Newly promoted Southampton brought optimistic Leeds United fans (like me) crashing back down to earth in a league opener Whites fans will quickly want to forget.

Things didn’t start too badly at St Mary’s with Michael Brown throwing his weight around in midfield and a snap-shot from Jonny Howson providing Leeds United fans with room for optimism after the opening exchanges.

But things soon went awry as Dean Hammond ran into acres of space before releasing a beautifully struck shot to the bottom left-hand corner. Lonergan dived the right way and wasn’t too far away from the save, but his view was undoubtedly blocked by Leeds’ back-line who made no attempt to close down the oncoming forward. By holding back, Leeds’ defence not only allowed Hammond plenty of time to carefully pick his shot, but they also provided him perfect cover from the pesky keeper who may otherwise have got in his way. 1-0, and things only got worse.

The Whites quickly decided the best way to level things was by hoofing the ball long to Ross McCormack who, being one of the smallest men on the pitch, somehow couldn’t win the aerial battles against 6ft tall defenders (strange that…) – you’d think this is something we’d realise quickly, but no, not Leeds United. After all, they’ve been doing the same thing to Max Gradel for two consecutive seasons and still exchange confused looks when he can’t pluck the ball from 10ft above his head. .

Rather unsurprisingly, this proved ineffective and Southampton grew in stature and confidence as Leeds crumbled and forgot how to work as a team.

It didn’t take long for the Saints to double their advantage as Adam Lallana managed to twist his way into an acute shooting angle to fire beyond Andy Lonergan – not the debut our new keeper was hoping for. 2-0 and you already sensed the game was over.

Half time came and went and Leeds United didn’t show any signs of improvement. Southampton meanwhile seemed to be going from strength to strength and within just 7 minutes of the second-half kicking off, they put the game totally out of reach with a beautifully worked passing move finished in some style by David Connolly. 3-0, game over.

At this point, the fans of some clubs would head for the exit and begin the 4-5 hour journey back north. But the Leeds United faithful are far too stubborn for that! Even if we weren’t going to win the match – and trust me, there was never any danger of that happening – we were still going to make ourselves heard and out-sing the Southampton fans. The one constant this club can rely on is the – often undeserved – die-hard supporters.

With nothing left to lose Grayson looked to the bench for a masterstroke that would get us back in the game, and to the complete bemusement of most fans decided Billy Paynter was the man for the job. “He’s been right before in this situation” we reasoned and decided he probably knew best.

He didn’t. But in fairness to Grayson, Paynter did have the best chance of the game when he was released one-on-one with the oncoming Saints keeper, only to be denied by what was admittedly a pretty good save. Still, you’d have fancied McCormack or any one of our midfielders to have buried it quite easily.

Ramon Nunez and Lloyd Sam followed and both looked a hell of a lot better than half the players we’d started the match with. You can’t help but think Ramon Nunez would be better alongside Ross McCormack than Jonny Howson is, and that Lloyd Sam looks in much better shape than Robert Snodgrass who I genuinely forgot was on the pitch.

Southampton continued to carve out the better chances with some excellent passing movements throughout the team and went close to adding a fourth when Richard Chaplow struck from range only to be denied by the post.

But it was Leeds who would have the final say when one of the Saints’ defenders was judged to have handled the ball in the area by the linesman to concede a penalty. Max Gradel, whose enthusiasm was one of the few positives you could take from this game, sent the keeper the wrong way to add a consolation goal for Leeds right at the death and keep us from the bottom of the table by virtue of goals scored.

Conclusions

Southampton are an excellent footballing side, in a similar mould to that of Norwich City. Comfortable on the ball, extremely well-organised at the back and able to forge concise, quick counter-attacks. Some of their passing moves throughout this game was more like watching Arsenal than a newly promoted side from League One.

However good Southampton may be, that does not excuse the result, nor does it detract from the truly woeful display Leeds United put on. Where the Saints had cohesion and composure, Leeds had panic and hoof-balls. You’d be at serious pains to choose a man of the match for Southampton because there were no individual performances – they won as a team. At no point during the course of the fixture did Leeds exhibit a similar togetherness and understanding.

When Southampton were in possession it was difficult to turn them over because every player was on the move creating options for the man on the ball. When Leeds were in possession our options were largely non-existent. No one was creating the same space for themselves and giving the man on the ball the same kind of options Saints had. It was so obvious for Southampton to read and nullify Leeds’ options that they could commit several players to Max Gradel every time he had the ball, knowing he had no one to release the ball to. When Leeds are at their best, our passing stretches the opposition creating the gaps we exploit and score goals from. We have so many attacking options when on the break that it’s impossible for the opposition defence to mark them all. Not once did we see that at St. Mary’s.

Moaning about referees is one of my pet-hates, but sometimes it’s hard to ignore how bad they are and this one undoubtedly affected the game. At some point over the summer it must have been decided that football is no longer a contact sport and that whenever two players brush against each other, a foul must be given against the team on the break.

For those that missed the game I really cannot put into words how bad this referee was. Inside St. Mary’s it was difficult to tell what he’d blown for and who he was giving the free-kick to 90% of the time. I assumed that watching it back on Sky Sports would give me some clarity, but even that didn’t help!

I expected Michael Brown and Patrick Kisnorbo’s tough tackling to be the difference this season, but if that was the standard of refereeing we can look forward to, we better start training with 10 men.

Very few positives, but Adam Clayton impressed me as did Ramon Nunez and Lloyd Sam. Ross McCormack also deserves a mention. He’s clearly an extremely talented striker slotted into a team built around and only suited to Luciano Becchio – that’s something we have to address quickly, because this kind of football does not work without him. As mentioned earlier, the fans were outstanding too. If the team performed half as well as the travelling support did, we’d have won 5-0.

Overall, I fear the more pessimistic fans may have been right all along. Maybe we did overreach last season. It’s only one game, and you have to remember that both ourselves and Norwich lost the opener last season but the one recurring thought as I watched the Whites crumble and heard the Leeds fans moan about Bates’ lack of investment was the £7m East Stand development being added to a ground we allegedly don’t own! “What the f**k is going on?” the Whites faithful asked. What the f**k indeed.

On and on…

   
Southampton 3 1 Leeds United
Dean Hammond Max Gradel (Pen)
Adam Lullana
David Connolly
St Marys’ Stadium (Att. 25,860)
Championship 2011-12, August 6th 2011

TSS on talkSPORT: Following the match yesterday I was contacted by Sam Matterface from talkSPORT to see if I’d be available to feature on a look back show. I’m due to go on air at some point between 4-6pm tonight (August 7th). I’ll add further details on Twitter and The Scratching Shed forums as I find out more. I suspect it’ll end up like a footballer’s post-match interview, heavy in the “erm…” and “at the end of the day…” department.

  • Ollie G

    I thought Clayton played poorly until Brown came off. He looked a much better player after that. I felt bad for Lonergan, and he actually tipped the Chaplow shot onto the post.

    Surely things can only get better…..

  • Chris Wright

    Pretty much spot on. The referee had a big impact on the game in my opinion – and was far from consistent, penalising Michael Brown apparently for breathing, yet ignoring two good penalty shouts before reluctantly awarding one in the last minute. That being said, we were very poor, Snodgrass may as well have stayed on the bus and both Connolly and O’Brien were woeful. Plus points? Clayton, Lonergren, O’Dea, all contributed.
    Minus points – Southampton appeared at times to be Man U in disguise – manager constantly in the ear of the fourth official, players surrounding the referee, going to ground way too easily. Shame, because their finishing was excellent.

  • Ray

    The worrying thing for me was the look of utter bewilderment on Simon graysons face, to me it looked like he didn’t have the answers and he possibly knows that with the shoe string budget he’s got to work on nothings going to change anytime soon. Fair play to Southampton they played as I wanted Leeds to play, it’s going to be a hard long season I think. Mot

    • Will23

      “Bewilderment” – that sums up SG perfectly.

  • mattbb1

    its not nice to be right sometimes.. but i just knew this was coming. We have a raft of free foregin trialists on the way, and this just sooo reminds me of peter reids final season.

  • number1inyorkshire

    referee was shocking as was the lino .never a pen for me .Clayton was easily our best player especially when brown went off . I bet Adkins has to watch it on DVD this morning he spent that much time chewing the ear of the 4th idiot .
    it was the 1st match of the season but it was the same old story ,we never looked like scoring , not ever poor ,Ross mccormack he is a decent player or was he is playing out of position he should be playing on the left cutting in ,max and snoddy were at best poor ,at this rate they will be glad to sign new deals with us cos noone else will want them , max needs to learn its a team game and pass more ,it might be me but i prefer SAM ???? i feel both gradel and snoddy have been found out now they were man marked out of the game it won,t get easier .

    midfield for what its worth £0 with brown and howson it just will not work ,brown was reckless alright not nasty but if the ref had been decent he would have been booked and should have been ,if only to try and curb him a bit . Howson was missing for the whole game ,CLAYTON WAS OUR M O M BY FAR .

    defence it was a groundhog day i liked Connolly last year i thought he got better as season progressed but he was poor yesterday the 2 in the middle were poor ,for a seasoned pro to get done like O'Brien did for the second goal was embarrassing kisnorbo didn't shine either and odea was no better than Parker or bessone lonegran made a couple of good saves and looked better equipped to manage his area so for me was blameless as far as letting 3 goals in goes .

    Simon grayson looked every bit like mcallister did that time ,puffing and blowing shaking his head talking to himself ,i am not saying he should go ,however he needs to have a look at his backroom staff they all need to be replaced before they all are including him .and his post match interview well ????.

    ANYONE connected with lufc who thinks that our team is better than last season is deluded that includes us the fans , we simply are not ,whingeing ,moaning ,miserable finger pointing but killa is better than brown .
    talk in the Yorkie post is we are trying to sign Mendy "there are complications " he might have to go on loan so why sign him ,grella scored again and Felix Luz ?? scored a hatrick .

    We need to spend money on QUALITY we have none .we were easily the worst team to step on the pitch yesterday

  • Pompeywhite

    I also thought Clayton was poor until Brown came off-Snoody wasnt with it and I thought we look exactly the same as last year at the back and in midfield. the only difference was we never looked like scoring. Get O'Brien to take corners, theres got to be something he can do-Connoly got caught inpossesion and out of position several times, and the one that hit the post was actually a good save from Lonergan, though I still have no faith in the back four, even with Paddy back. For the second goal O'brien lost his man then when he caught up with him, went to ground, diving in as the player walked round him-woeful.The only good thing was the support, we didnt hear the home fans until they were 3-0 up, them one song and we couldnt hear them again-Its to painful to watch again on TV-one bloke on the bus away from the ground was on the phone to his mate said,"they played like a bunch of cunts". That for me summed the whole thing up.

  • I have been saying that this team is as strong as the side last season and i stand by that the problem leeds have nearly all the other teams have got stronger that puts leeds in a bad position,clayton dod well obrien at fault for all three goals snoddy has no pace gradel thinks he his a world beater i would try odea and paddy together.Not sure were we go from here not looking forwerd to the next 4 games god hepl us at west ham and ipswich,i think our home form will be the decider to if we can conpete this season

  • Will23

    If it takes four or five defeats of 3-0, 4-0 to get rid of SG please bring it on.

    As Blackpool fans realised, there are no prospects with SG as manager.

    A half decent manager could actually put out a team that is organised, disciplined, and cohesive.

    That we are lacking in the basics of a team merely highights SG’s inability as a manager (plus his backroom staff) – this factor or ability as a manager should be demonstrated irrespective of how much money you have to spend.

    Money buys you talent; something that differentiates you from the pack.

    But giving SG money to buy talent to put into this team of his would be money down the drain.

    I suspect Bates knows SG is on his way out and rightly refusing to continue to pay for his continually suspect purchases.

    Finally, money to build the East Stand is NOT money that would have been available for team building.

    You cannot obtain loans to buy players, but you can to build up assets.

    Just as Bates did not (until recently) own the club, so Bates does not own the ground, I opine (no evidence of course, just speculative opinion).

    Taxi 4 Grayson, asap.

    The sooner we get a proper manager and into the Prem the sooner Bates will sell up and go.

  • Will23

    PS,

    I suspect Gradel is considering his options now and in no hurry to sign a contract even if it was offered.

    If I was him I’d be looking to move on away from this poor employer.

    How can any player have confidence in SG now?

    Also yesterday was not a good advert to attract new blood – maybe players out there are hearing bad things about SG and therefore this is why we are not seeing the players coming in?

    Or maybe Bates is withholding cash for good reasons as well – having no confidence in SG?

    Poll please – vote of confidence on SG.

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  • Colin

    I decided to go through the players who played just to see what they did last season. I've put the club that they played at last season, entered sub (if they were a sub!) and if it says Leeds, that means Leeds first team starter.

    We've got 4 first team starters from last season. This squad is definitely weaker. It doesn't look great:

    Lonergan – Preston – relegated
    Connoly – sub
    O'Brien – Leeds
    Kisnorbo – Injured. Played 10 minutes all season.
    O' Dea. – Ipswich Town 13th
    Gradel – Leeds
    Snodgrass – Leeds
    Clayton – MK Dons, League 1
    Howson – Leeds
    Brown – Portsmouth 16th
    McCormack – sub
    Paynter – sub
    Nunez – Scunthorpe United – relegated, bottom of table
    Sam – sub

    • TSS

      Paul Connolly – sub? Which team were you watching, he played 30 matches and was considered one of our more consistent first team regulars.

      • Colin

        I put his as sub, because I was looking at our team at the end of the season (ie. the team that Grayson had before the transfer window), so for Connolly, I had to put him as sub because Lichaj was first choice over Connolly.

        Even though I'm a Connolly fan, he's no Lichaj, so RB is weaker than at the end of last season :(

  • 4 bookings, 3 for dissent. That's because players are looking to blame everyone else for their ineptitude, both individually and collectively. They turn to the manager for inspiration, a change of tactics, a game-changer of a sub – and all they see is the manager with puffed out cheeks and bewildered eyes.

    As a 'team' we were outplayed by 11 blokes who had confidence in each other, who worked harder and who knew how to defend as a unit rather than as individuals. Swansea took us apart last year by playing football on the deck, every player from 1 to 11 being able to stop the ball, look up, pass and move into space. Southampton can do it and I suspect another 15 teams in this division can.

    "No need to panic, it is just the first game etc etc." Bollocks. Whatever the constraints imposed by Bates on the wage cap and Grayson's transfer fund, this doesn't mask many fans' belief that no one in Grayson's back room staff can coach for tuppence. Most managers worth their salt can get a side to defend as a unit and in the modern game this has to be a priority. I am not advocating a return to the dark days of George Graham, but I for one would rather see us score 30 goals less in a season in exchange for 85 points gained from 0-0 draws and 1-0 wins.

    I think we can only judge after 8 games or so as to what sort of season we can expect. If performances are just as woeful come early October, there will rightly be calls for SG to go. Normally I'd be against this line of action because a new manager would have to operate under the exact same constraints SG has to, but if we continue to leak goals this season as we did last, then there has to be a better alternative out there than Grayson and his back room staff.

    I used to play left back at Crawley Town 20 years ago. Given our penchant for crap left-backs, I'm awaiting a call.

    Kev

  • Landford.saint

    Just a few thoughts from a Saints fan who was also at the match. Prior to game I and many saints fans were apprehensive about this game, as we were coming up a league and playing a team who acquitted themselves well in the championship last season.
    However prior to the match I spoke to a Leeds fan who put a totally different view on things, outlining your lack of faith in your manager and your lack of transfer funds etc. Etc. On the pitch I agree with slot of what you have said re teamwork, working for each other, and the way this ‘confidence in a winning mentality’ showed in Daints and not in Leeds. The referee most Saints fans also found poor, but for different reasons. We thought that his early on lack of ‘balls’ to book a number of rash tackles, meant that the bad tackles by Leeds continued. Another ref could have easily booked a couple early on and stopped everything then.
    Back to the managers, when Adkins took over us last season we were 23rd. Yet with essentially the same players we made automatic promotion. Looking at Leeds squad there are a number of quality players there, it is early season, I don’t know how, but if you do quickly get a new manager, all is not lost. Don’t discount the realatively unknown manager, until Adkins got appointted I knew virtually nothing about him.
    Keep the faith.

  • Landford.saint

    In addition to above, I would like to add about our style of play. As you know unless you are one of the presses ‘favourites’ you get no coverage whatsoever, and when your in league 1 even less than none. We have been playing this style of football increasingly throughout last season, but noone seemed to notice. In League 1 with their hoof it up and hack them down style, it made life difficult for us sometimes on cold wet claggy ploughed fields like Wycombe and Exeter. hopefully in this league we will see more teams who like to play football and better pitches.
    Penalty decisions…… Your shout, it occurred right in front of me, it was obvious he was ‘making the most’ of the situation and it think it was not a penalty, however i have seen them given, and if it had been the otherway round I would feel aggrieved it wasn’t given. What a petulant spoilt kid Gradel made himself look. Your penalty, off Martins chest and up to underneath his forearm. Bit harsh I think

    • TSS

      Second one I'd agree was harsh, first one I felt was a pen.

      I think we had a similar problem in League One with the poor quality of football, and when we played well last season it showed how good a team we actually were. A 7th placed finish wasn't that surprising for me., and I suspect you'll be up there come the end of this season.

      What's happened this season however, God only knows. That was not the Leeds United we saw last season, they were truly dreadful.

  • jay

    Fair play to the saints,they were by far the better team from start to finish.Felt really sorry for our supporters having to watch that drivel,we deserve so much better.BATES OUT!!!!

    MOT

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