Bad Weekend For: Saints’ sinning defence and pre-match handshakes

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A look across the English leagues for the Saturday and Sunday sufferers, with Simon Carter... 

Saints’ Sinning Defence
Fans of the Premier League have over the years been treated to some remarkable examples of what the momentum of promotion can do for teams tipped as relegation fodder. Ipswich Town’s fifth place finish in 2000/01 is perhaps the most striking example, but teams such as Portsmouth in 2004, Wigan Athletic two years later and Reading in 2007 have all enjoyed fine seasons following promotion from the Championship.

Unfortunately, the momentum that Southampton had built up over the past two years had little chance of carrying through into this season after the fixture computer dealt them a nightmarish start.

Decent showings against the Manchester clubs sandwiched a terrible performance at home to Wigan and, without a point to their name, it would have been far-fetched to expect anything better than a spirited defeat against Arsenal on Saturday.

But even that proved to be a wish too far, as Southampton crumbled in a shocking first half at the Emirates Stadium in which they conceded four goals, two of them scored by members of their own back four.

Although the talented Nathaniel Clyne’s own goal had a huge slice of misfortune, Jos Hooiveld, the Dutch defender who impressed as a goal getting centre-back for Saints last year, would have been expected to do far better with his clumsy effort. In fact he looked so flustered that he was taken off after just half an hour.

With 14 goals already conceded this season and the transfer window closed, Nigel Adkins clearly has some work to do on the training ground before his side welcome Aston Villa - who recorded their first win on Saturday - to St Mary’s next weekend.

The Championship Blues
Birmingham City’s League Cup win against Arsenal just over eighteen months ago, arguably the catalyst for that year’s relegation, must now seem like a memory almost as distant as their triumph in the same competition back in 1963.

After an adventurous 2011/12 which included highlights such as European football and a 6-0 thrashing of Millwall at The New Den and ended in the heartbreak of play-Off defeat, fans at St Andrews were hoping their side would go one or two steps further this season.

The disappointment of seeing the much-liked Chris Hughton depart for Norwich City over the summer was tempered by the arrival of promising young manager Lee Clark, who had more than impressed during his time at Huddersfield Town. However, five games in to his tenure, Birmingham find themselves at the lower end of the table with only one league win thus far.

After beating Peterborough just before the international break, the Blues looked to be on course to really kick start their season when cruising 2-0 away to Nottingham Forest on Saturday afternoon. before two goals in fifteen minutes meant they had to settle for a point. With their team dumped out of the League Cup by lower league opposition and adrift in the Championship, fans will be hoping that the rumoured take-over will happen sooner rather than later.

But fans of Ipswich would perhaps warn the Birmingham faithful to be careful what they wish for. Marcus Evans arrived at Portman Road back in 2007 with deep pockets and a five-year plan. The notoriously private Evans funded £8m worth of signings in his first three years but has since sanctioned almost nothing, with the £8.1m received for Connor Wickham nowhere to be seen.

With 15th, 13th and 15th placed finishes in the last three seasons, Saturday’s 2-0 defeat to Middlesbrough, which leaves Ipswich in the bottom three, will have done nothing to convince fans that The Tractor Boys are heading in the right direction.

The Pre-Match Handshake
The September issue of FourFourTwo included a feature on the sorry ritual of the pre match handshake, with calls from the likes of QPR manager Mark Hughes to put an end to the forced geniality.

Saturday saw the traditional (if you can call nine years a tradition) practice take another beating as QPR’s Anton Ferdinand refused the hand of both Chelsea captain, John Terry, and England’s Ashley Cole.

Whatever the rights or wrongs of Ferdinand’s decision, the truth is that the very presence of the customary shake brought tensions borne from last season’s fall-out and the summer’s court case back to the surface. It might be naïve to suggest that without the handshake the tension would not have existed but at least it wouldn’t have been highlighted in front of the watching world.

West Country Woes
It’s quite rare for a whole region to be struck by a general malaise, the legendary ‘grimness’ of the North notwithstanding, but Saturday saw a particularly black cloud form over the West Country.

In the Championship, Bristol City stood to earn a good point at home to Blackburn Rovers after twice coming from behind to sit level at 3-3 as the clock struck 90 minutes. Regrettably, that seemed to act as a signal for City to stop playing, allowing first Scott Dann, and then Jordan Rhodes to grab all three points to send Blackburn to the top of the league.

The West Country’s sole representatives in League One, Yeovil Town, only had enough fit players to name a squad of 17 so perhaps they’ll be able to take their 1-0 defeat to MK Dons squarely on their depleted chin. But Bristol Rovers of League Two have no such excuse for their full squad going down 4-0 to league leaders Gillingham in a match that was over at half time with the score already at 3-0.

The Devon sides, Torquay and Exeter, both failed to win with Torquay falling 1-0 to Rotherham and Exeter drawing 1-1 away to York to deliver at least the faintest ray of sunshine to West Country supporters.

The final dose of misery came from Plymouth Argyle, who somehow contrived to concede three goals in 12 minutes to turn a 1-0 half time lead into a 3-1 home defeat to Port Vale.

Now where’s that cider?

Manchester United Fans
There is no doubting the past seven days have been some of the most momentous in the history of English football, and Liverpool in particular. Some of the coverage of the findings of the Hillsborough Report, which investigated the circumstances which led to the disaster of April 1989, has been excellent and is well worth seeking out.

There is, at last, overwhelming hope that the families of the 96 who died that day may finally receive justice, and all of football united in their disgust at the cover ups which led to the truth of what happened being buried for 23 years.

On Friday, Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson used his pre-match press conference as a platform to implore fans of his club to once and for all put an end to tasteless chants about the disaster.

While some supporters claim it is tit-for-tat and that Liverpool fans regularly sing about the Munich disaster, the proximity to the report and the depth of feeling that came with it, and with United facing a trip to Liverpool next week, meant that this weekend was a particularly sensitive one.

If reports are to be believed a small section of the United support ignored Ferguson’s pleas and continued to sing songs alluding to the tragedy. While it has been asserted by the Manchester United Supporter’s Trust that the chants were about the Patrice Evra – Luis Suarez race row, the fact that the song in question refers to Liverpool fans as “victims” and that it’s “never [their] fault” meant that, at best, singing the song was a public relations disaster for the United support.

With United beginning to find form, it will be hoped that the supporters concentrate on singing songs about their own team in future.