Three seasons after being relegated to League One and resigned to starting the new campaign on -10 points – thanks to the club being saved from the brink of liquidation in the summer – Southampton are back in the Premier League after an incredible turnaround.
After Alan Pardew restored the winning feeling with the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy in 2010, it wasn’t long before he was given the boot in the following season, leaving Saints 22nd in the League One after a poor start. Former physio Nigel Adkins came in from a successful stint at Scunthorpe, but few could have predicted him to be a miracle healer. Any doubters have been well and truly silenced during his 20 months at the helm.
Promotion in League One was fantastic, but few would have predicted Saints to get near the automatic promotion places in the Championship. At the first time of asking, Saints moved to second place after an opening day 3-1 win over Leeds United, and in week 46 they still remained in the top two, after staying there for the entirety of the campaign.
A return to the promised land was secured with a comfortable 4-0 win over relegated Coventry, and here is an end of season review from the terraces that couldn’t have been much more satisfying to write.
‘He plays on the left, he plays on the right, Adam Lallana makes Messi look sh**e'
The ‘I f*cking love this game’ highlight of the season?
Where do I start? The opening day victory against Leeds set the tone for the season, and it subsequently erased any negative thoughts about the turmoil of the recent years before it. Emphatic home victories and magnificent performances against Birmingham and Middlesbrough are also big highlights, as was the 1-0 win against promotion rivals West Ham in front of a sell-out crowd at St. Mary’s.
The top two for me are the two most recent victories for the team – travelling up to Peterborough, winning 2-0 and thinking ‘that could be the defining result’ on the coach back was fantastic, but the sense of relief and pride when the final whistle was blown against Coventry and the overflow of fans on to the St. Mary’s pitch undoubtedly tops the lot. It was a sensational season and even most Portsmouth fans will find it hard to argue that Southampton didn’t deserve to return to the top tier of English football.
The season ticket shredding moment?
A chain of injuries triggered a few disappointing results from November to January, and the worst performance of the lot was against pre-season favourites Leicester City. A much-weakened Southampton side limped to a 2-0 defeat at home in front of the Sky Sports cameras, and it felt as if we were watching League One again that night. After that though, confidence and many first team players returned, and so did form.
Moment that just about summed it all up?
Despite the countless occasions when Saints dominated matches with attacking football and lots of possession, the biggest sign of the club’s promotion-winning mettle came when Saints travelled to Leeds United, rejuvenated by the arrival of former QPR boss Neil Warnock. Leeds were superb, put Saints under real pressure and created lots of opportunities, but Saints defended like heroes, keeper Kelvin Davis produced a string of great saves and Rickie Lambert scored a fine winner – meaning Saints went away with all three points after a backs-to-the-wall performance. For much of the season, Saints were the ones creating lots of opportunities and controlling matches, but the big difference was the ruthless nature of striker Rickie Lambert and a magnificent goalkeeping performance. That was when I thought ‘this could be our year’.
This season, Saints have been playing the most entertaining and effective football they have for years
Got the right manager?
Yes, without a doubt. In two seasons, Nigel Adkins has got back-to-back promotions, made some quality signings and he has cemented his reputation as a tactical genius on the south coast. His enthusiasm and optimistic outlook is superb, but the fact that he keeps everyone grounded, concentrates on one game at a time and gets everyone within the club working hard for the same goal is even better.
Player of the season?
The man who has stolen the headlines is Championship player of the year Rickie Lambert and, due to the fact that he is miles ahead in the goalscoring chants and scored some massive goals along the way, but the best player in my view has been Adam Lallana. He is the catalyst for the creativity that flows through the team, the playmaker who can make the difference, find gaps between the defence and midfield and unlock defences. He has done so all season and I certainly think he is a player who could genuinely be a star in the Premier League in the next campaign.
What would you change next term if you were the gaffer?
Not much really, except continue to play the expansive, attacking football that has made Saints the Championship’s highest scorers and the recipients of plaudits from opposition fans across the division. A few fresh faces are also needed to add more Premier League quality and give the squad a great opportunity to make a real fist of it in the top flight.
Which player would you like to sign?
I am not going to predict who we will sign, as Nigel Adkins is always full of surprises in the transfer window, but the club certainly need four or five quality additions to make the squad Premier League ready. A centre back to provide competition for Jos Hooiveld and Jose Fonte, a pacey winger, a back-up goalkeeper, a nippy striker to play off Lambert and a central midfielder to compete with Jack Cork and Morgan Schneiderlin would be on the top of my wish list.
This season, Saints have been playing the most entertaining and effective football they have for years, and it has been reflected with a host of goals to choose from for the best of the campaign. Lallana’s goal against Ipswich after an audacious Schneiderlin chip through ball against Ipswich was special, as was the skill from Lallana that left Leicester defender John Pantsil on the floor and resulted in a Dan Harding goal early in the season. David Connolly capped off a move consisting of 26 passes against Middlesbrough earlier in the season, but my favourite goal was a unstoppable strike from Japanese forward Tadanari Lee against Derby. It was his first goal for the club, it was in the top corner and he was as overjoyed as a 5-year-old kid on Christmas morning. Unbelievable scenes.
Up until Jason Puncheon apologised for his mistakes and made up with chairman Nicola Cortese after being relegated to training with the youth team, most fans would have said him. Credit to him though – he gelled straight back in to the squad, and did his talking on the pitch with a run of decent performances in the first team. But everyone in the squad has played their part so there is no complaints from me!
I’ve said in past reports that ‘Jose Fonte baby, Jose Fonte ohhh-ohhhhhh’ and ‘He plays on the left, he plays on the right, Adam Lallana makes Messi look sh**e are always good ones. There’s been some brilliant atmospheres at St. Mary’s this season, and I am sure there will be plenty of new entries for this in the Premier League.
Player’s tweet of the season?
The likes of Lallana, Richard Chaplow and Jack Cork are all a good laugh on twitter, but Jos ‘The boss’ Hooiveld came up with the best tweet after his defensive heroics in the 1-0 win over Leeds. After the game, he tweeted: “The whole of leeds police force is looking for our bus.. Probably because there are three stolen points in it! Hahaha #lovethempoints”
How do you plan to get through the summer without football?
Easy – safe in the knowledge that Saints are back in the Premier League, are likely to make some great additions to the squad and will have a fixture list including trips to Manchester United, Manchester City, Chelsea and more. It doesn’t get any better than that. I’ll manage.
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