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Southampton 1

• Guly 82

Bristol Rovers 0

The bus keeps spluttering on, we will soon be over the line. It as a warm day at St Mary's, quite a lot of Rovers fans at the stadium early and the usual early bird saints fans who rush to meet players as they arrive at the stadium for lunch, autograph books at the ready. I saw young Sian Massey arrive in the stadium, albeit by a side door! She looked very smart in a nice grey suit. I didn't get to say hello but i think she recognised me because she kept waving her flag at me during the game!

I am sure i was not alone in wondering what the saints team would be. Nigel Adkins is not able to put a settled side out, we are being hit by so many injuries and niggles. I saw Dan Harding looking uncomfortable when he arrived so presumed he would be out, Adam Lanna looked ok, and even Lee Holmes was chirpy, he told me he was getting fitter, surely he will not play again this season? Anyway, no real clues given me as to what the team was.

When i got my media print out of the team, it was; Davis, Butterfield, Jaidi, Fonte, and Dickson at the back. Guly, Hammond Stephens and Forte, with Lambert and Barnard the front two. The bench was; Bialowski, Richardson, Seaborne, Connolly, Gobern, Chaplow and N'Guessan. Not much inspiration there I thought, except that Connolly might be an impact player in the last few minutes if needed.

There was a good sized crowd in at the kick off with a noisy lot up from Bristol, not many but noisy. Listee Phil Collins had rung in answer to my posting about a spare ticket, he hotfooted up from Dorchester to join me. Good to meet him.

The first 20 minutes or so were very nervy, Gully again looked a square peg in a round hole out wide on the right, he got a few rollickings from NA for not tracking back to do the 'hard work.' Bristol were tackling like terriers, (not rovers!) and could even have taken the lead after five minute but KD pulled of a brilliant save when the ball dropped to a Rovers player all alone a couple of yards from goal. Someone was playing him onside and he got a good contact, but KD got a strong arm to the shot to parry it away.

Rovers number 17, Jo Kuffour was a small but nippy striker playing almost alone up front for Rovers, but he seemed to be troubling Jaidi on the ground even if he was never going to win a header against the giant that is Jaidi. NA was brave and replaced the big centre half with the nippier Dan Seaborne after just a half an hour of play. I think it was tactical.

As the half wore on the referee seemed to be upset that his lady assistant was getting all the attention, so he began handing out a yellow card for every foul. I think there were about seven yellows in that first half. It was bizarre, he had the yellow card in his hand almost before a tackle was made. I have never seen a referee so quick to get a card out of his pocket. It was a bit like a conjuror plucking a card from nowhere before he had even whistled for the foul.

One unusual incident was when a long high raking pass out to Forte was far too high and was going out of play above his head as he was stood on the touchline. He put both hands up to stop it going in to the crowd thinking that if he was stood on the line, then the ball must have been over when he leaned back to handle it at full stretch. Mrs Massey flagged, indicating his hand touched the ball whilst it was still on the field of play, debatable, but there was no intention by Forte to seek an advantage. Instead of using his common sense, (in my view) the ref booked booked a confused looking Forte. Maybe right by the letter of the law but not in the spirit of the game. No side was disadvantaged by the hand ball and no side gained an advantage - just an error of judgement in my book!

This riled the crowd and a yellow card every minute followed. By the time half time came I think everyone was relieved that there had been no red cards, such was the propensity of the ref to card players on impulse. A red faced Mr Whitestone (or should that have been Whitestick!) left the field to boos.
But no blame to either of the officials for the 0-0 scoreline, both teams seemed reluctant to put away the chances created. Our passing had been poor and there was tension both in the stands and on the pitch.

No changes at the start of the second half, but saints upped the tempo and we had more of the ball and the visitors were pegged back, lots of chances created, lots of near misses and some good saves, the crowd were taking out their frustration on the hapless looking ref, who to be fair has obviously realised that he had been a bit to quick on the draw in the first half so calmed down. Nerves were jangling, and when Barnard went down in a heap about twenty minutes in to the second half there was an air of 'Oh no. not another injury' it looked bad.

Barnard had been the subject of some controversy and heated exchanges in the first half (and was booked) but I would not have thought this was an intentional bad tackle - looked as though it was a heavy tackle, but he fell awkwardly. He was down a long time and the stretcher and splints were taking out, he was carried off to sympathetic applause, I spotted some Bristol players looking concerned and joining in the applause.

Intriguingly, David Connolly was already stripped and waiting to come on for some time before Barnard was injured. Would he have replace Barnard anyway, or perhaps Guly!

The substitution in my view changed the game, Connolly was real live wire, he was making intelligent runs in to space down the channels and tackling back like a tiger, he showed Guly what defending from the front is all about. Saints stepped up a gear and the crowd responded to Connolly's enthusiasm.

Within 10 minutes a sublime piece of Brazilian magic saw Guly get the all important breakthrough. His goal was pure quality. The stadium erupted - all Guly's earlier failings were forgotten and cries of Guly - Guly - Guly resounded all around the stadium. We should have added more goals, and there were some scares at the other end, especially when they had the ball in the net. But Mrs Massey showed that she was well aware of how the off side rule works and she became a hero in our eyes as she raised her flag to indicate off-side. I knew i had impressed her!!

Thre were 5 minutes of added on time, should have most certainly have been more with all the time wasting, six substitutions, and the injury to Barnard. But hey, whose complaining? Not me.

There was one final gross dereliction of duty from the referee, he and his assistants were the first off the pitch, leaving 22 players behind them, good job there was no trouble among the players. He was no doubt glad to reach the sanctuary of his dressing room. But let me make it clear, he was in no way to blame for the nervous and edgy performance of Saints. I think the high expectations, enforced team changes, and the pressure was to blame. But we won, a clean sheet and 3 points. I am over the moon!

I thought Kelvin Davis, who was quick of his line to clear up any through balls that got past our defence, played well, as did Fonte as usual. If David Connolly can stay fit he will be just what we need for the last few games. He is intelligent, experienced, and full of running with something still to prove. I think he was the catalyst that turned the tide today.

Well that is all in my humble opinion of course, others will have seen things differently. This was a game saints teams of recent years would have lost or drawn. We kept chipping away as NA would say, we did not let our heads drop and we got our just rewards. If you don't believe me look at the stats.


Bristol Rovers

Saturday, 16 April 2011
Ref: Whitestone

01 Davis
05 Dickson
06 Fonte - yellow card
12 Butterfield
15 Jaidi (Seaborne 33)
08 Forte - yellow card (N'Guessan 72)
11 Guly
14 Hammond - yellow card
33 Stephens
07 Lambert
09 Barnard - yellow card (Connolly 66)

24 Bialkowski
02 Richardson
19 Seaborne
27 Gobern
30 Chaplow
22 Connolly
32 N'Guessan

Bristol Rovers
36 Logan
05 Coles
06 Tunnicliffe
15 Anthony
37 Senda
04 Lines
07 Campbell - yellow card (Powell 86)
11 Hughes
22 Pell - yellow card (Lambe 69)
17 Kuffour (Harrison 75)
35 G Williams - yellow card

13 Green
03 Sawyer
31 McCracken
19 Lambe
34 Kalala
28 Powell
42 Harrison