Sunday, 5 April 2009

Nought in the headlights: Massive defeat leaves Saints on edge

“This is our hour of need.”
Leon Crouch

“It’s all about you. Players come and go and directors come and go but you are here for ever.”
Lawrie McMenemy

“We underperformed.”
Mark Wotte

The 27,228 supporters who rallied to the cause after a week of crisis at St Marys were treated to a horror show yesterday as Saints slumped to a miserable defeat at home to bottom club Charlton. Their magnificent show of support could not be matched on the pitch, where the players appeared fazed and intimidated by the sheer scale and importance of the match.

Saints 2 – Charlton 3

Not just league survival, but the survival of Southampton Football Club as a whole is at stake in these final seven matches. That was the message given on the pitch by as former Chairman Leon Crouch and Cup-winning manager Lawrie McMeneny who issued passionate pleas to the supporters and the city to get behind their team in its hour of need. They duly delivered, first by turning up and then by raising the volume to a level not seen at St Marys this season.

However, it was the eleven on the pitch who ultimately mattered and they crumpled under the pressure. Charlton’s early goal came as no surprise as Wotte’s wobbly defence opened up welcomingly. The performances of the Saints players seemed riddled by a fear of defeat that found expression in the endless long balls heaped forward. Throughout the game, no one was prepared to get the ball down and take a risk.

However, credit to David McGoldrick for keeping his head and drawing things level after seventeen minutes. Few others in the side, however, were able to follow his example, except for the superb Kelvin Davies. His penalty save – after the woeful JP Saeiz had lost his head in a ridiculous act of petulance, dragging down his man in the box – should have kick started a Saints revival, but this was not to be on a day when all hope of survival seemed to perish.

The woeful standard of the game was briefly interrupted in the second half by Charlton’s winning goals, which put any hope of a Saints victory to be bed. That appeared to be the verdict drawn, anyway, by the thousands of supporters who disappointingly left after the third went in, despite there being twenty minutes left. Their actions appeared to sum up the complete loss of belief in its footballing side the city has undergone in the last couple of seasons. There appears to be a belief that it is enough just to show up as a pledge of support to the football club. It is not. Unless the side is supported to the end, there will be no football club- the two are inextricably linked.

Where does this result leave Saints? After staring down the barrel of the relegation gun for much of the season, this has pushed a lot of fans over the edge into thinking relegation is a matter of time. It is not. I remember feeling similarly after the loss to Burnley late last season, after which we survived. However, times are indisputably bleak indeed and if there is a chance the ten point penalty is carried over to next season – the Football League meets on Tuesday – (if there is a next season) it must be ensured it is taken now.

Knowing Saints, they will probably go and get a win at Watford on Tuesday. It is one hell of a hope, but we cannot afford – for the club’s sake – to give up now.

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