away form has of course been excellent at Newcastle but even better is his form in games following an international break. Last season we came back from Internationals and beat Derby away (2-0), Leeds away (2-0), Wigan home (2-1). The season before we were robbed by a handball goal at Norwich following Rafa’s first international break (2-3). The point here is that our performances on these occasions have been much improved and it is down to the fact that they are no longer treated as international ‘breaks’. Rafa and his team clearly spend the time getting more prepared for the upcoming fixture than the opposition.
As mentioned above, Southampton are much changed from when we last met them at St Mary’s just 18 months ago. Only 3 of the players in that side started their last home game against Man Utd, including old boy Fraiser Forster. They’ve only scored 5 goals so far this season, all from different players, so it is difficult to identify their main threat. If they start with Shane Long we know all about his pace, but with DeAndre Yedlin in defence, he can have a 5 yard head start for all I care!
As is always the case with Rafa, he will pick the players based on form, and match fitness. Both Atsu and Ritchie were pulled from their respective international squads for fitness concerns and were both described by Rafa as having played too much football. If neither is available on Sunday it’s a big blow but Jacob Murphy has been waiting patiently for his chance and this could be it. I have no idea if Rolando Aarons is fit. Sometimes I wonder if he even exists and I’ve just dreamt the handful of performances he’s put in…
We can all agree that another point here would be a good result and we know that even with a threadbare squad we can do it. I look forward to all games we play with this group of players because the heart and effort has been there since the Rafalution began.
SIMON CAMPBELL – FOLLOW SIMON here
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