Finest salt and vinegar
By Luke Fairweather
Monday night, and the 'Orns have an away game against a team who play in red and white stripes and furthermore it's to go out live on Sky Sports. The last time this happened the night ended pretty damn well as I remember. It could never happen again, could it?
Tonight I am confined to the only Sky pub in the area, where I am perched on a bar stool trying to take in as much of the action as I can. Make no mistake, this is a restricted view seat with resentful regulars pushing past me to get served. Indeed, such is the lack of support for the 'Ons here, I fear that the channel might be switched at any moment and I may have to endure Man City versus West Ham and the insolent, pouting rictus of the Lineaker. Rather like being in the home end at Elland Road, best behaviour is mandatory.
Hopes are high as Doris is reunited with a fit-again Marlon and within moments we are creating havoc in a visibly nervous Saints defence. The TV doesn't pick this up too well but it seems that the rows of empty seats seem to be casting a shadow of disapproval around The New Skip (© Portsmouth supporters), which seems to be affecting the confidence of the Saints, and playing into our hands.
As early as the third minute, Marlon picks up the ball wide on the right, gets past Brennan and strikes a low, powerful cross over the Saints' goalmouth. At first, it looks none too dangerous and should be easily cleared, as one foot after another attempts to connect with the ball, only for each to miss in true Keystone Cops style. And when the ball reappears on the other side of the penalty area, there is Big Gav, all alone, to place a firm shot past the hapless keeper. Game on! Good thing I am on neutral ground and can't celebrate too much because I suddenly remember that jumping up from a three legged pub stool could well be risking serious injury, and I have to be fit for Millwall on Saturday.
Southampton spend the next forty-two minutes wondering what the hell to do about a side which has been stereotyped as a tough, direct, long ball side, but turns out to be young, fit, fast, savvy and way more skilful than they have been given credit for. Okay, so I had beer to drink and regulars to charm, so I was distracted, but I honestly can't remember the Saints getting a clear cut chance in the first half. According to reports elsewhere, Chaplow had a chance but I may have been getting the crisps in. It also has to be said that we aren't too hot either - certainly not at our Blades Busting Best - but if the cliché is that you go up when you win and don't play well, then going up we certainly are! I do remember Doris putting wide what looked like a very good opportunity.
The second half is a different affair. A tactical adjustment by Betty means we start more convincingly, denying the Saints the passive possession we gifted them first half. From a free kick, the ball rattles around the Saints defence, before eventually falling to Marlon who looks to shoot, but manages to get the ball back across goal to where Doris - not offside; sorry, Saints defenders - has a simple tap in. The upshot in the pub is that Walkers' finest salt and vinegar are sprayed everywhere, and I am yellow carded by the bar maid. I apologise and she eventually smiles at me in a slightly patronising manner, and one in which it has to be said, Mrs Fairweather would most certainly disapprove of.
Minutes later, it is 3-0 and game over. Again, Doris is there with the decisive move in a private game of head tennis with Marlon in the penalty area, which Saints defenders kindly decide they would rather be spectators at than engage in.
Only now do Southampton get a decent chance as Raisiak does well to get around Foster only to find our finest American import in the right place to get the ball safely away. Henderson misses the chance of a hat trick after a move in which we demonstrate to the watching world that this version of the 'Orns can indeed control, pass, move and play the beautiful game, but he plants the ball wide from a great position. Boos rather than bells ring out at St Mary's as the game finishes and the heroes in yellow salute the travelling faithful. Standing to applaud a grinning Marlon in the saloon bar is just not quite the same somehow.
Other than the disappointment of conceding another late goal, this was another fine result and one which puts us back in third, albeit Leeds and Palace play tonight. Ten weeks ago, we were some eleven points behind the charming and gracious Warnock's Wobblers, now the gap is a mere three. Okay, so we have played a game more, but who in either Leeds or South West Herts really expects anything other than to see Sheffield United in the play offs, and Warnock down the job centre in the very near future. Let him flick two fingers at them and see how he gets on.