Writer: Vital Saint
Date:Thursday May 9 2013
Saints will be bidding to get back to winning ways when we travel to the Stadium of Light this weekend.
How are the opposition feeling ahead of the game, with thanks to safc123 from Vital Sunderland.
1) What are you expecting from the season (now we've reached the halfway point) and have there been any highlights so far?
I was hoping, rather than expecting, that we could kick-on from last season under Martin O`Neill and perhaps push towards the top 10. That hope obviously went out the window fairly quickly and since then, the hope has been to stay up.
When O`Neill left, we were very clearly embroiled in a relegation battle. Since Paolo Di Canio has taken over, two wins from three looked to have almost pulled us clear of the relegation zone, but the 6-1 trouncing by Aston Villa has pulled us right back into the dogfight.
The Stoke City game on Monday night will give us a much clearer indication of the severity of our situation as it will put us one game ahead 18th-placed Wigan Athletic again. The size of that Stoke game really cannot be over-emphasized as a result.
2) Are you happy with your clubs business in the transfer window (and have those players adapted well for you on the pitch) and with the change of manager, is Di Canio going to keep you up or do you have one nervous eye on Wigan?
As I mentioned above, I have two very nervous eyes on Wigan Athletic. Although they have a very tough run-in, they are by no means a bad side; they always put a few results together at this stage of the season and we have every reason to fear them, especially with that all-important game in hand.
The January Transfer Window was an odd one for me and just another sign that O`Neill was rapidly proving himself the wrong man for the job.
We made three signings - centre-half Kader Mangane, central midfielder Alfred N`Diaye and centre-forward, Danny Graham.
N`Diaye is the only one really to make a positive impact so far and with captain Lee Cattemole missing a good chunk of the season, N`Diaye`s strength, power and defensive qualities have been very welcome in midfield.
Graham had been pitched in alongside Steven Fletcher initially in a 4-4-2, a change from O`Neill`s usual 4-4-1-1, but it was an odd time to start playing with two up front having disposed of four strikers during the window, leaving us with two.
Finally, there`s Mangane, who arrived unfit and has only appeared fleetingly from the bench. Coming from the Middle East, I can`t imagine he came cheaply either.
With Danny Rose (loanee) and Phil Bardsley the only recognised full-backs at the club, O`Neill (for my money at least), should have been focussing on strengthening in those positions. His signings were bizarre and have left Di Canio with a wafer thin squad to face the run-in with.
3) Who is going to be your main dangerman when we play?
As mentioned, Fletcher is injured and star man and playmaker Stephane Sessegnon is suspended for the remaining fixtures.
Those absences mean that 'dangerman` responsibilities fall to Adam Johnson by default. Johnson has struggled to make an impact since becoming our £10m marquee summer signing and bar the fleeting moment of brilliance - notably his stunner at Sid James` Park last month - he has flattered to deceive for much of the season.
There is undoubtedly a very good footballer in there somewhere; we saw him excel at Manchester City and with England, but it`s getting those kind of performances out of him on a regular basis which is proving he difficulty.
4) What are your weaknesses, any clues for the game will be appreciated :-)
Well, the biggest weakness is not something you can exploit, but something which could well let us down - namely, our lack of goal-threat.
Top-scorer Fletcher has been missing since February time and with Graham yet to score and Sessegnon now suspended, the two players most likely to take up the goal-scoring mantle are unlikely to now.
Until recently I would have said we were actually the kind of side who are hard to break down and score goals against, but we don`t score enough ourselves. The 6-1 defeat at Villa was a defensive masterclass in how not to defend against pace and power - to traits against which we are very susceptible.
5) Have you been surprised with how Saints have performed so far?
Yes and pleasantly so.
It`s always good to see the division shaken up by a team coming up and competing. I thought at the beginning of the season you would be nailed-on for relegation but you appear to have tightened up and become a little bit more clinical.
There are a lot of teams of a similar ability in the bottom half of the table and it only takes a few results back-to-back one way or another to move up or down. I think you should be safe now.
6) Do you have any thoughts on Nigel Adkins, his departure, and his replacement Mauricio Pochettino?
I thought at the time it seemed incredibly harsh and almost a case of Nicolas Cortese having made his mind up earlier in the season but Adkins failing to hold up his end of the bargain by plunging the team into relegation troubles.
Pochettino is someone I have to admit to never having heard of until he came to England, but he seems to have continued Adkins` good work and going forward, he could prove a shrewd appointment. Not that he has much more experience than the former physio anyway!
7) Has anyone stood out from our recent buys?
Gaston Ramirez was a name I was aware of from Football Manager, but I`d never really seen him play properly. He has been excellent this season whenever I`ve seen him and I think he`s just the kind of player a lot of sides in the division could do with to add some extra guile, creativity and flair to their midfield options.
8) If you could take one of our players, who would it be and why?
Ramirez would certainly be up there, but so too would Adam Lallana. He`s another one who has looked excellent this season and appears to have made the step up from League One to the Premier League very quickly and very easily in a short period of time.
9) Who do you see as our main threat in the game?
Your attacking options are thoroughly decent; Rickie Lambert continues to defy the stereotypes and Jay Rodriguez is another who, like Lallana, has made the step-up really well.
Any of the above really!
10) Do you believe Saints will now avoid relegation this season?
11) Finally, a prediction for the game please?
Hard one to call, so I`ll go with 2-2.
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Date:Thursday May 9 2013
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