Date: 1st March 2016 at 11:40am
Written by:

Football, more in popular culture than in the sport itself, is famous for its little traditions and symbols; the little details that are more noticeable than the others that all add up.

The Newcastle number nine, the Manchester United number seven. The West Ham local lad done well, the adored Liverpool striker. These traditions are what make football special, but then it means we all have our mental image of what they should be.

Southampton’s number seven is of course special, but what perhaps is the Saints’ tradition is the homegrown star. Matt Le Tissier, Theo Walcott, Alex Chamberlain; there is one for every generation. But the tradition runs far deeper with left-backs.

Franny Benali was the local cult hero in Southampton, a boy from the area who dreamed of adorning the red and white stripes. Wayne Bridge grew up the same way; maybe not Gareth Bale from Cardiff, but he still came into that line of Southampton left-backs, as did Luke Shaw. Jake Vokins, if he keeps up his rapid progression from Under-16 to U21 football, will do too.

All four were known for being quick, being strong and making the left flank their own, especially Bridge, Bale and Shaw. The problem with traditions and ideas is when someone doesn’t quite fit that stereotype, like Matt Targett.

20 September 2015 - Barclays Premier League - Southampton v Manchester United - Anthony Martial of Manchester United in action with Matt Targett of Southampton - Photo: Marc Atkins / Offside.

Matt Targett watches Manchester United forward Anthony Martial closely.

Targett is quite quick, but he could never have Bale’s rapier-like speed, nor is he likely to have Shaw’s stocky frame. When he was thrown into regular football at the start of the season, he struggled. Teams would, pardon the pun, target him and attack the space left behind him when he went forward.

When Ryan Bertrand returned from injury, there was a sigh of relief from a fair few. Targett would go back to youth football, and could try again in a season or two when he was physically more suited to the cut and thrust to the Premier League.

But with the formation change by Koeman turning to a wing-back system, he has flourished. The 20-year-old is now first choice in that more advanced position, and it allows him to do what he does well: attack. His cross to set-up Shane Long for the opener in Saints’ 2-0 win over Watford demonstrated what ability he has in his left foot.

The assist probably wouldn’t have happened if he was at left-back, because if he pushed up from full-back he would have worried about the space in behind. But with Bertrand covering, he did not have to worry, and Long benefitted fully.

It shows the level of trust that Koeman has in him. Name-checked by the Dutchman as one of the best young prospects at the club, Targett is now starting in a position that is difficult to adjust to for plenty, and gives him experience that will serve him well if he was to move back to left-back.

The youngster may have been a scapegoat at the start of the season, but now he is thriving in a formation that suits him and most of the squad. Keeping six clean sheets in a row was no mean feat, and he definitely played his part in that achievement.

Having Bertrand behind the England Under-21 international, guiding him through games and giving him advice, will be a huge help to the youngster. Bertrand was not always the defensive rock that he is now, so mentoring his understudy will be of huge benefit to both the 20-year-old, and the team.

The biggest problem for Targett when he broke through was that he was walking a well-worn path. The mental image of a flying full-back is not the same as what he brought to the team, the tradition hanging like a chain round his neck, and criticism came unfairly. At wing-back, it’s a different case, and the rough start will do him good.

He has gone from someone that looked nervous and always seeming likely to make a mistake, to a confident player that brings a lot of qualities to the team, and the credit predominantly has to go to Targett himself. Amidst a sea of doubt, he got his head down, worked hard and took his chance; maybe he has a few similarities with other Southampton homegrown left-backs after all.

Brought to you by Shoot!