Monday, 28 April 2008

Battling Saints Performance Restores Hope

The unpredictable nature of football was demonstrated once again tonight, as a seventy-seventh minute goal from Adam Lallana saw Saints crash West Brom's promotion party. Though the 1-1 draw was not enough to lift Saints out of the drop-zone, a strong performance has restored hope amongst Saints fans that survival is possible. Saints held their own in the first half, with a potential penalty and a glorious chance for Marek Saganowski going astray. The second half saw West Brom get into their groove, but they could not stop super-sub Lallana drilling home against the run of play. Saints were only able to hold on for seven minutes, until Chris Brunt's equaliser broke red and white hearts. Though Saints will start the final day in the drop-zone, this result went some way to restoring courage after the disappointment of the Burnley match.

A Funny Old Game

If there's one thing I've learnt about Saints after years of support, it's that they never do things the easy way. That will certainly be the case if they stay up on Sunday. For although a point away at West Brom is a good result in anyone's book, Saints will enter the final day with their destiny out of their own hands. Still, with Leicester, Sheffield United, Blackpool and Coventry still in contention for the drop, a variety of outcomes are still possible, especially given the fixtures these clubs face.

Blackpool vs Watford
Charlton vs Coventry
Sheffield Wed vs Norwich
Stoke City vs Leicester

With Sheffield Utd still in play-off contention, the difficulty of Saints' final home fixture should not be underestimated. It will take a heroic performance at St Marys to secure the three points. However, if Saints do win, it will take an unlikely set of results to see them relegated, including a Leicester win away to in-form, automatic promotion-chasing Stoke. While a win for Sheffield Wed at home to Norwich is more likely, and Coventry could pick something up at the Valley, Blackpool could slip up at home to play-off contenders Watford.

Still In It

Tonight's point was massive for three reasons. First, such a strong performance has restored a little hope that survival is very possible. Secondly, it means that a point at home to Sheff Utd could be enough if Leicester lose. Finally, it has dragged Coventry and Blackpool into the relegation picture. All of these factors improve Saints odds of survival, and I know I would not exchange final fixtures and positions with Leicester if given the chance. There is still more than an outside chance of relegation. But tonight has provided a massive boost for Saints, hopefully at just the right time.

Monday, 21 April 2008

League 1 Here We Come?

Saints stare into the abyss

Saturday didn't feel right from the start. From the poor weather to the god-awful fans' chanting competition, there was an edgy pre-match atmosphere at St. Marys. Following excellent, morale-boosting results against Bristol City and Charlton, many (including myself) thought that a home win against nothing-to-play-for Burnley would virtually see Saints to safety. The complacency was misplaced. Stunned Saints fans watched in horror as their team slumped to a horrific 1-0 defeat, despite largely outplaying the opposition. Make no mistake about it: Saints are now the favourites to fill that final relegation spot and face one hell of a scrap to maintain their Championship status. Just five years after reaching the FA Cup Final, Saints now face the very real prospect of playing in the third tier of English football for the first time in forty-eight years.

Saints feel the Burn(ley)

Despite dominating the first half, Saints were let down by a lack of creativity in the final third. Their failure to convert possession into goals, or even meaningful chances, proved costly, as poor defending saw Burnley score from a corner on the brink of half time. In the second half Saints players were struck by the jitters, Stern John in particular missing two golden opportunites. Richard Wright, Andrew Surman and Youssef Safri were rare rays of sunshine in an otherwise limp display, especially given the importance of the game. The boos that rang out at the final whistle were not only due to the perilous situation Saints now find themselves in; there was a widespread feeling of disbelief that the players could turn in such a lacklustre display at such a pivotal moment in the club's history.

The Mother of all Dog-fights

With other results going against them on Saturday, just one point stands between Saints and a second relegation in four years. And with two very tough fixtures remaining (Away vs West Brom, Home vs Sheff. Utd), Saints are now the bookie's choice to go down. Their only hope is if Sheffield Wednesday lose away to Leicester and Saints manage a win at home to Sheffield. Utd on the final day of the season. It is hard to envisage Wednesday failing to pick up any points from
their final two matches, nor Saints getting anything at West Brom. Still, football is a topsy-turvy game and you just never know with Saints. They may have lost the "easy" one but who would have predicted their win against Bristol?

It wasn't meant to be like this

Saturday provided a reminder of just how cruel football can be. Yet while things look grim, the club's destiny remains in its own hands, and the fanbase must unite in the belief that we can go to the Hawthorns and get something. I honestly believe we can, as Leicester did last month. Such a result could see Saints back on the road to safety. Despite the anger felt towards the players, the board, the manager, whoever, it is now all-important that Saints fan unite to cling to that hope.

PS. Apologies for the belated post. It takes a while to gather thoughts after a result as terrible as Saturday's.

Sunday, 13 April 2008

Solid point sees Saints move closer to safety

It may not have been the prettiest of points, but yesterday's 1-1 draw away to Charlton could have massive repercussions for Saints' survival hopes. Saints were well worth their point and led for much of the game after Charlton conceded a somewhat unlucky own-goal. The home team could not be begrudged their equaliser, however, and would have been disappointed at a result that probably brought an end to their play-off hopes. Manager Nigel Pearson was as composed as ever after the result, highlighting that "there is still lots of work to be done." Other results largely went in Saints' favour yesterday. Although Barnsley look to be heading to safety after two wins, Leicester suffered the hammer-blow of missing out on three points at home to relegated Colchester. As the table below shows, the result could prove costly to them.

The fight goes on

The last two games have seen Saints doing all the right things: Fighting hard, scoring goals, and, most importantly, picking up points. These results have instilled Saints fans with a new sense of confidence. The last week's poll demonstrates this level of optimism, with the vast majority believing Saints will stay up. However, the table below highlights how ominous Saints' position still is, just two points off the trapdoor and a terrible goal difference (cheers, George) to boot. Next Saturday's home game against nothing-to-play-for Burnley is now a crunch match of epic proportions. Given the tough nature of Saints' last two games (A vs West Brom, H vs Sheff Utd), anything other than three points would see Saints become relegation favourites once more. Yet again, the next week will see Saints fans gearing up for the most important game in their recent history.


16 Norwich 43 -9 52
17 Barnsley 42 -10 52
18 Blackpool 43 -3 50
19 Southampton 43 -16 50
20 Coventry 43 -13 49
21 Leicester 43 -2 48
22 Sheff Wed 42 -5 48
23 Scunthorpe 43 -25 39
24 Colchester 43 -19 37

Sunday, 6 April 2008

Massive Win for Saints

St. Marys was back to its vocal best yesterday as Saints secured a big three points against table-toppers Bristol City. At last, Saints fans were able to cheer on a performance that restored hope and took the focus away from the club’s off-field situation. Goals from Stern John and Jason Euell were enough to overcome City, as Saints took a huge step towards safety.

Stern-ing Point?

With Leicester and Coventry losing, and Sheffield Wednesday only able to draw, the win moved Saints three points clear of the relegation zone. They still face a tough run-in, and the teams below them have games in hand, but the points on the board should prove the significant psychological boost required to see Saints home to safety. Nigel Pearson’s loan signings Chris Perry and Chris Lucketti were particularly successful in shoring up a leaky back line (one that had been neglected by Burley; Wayne Thomas, anyone?). The win has renewed hope among Saints fans of brighter times ahead, and a real sense that survival this season could provide the platform for a promotion push next season. Still, with survival by no means assured the team must remain focussed on their match and getting something at Charlton.

Thursday, 3 April 2008

Saints Hit Lowe Times

The No Longer Mighty Saints

As a committed Saints fan, I have chosen a devastating time to start writing about my club. During my lifetime Southampton FC has never found itself in such dire straits. 22nd in the Championship, Saints face the very real prospect of relegation to the third tier of English football. This represents a staggering fall for a club that finished 8th in the Premier League and were FA cup finalists just five years previously. Off the field, the club’s bi-annual accounts revealed the extent of their financial woes this week also. Before player sales, Saints have been haemorrhaging £38,900 a day for the last six months. A situation where only player sales stand between financial disaster and some form of stability (overall, they were still making a daily loss of £3,800) seems a sure recipe for catastrophe. Since the ousting of Rupert Lowe two years ago (held responsible by many for Saints’ relegation from the Premiership), the club has continued its slide. Fed-up fans see a team they no longer recognise, lacking in confidence, commitment, fitness and creativity. In the recent words of the legend that is Dave Merrington: “The club has lost direction; it’s a very sad situation.” In their hour of need, Saints require a saviour, a knight in shining armour (preferably a Russian one, with a few billions in the bank). However, another knight has come forward. A knight called Rupert.

Rupert's Return?

Yes, old Beetroot cheeks has gone and done it. After teaming up with Michael Wilde, the man that ousted him from the club, Rupert Lowe has launched his bid to overthrow the current Saints regime and install himself back in control at St. Marys. The Saints board has 21 days to set a date for an Extraordinary General Meeting, at which shareholders would vote on a potential return for Lowe. However, with Lowe and Wilde possessing 22% of the club between them and a further 20% of shareholders said to be behind them, the present board surely faces defeat and may choose to resign without an EGM. Either way, it seems that the shares owned by Lowe (6%) and Wilde (16%) would make it difficult to prevent their return to the club. Under their proposition, club chairman Leon Crouch would be removed from office, with Lowe succeeding as PLC chairman, Wilde as football chairman. The news of Lowe’s return has been greeted by Saints fans with dismay and support in equal measure. Would the club be mad to agree to the return of Lowe, or would he be an improvement upon Crouch, who has not proved himself in office?

Lowe-Life? The Case against Lowe and Wilde

The central charge against Lowe is that he was responsible for our relegation. It is certainly true his reign was marked by a culture of managerial instability, with Saints averaging a manager every eighteen months during that time. Blame for the disastrous appointments of Stuart Gray and Steve Wigley can certainly be laid at his door. Wigley’s appointment was especially damaging, coming at the start of our relegation season. However, Lowe was also responsible for the appointments of Glenn Hoddle and Gordon Strachan, managers who brought great success to the club (in the latter case against opposition from other board members). And it must be asked whether we would be in our current predicament had the club allowed the “second coming” of Glenn Hoddle. I for one supported his appointment of Harry Redknapp to save us from relegation; I thought he would be up to the job. However, on the whole Lowe’s managerial record is not an encouraging one and played a part in our relegation. Off the field, though, Lowe ran a very steady ship. It is doubtful whether Saints would find themselves in their current state of financial woe with Lowe in charge. However, Lowe has an unpopular history of selling high-profile players over the years such as Dean Richards and Wayne Bridge. But he was responsible for the financing of our new stadium, without which Saints would not be financial viable. Michael Wilde has a similarly mixed record. His main achievement in the eyes of Saints fans was the ousting of Rupert Lowe, hence the surprise at the pair staging a joint coup. He was singularly unsuccessful at attracting outside investment, and resigned as a result. In light of these facts, it is not hard to understand the unwillingness of many Saints fans to see the pair back in charge.

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon?

But what has the demise of Lowe and Wilde left us? For one, we have Leon Crouch as chairman, a Saints fan through and through, whose efforts were largely responsible for the superb new Ted Bates statue that now stands proudly outside St. Marys. For that he must be given great credit. However, he has been as unsuccessful as his predecessor Michael Wilde at attracting outside investment. His recent statement putting a timeframe of 6-9 months on investment was met with dismay by the vast majority of Saints fans. His appointment of Nigel Pearson as manager was largely greeted by the same reaction. In fairness to Pearson, he has not done a bad job considering the players (and their physical conditions) left to him by Burley; if Saints go down it will certainly not be his fault. However, his lack of managerial experience surely disqualifies him from consideration for the prestigious post of Saints manager. Where was the big name Saints fans were hoping for, such as Billy Davies or Chris Coleman? It seems as if these high-profile candidates took one look at Saints - a club in disarray - and thought against it. Why risk their reputations on a struggling club bereft of the funds to finance new signings? Can this be blamed upon Crouch? Crouch certainly inherited a club on the slide. However, for all his virtues as a Saints fan he has done nothing to halt the slide and appears to lack the business nouse to attract outside investment. Responsibility for the horrific financial state of the club lies with him.

Old Faces, New Start?

I do not buy into the argument that relegation is the kick up the backside Saints need to start again. That was said last time. The priority now is to avoid a relegation that would prove catastrophic for the club. Though relegation seems probable, almost inevitable, there is still a chance of survival and fans must unite behind Nigel Pearson and the players. Off the pitch, the choice between Crouch and Lowe/Wilde is hardly an enticing one. However, I believe a strong dose of Lowe’s financial control is required to restore stability to the club’s balance sheet. With respect to Crouch, his tenure has not been a glorious one. Opting for Lowe however, is very much a case of feeling that he is the lesser of two evils, and has more to offer the club in the long term. Let us hope he can deliver.

Which team will fill the third relegation spot?

Four games left. Will Saints survive?

Would you be in favour of a return for Rupert?