Major underachievement on a miserable night at Underhill

Last updated : 16 January 2004 By Bernard Azulay

I caught a glimpse on the net of MPEGS of the 4 and 5 goals by 15 year old Irish striker Anthony Stokes (who's alright by me just on the basis that we snaffled him from Shelbourne, a Man Utd feeder club in Ireland and according to an article in the Times, Utd were prepared to pay half a million quid for him!) and Quincy 'silver boots' Owusu (who I believe came here from Ajax's youths system).

So I was a little disappointed when I got to Underhill's infamous slope tonight, with it raining cats and dogs and cold enough to freeze the cods off a brass monkey, to find an Arsenal line-up which included Stokes and Quincy up front, young Islington lad Ryan Smith on the left flank, but with no Fabregas Cesc and few other names familiar to me, apart from the other Irish lads Patrick Cregg (capt.) in midfield and Stephen O'Donnell on the right

For those who might be more familar with these bunch of players (as they sure looked anything but a team, compared to the the hungry workaholics in the Southampton side) the line up was a follows (according to the team sheet):

GK. Mark Howard
RB. Dorian Small
LB. Hassan Sulainman
CB. Johan Djourou
CB. Sam Oji

CM. Patrick Cregg
CM. Neil Kilkenny
RW. Stephen O' Donnell
LW. Ryan Smith

CF. Anthony Stokes
CF. Quincy Owusu-Abeyie

Subs. Dean Macdonald (for O'Donnell with approx 20 to go)
Unused. Michael Jordan, Aaron Samuel, Matthew Hislop, Dominic Shimmin

In fairness, considering that there is a policy for the entire club from top to bottom to play in similar fashion, this certainly wasn't the right conditions for flair football but as appears to be endemic at THOF there remains no plan B at any level either!

Personally I have never understood why the youth cup age group appears to fall halfway between the U19s and the U17s, so that we always end up seemingly throwing a team together who have rarely played with one another and that is exactly what it looked like tonight

But what bothered me most is that where Southampton were well worth their victory tonight was based on their attitude, They worked their young socks off, closing down in two's and three's hungrily the entire 90 minutes, not allowing our lot a second to relax on the ball and try and play football. As a result our game was all very hurried with plenty a passes going a stray and until the last five minutes we hardly mustered a decent attack on goal all night

I was most annoyed because I was hoping to cast my eye over Stokes for the first time, but he hardly got a sniff of a ball all night, unless he went back into midfield to try and find it himself

Whereas Quincy got a few touches and he was responsible for the absolute highlight of the evening, where he mugged off a Soton played by the corner flag, by nutmegging him and then one other instance of fancy dan footwork in the second half. But based on this display while I am sure Quincy will go down well in a talented side, under pressure when the chips are down, he is all flash and no end product

When they should have been trying to keep it simple, every Arsenal move seemed to break down because they attempted the clever backheel, or the precision through ball, when surely on a wind and rain swept night Banfield and Bould should have been advising them to pass simply to feet just as proved so successful for Soton.

What I find flabbergasting is that one would have thought that knowing the opportunity these kids have, they should be twice as hungry trying to prove themselves worthy of an Arsenal contract, than the Soton lads. Perhaps having had years of being told how brilliant they are, some of them have been spoilt by their performance before a big crowd at THOF in the Worthless Cup and so now no longer think they have anything to prove, in this penny ante kids competition before a few hundred hardy fans

Personally I feel it is a highly contagious poison, where it only takes one youngster to be strutting around like a peacock, unprepared to do any donkey work like closing down the opposition because it is beneath them, making runs into the box on a percentage basis, only when they feel they are likely to come off looking good, for the team's entire team spirit to disappear completely, as they all start blaming each other's lack of effort, or cussing them off for their limited abilities

Although it was almost total Southampton domination, we finally went a goal down on 28 minutes to a totally scrappy goal which was entirely typical of the dreadful weather conditions (surprisingly it was a very decent playing surface, but with so much water there was little chance of keeping control of the ball). In my opinion we should have had several opportunties to hack the ball clear before it finally found it's way into the net . I don't think I've seen Sam Oji play before but I hope this performance wasn't representative because he had an absolute mare at centre back and couldn't do a thing right all evening.

His partner at the back didn't appear to have particularly good passing skills, as he kept handing back possession with passes going astray to the midfield, every time he grafted to win the ball in the first place. But I thought I glimpsed something quite positive (perhaps the only one of the night) in his partner, a hefty tall lad Johan Djourou, in the way he tackled and tussled with his opponent (although this was only Soton!). However he's a long way from the finished article, perhaps a rough diamond who requires plenty of polishing

Yet from the moment we went a goal down our team spirit seemed to evaporate entirely, as they started arguing and blaming one another. I suppose it is not so surprising in a team which is under so much pressure to perform that they should want to find a way of shifting blame from themselves, but it is decidedly distasteful to see going on during a game.

My biggest down is on Quincy who needs to do a whole lot more to prove himself worthy of those flashy silver boots in my opinion. He undoubtedly has great ability with the ball at his feet but didn't get much chance to demonstrate in these conditions. He spent the rest of the time shrugging his shoulders, watching the odd attack we mustered pass him by leaving him strolling around midfiled with no one in the box to deliver to, when we finally got the odd ball down the flanks. Worse still we watched as he stood there on the pitch moaning, as he mimed to us all on the terraces his team mates inability to trap the ball with his chest!

On the few occasions I've seen Ryan Smith, the Islington lad has appeared to have plenty of graft to go with his zippy pace down the flanks. Yet playing in such close proximity to Quincy, he soon showed a similar disspirited demeanour, not appearing anywhere near as hungry as one would expect to offer himself up for a pass, pulling faces as the move broke down without him

Soton were on him like glue, giving him no room to tease them with his pace and with them having such success in stifling any of our football, the second half continued where the first had left of as a decidedly scrappy affair, where neither team offerd much threat to the other's goal, as possesion went backwards and forwards as moves broke down in midfield

Although there were some signs of the Arsenal attempting to turn things up a notch in their efforts to conjure up an equalizer (I don't recall the Soton keeper being troubled all evening!), their efforts looked largely impotent in the face of Soton's continued high tempo work rate and no sooner had I turned to my mate to say that I thought Southampton remained the most likely team to score, than they stuck a second in, which closed the lid firmly shut on our Youth Cup aspirations for this season

i am sure someone else with a far less foggy grey mass than myself can be more explicit but I seem to have some memory that it was another Oji ricket which led to the second. You had to see the arguments going on between so called team mates, as the ball was placed on the spot for the restart. It didn't exactly inspire one with hope for a miraculous comeback!

Although he might be named after an Irish town, I believe Kilkenny is actually English. But he and the Irish triumvirate of Cregg, O'Donnell and Stokes should have been more than used to playing in such miserable conditions, but there appeared to be plenty of others who weren't too comfortable out there. What's more with such a multi-cultural collection of kids, I can't help but wonder if there are some communication problems, as in defence they rarely seemed to get a call from one another to advise whether they had an opponent up their backside, or had time to take the ball down and play it

Perhaps this and their lack of telepathy displayed when failing to play balls into the path of one anther's runs, is just more evidence of the fact that this is a collection of players from the two teams, U17s and U19s, although this problem is the same for every club and considering how few of the players I knew, I can't help but wonder if we played a largely U17 side, which might account for our failure to win a ball up front in the air all evening

But there are all minor complaints compared to my major concern over the fundemental and as it turned out crucial discrepancy in the two teams attitude and hunger on the night. It left me embarrassed to be supporting this Arsenal side and I was almost pleased for (and at the same time jealous of) the smattering of Southampton fans who had made the journey on such an awful night, as their lads had done them proud and well and truly deserved to have turned over the mighty Arsenal!

On the one hand it's a pity because who knows, if we could have managed to scrape through (I suppose we should count our blessings that we didn't score and remain there long enough to freeze the few remaining cods off those of us brass monkeys who'd had the hindsight to wear our longjohns enduring extra-time :-) !!), on a warm spring night in the latter stages, our intricate passing patterns might be able to overcome most opponents. However that wouls have masked the fact that there are youngsters in this group of players whose heads have grown far too big for their skinny little bodies and whose lack of taste for the fight and desire to roll their sleeves up and get down and dirty for the Arsenal cause, is likely to destroy the marrow that moulds together the backbone of this team, leaving us looking totallly spineless in the face of opponents like Soton, who were sufficiently motivated to overcome any perceived defficiency in their ability to our undoubtedly talented bunch, winning merely as a result of of their superior work rate and hunger.

I guess the likes of Stephen Bradley must no longer qualify for FA Youth Cup status. I suppose he's either too old, or injured, but where was the likes of Cesc? I sincerely hope they aren't saving some of them for fear of injury before their appearance in the Worthless Cup, as I am a firm believer that you cannot possibly under estimate the importance of maintaining that winning feeling.

With it being without doubt their best and perhaps only chance of a sniff of European qualification, I bet we see a totally different Boro at THOF next week. Steeled with a determination which will demand some respect in the team Arsene puts out, if Boro aren't to end up our silverware nemesis this season, leaving our trophy hunt severly depleted in a couple of weeks time. At a time when all at the THOF are touting the current crop of youngsters as "the age of the golden dawn" , who are purported to be about to save the club millions in the transfer market as we promote through the ranks, tonight was a major anti-climax. Not to mention a major disappointment, as I was looking forward to the subsequent rounds, where I might well have got the chance to peruse the players at THOF.

Still if they fell by the wayside to Soton, what hope for the, if they had sneaked through to a 5th round tie against Tranmere, who I imagine will overcome Stevenage and who I have an image of being even a hungrier group of grafters, who might have made last nights misery seem like a picnic for our lot by comparison?

Sadly for all concerned, that is it for another season and I guess I will just have to drag myself out of my pit a little earlier on a Saturday morning if I want to get up to London Colney to see the likes of Stokes and his team mates playing for U17s