What started with the sacking of Alan Pardew has turned into a fairytale season for Southampton, now the Championship beckons in our 125th anniversary season...
The ‘I f***ng love this game’ highlight of the season
When Jose Fonte towered above a tiring Brighton rearguard to head home a late, late winner against the already-crowned Champions towards the end of April, you just had a gut feeling that Saints would hold on to second place and finally get back in to the Championship. Nigel Adkins’ side had outplayed the hosts for much of the top-of-the-table crunch match, but fell behind thanks to a defensive blunder that would be a contender for Danny Dyer’s next football c**k-ups DVD. Old stager David Connolly equalised for Saints with seven minutes to go and, then, the team managed to complete a memorable comeback and go on to win every game in the remainder of the season. Considering Southampton have been renowned for having a leaky defence and losing far too many points in the final few minutes of matches, the result was even more impressive. After the game, Seagulls boss Gus Poyet said that relegated side Dagenham and Redbridge would be in the Play-Offs with Southampton talisman Rickie Lambert, but the emphasis from Nigel Adkins had been on slick passing football since he came in to the building in September. Although, the winner came from a keeper’s long ball, but we’ll take that.
The season ticket shredding moment
In the final third of the season, Southampton were arguably the in-form team in the country, winning an incredible 14 games out of the last 16. So it seems an age ago when many fans were almost resigning themselves to a season of underachievement and disappointment, when Alan Pardew was sacked in August, club owner and saviour Markus Liebherr had passed away and we were in the bottom three. Just two games in to life without Pardew, recently promoted Rochdale came to St. Mary’s and won 2-0 – and that’s probably the closest moment any of the loyal Southampton faithful have had to chucking their season tickets over the Itchen Bridge.
The moment that summed it all up
Much like Norwich City on the way to their second successive promotion and a return to the Premier League, Southampton have developed some Manchester United-esque resilience, and there have been some crucial late goals and slender victories when the team haven’t been at their best. Manager Adkins described a 3-2 victory over fellow promotion hopefuls MK Dons as a ‘defining’ moment and, looking back, it is hard to argue with him. Goals from Gary Mackenzie and Sam Baldock gave the Dons a two-goal lead on our own patch, and it looked as if we were going to be dealt a massive blow to our automatic promotion hopes. But Jonathan Forte, an explosive attacking player from struggling Scunthorpe who had shown very little before this game, popped up with two goals in one minute. From then on, Saints were in the ascendency and Lee Barnard fired home the winner with ten minutes to go.
Have we got the right manager?
There is no doubting that Nigel Adkins has made a massive difference, and he has got to be the most enthusiastic manager you will ever see. His interviews are a barrage of clichés, with him signing off just about everything he says with ‘Together as one’, but the Saints fans love it. The scouser seems to have restored harmony within the club after a rocky start, and he was subsequently rewarded with a long-term contract that was publicised after promotion was secured. And it is hard to argue the former Scunthorpe Physio doesn’t deserve it. As he would probably say at this point, we’ve had a fantastic, hardworking squad of players ever since he came in to the building and we go onwards and upwards to the Championship. Together as one.
Player of the season
Portuguese centre-back Jose Fonte was voted by the fans as the Player of the Season, and it is hard to argue against that. He has been a rock at the centre of a watertight defence. He’s composed, has great feet, marshals the defence expertly and he chips in with a few goals along the way. And, having been a regular starter with Crystal Palace before his move to the South Coast, he has got the right experience to lead the back line again next time round. Teenage sensation Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and fellow academy product and fantastic playmaker Adam Lallana also deserve honourable mentions amongst a large amount of players that have excelled this season.
In a similar fashion to a 16-year-old Theo Walcott, 17-year-old wonderkid Alex Chamberlain raised a few eyebrows with an outrageous lob against Dagenham and Redbridge
Muppet of the season
The squad has been united and there haven’t been any individuals to really spoil the party. In the early stages of the season, Alan Pardew clearly must have done something to upset Chairman Nicola Cortese – as he was sacked after a 4-0 hammering of Bristol Rovers. I’m surprised nobody has really chased that up with Pards, because you may be on to a bit of a scoop there.
What would you change next term if you were the gaffer?
It is clear that we need a few additions to the squad next season in order to push up the Championship table and even ‘do a Norwich’. I think we need a central midfielder to accompany Morgan Schneiderlin, who has been a class act, and a centre back to succeed veteran defender and Tunisian tank Radhi Jaidi in the long-term. Also, we are too reliant on Rickie Lambert up top, so a quality, explosive striker to start alongside the big Liverpudlian would do very nicely. Otherwise, the manager’s been superb, the financial backing is there and we’re averaging higher attendances than most Championship sides. Happy days.
Which player would you like to sign?
The club have got the backing of a family who have taken on the mega riches of Markus Liebherr, so Saints should be looking at spending a few bob and signing some top quality Championship players, an Arsenal loanee or two and maybe even a West Ham flop. Wayne Bridge couldn’t make a surprise return, could he? In all seriousness, somebody like Hull’s Robert Koren or Leeds United’s Robert Snodgrass would be excellent, but I’m not one to predict!
In a similar fashion to a 16-year-old Theo Walcott, 17-year-old wonderkid Alex Chamberlain raised a few eyebrows with an outrageous lob against Dagenham and Redbridge. Since then, rumour sites have gone mental and he’s been set to join near enough every Premier League giant, although there were no actual offers in January as far as I am aware.
Player’s tweet of the season?
Only Jaidi and Ryan Dickson are on twitter from the senior team, so there isn’t much to choose from. The short and sweet words of ‘We R going up... we r going up’ from Jaidi will do the job nicely.
Most inspired chant?
He plays on the left, he plays on the riiii-ii-ight, Adam Lallana makes Messi look sh*te. Genius - much like some of the flair he showed on the pitch. In the opinion of many, the local lad was the best player, technically in the division. Besides that, there’s a Human League cover of Jose Fonte baby, Jose Fonte oh-ohhhh!
Best laugh you had all season?
Even though it resulted in a red card for Saints midfielder Oscar Gobern, he produced one of the most outrageous, bizarre and ridiculous losses of footing you will ever see. In a superman style, with no malice intended, he somehow Karate-kicked Bournemouth defender Adam Smith. Smith wasn’t injured and Saints won the game so you could just laugh at Oscar’s expense and wonder... what was he actually doing!?
How do you plan to get through the summer without football?
The expectation was so high on Southampton that it is a relief to get over the finishing line and have a few months off to think about the prospect of bigger and better things in the Championship and beyond. The optimism will be sky high, and there will certainly be additions to the squad, so I’m sure it will be manageable.
Any other news?
Saints will revert back to the original red and white stripes after a season of looking like Argentinean side River Plate, in honour of the 125th anniversary of the club’s existence!
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