Everything Newcastle Should Know About Southampton Star Jason Puncheon
A little over 12 months ago, Jason Puncheon’s Southampton career seemed dead in the water. Having spent the majority of the 2010/11 season, when the Saints were in League 1, on loan to Championship Millwall and Premiership Blackpool, he found himself again loaned out at the beginning of last season to QPR with both Blackpool and Millwall interested in buying him but unable, or unwilling, to pay the £1 Million price tag put on his head by Executive chairman Nicola Cortese. His spell at QPR was unsuccessful and he returned to the club unhappy, and unpopular. However, after publicly criticising Cortese he had showdown talks with the Italian and was made available for selection for the rest of the season.
He returned to the side a new player, with a more positive attitude, and a desire to contribute to the team’s promotion to the Championship, which he did, playing 8 times, and though not a regular, adding the necessary depth to a tiring squad. A full pre-season ahead of the current season helped him and he has since gone from strength to strength, becoming a Premier League regular for the side and producing a string of outstanding performances that have been crucial to Southampton’s survival bid, culminating in the most recent victory at Manchester City where his energetic display was rewarded with a goal and yet another standing ovation when substituted with 30 minutes to play.
What is it that has seen Puncheon’s dramatic change? To begin with his attitude has altered drastically, previously a frustrated figure when things didn’t go his way, he would appear unwilling to work hard for the team and chase lost causes, often appearing selfish on the ball. That isn’t to say he had never produced for Southampton previously, he was excellent when he first arrived on loan under Alan Pardew, but struggled early on the next season, and after Nigel Adkins joined the club, he was usurped by the exceptional talent of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, with many fans not overly sad to see the back of him after his Millwall move. This season though, his new attitude has endeared him to many Saints fans, and his individual ability, allied with his teamwork, has made him a crucial piece in the jigsaw at the club.
Whilst not always standing out, Puncheon’s effectiveness off the ball is sometimes just as important as his on the ball ability; he often gets into great areas, and his cutting inside draws defenders towards him freeing up space for Right-Back Nathaniel Clyne to cause trouble down the opposition flank. On the Ball, his cutting inside is similarly effective, with his left foot exceptionally dangerous and always threatening. This was best seen in the crucial 3-1 victory against QPR at Loftus Road where he could've bagged more than his single goal, with his runs and shots providing a constant threat. He can occasionally be criticised for taking too long on the ball, and this is something he needs to work on as quick decision making at this level is crucial, but this is his first full season of Premier League football and he is learning and adapting, as all the other Saints players are.
With his increased work rate defensively, Puncheon gives Clyne far more cover than is received on the other flank, and this is an area of his game that he has noticeably worked on throughout the season in order to be a part of the clubs increasingly solid defensive unit, and with 4 league goals this season he is the clubs second top scorer in the league behind Rickie Lambert. His connection with Lambert and the other attacking players in the team has been fantastic, and the interplay between he and Lambert, Adam Lallana, and Gaston Ramirez during arguably the sides best performance of the season, the 2-0 victory over Newcastle, is testament to their ability to work effectively as a group.
Under Pochettino, I think that Puncheon can only improve; he has been given more license to roam and switch positions with the left winger, and his high energy style is perfect for the pressing style favoured by the Argentine. This was displayed perfectly against Man City, where he was able to steal the ball off Gareth Barry high up the pitch before feeding Jay Rodriguez in front of goal; Rodriguez was unable to force the ball past Joe Hart in the City goal but the rebound came to the edge of the box, and it was no surprise to see Puncheon there, coolly slotting the ball into the back of the net with his right foot. Over 12 months ago, £1 Million was seen as too much to pay for a struggling winger, now £10 Million wouldn’t be enough to prise away this talent. For all the talk about Rickie Lambert and Gaston Ramirez, there is only one player of the season for me at the moment: Jason Puncheon.