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Cherries comment: Few tiers shed for Saints
Published : 11 Mar 2011 07:00:00
SIR Alex Ferguson knows a thing or two about noisy neighbours. And how to silence them. After vowing to turn up the television volume on Manchester City late in 2009, Fergie's men perforated the eardrums of their north west rivals with a 4-3 victory in a Premier League classic. Rewind to 2005 and Cherries' own noisy neighbours were busy making a pig's ear of staying in the Premier League after years and years of narrowly avoiding the drop from English football's top tier. They were the English game's perennial strugglers throughout the 1990s, with a relegation battle never too far away from The Dell. But their woe brought with it a classic tale of the plucky underdog and an overwhelming desire to upset the odds and the formbook. Under Chris Nicholl, they saw off Liverpool 4-1 in a classic at The Dell during the 1989-90 season, before beating double winners United 3-1 on home soil in 1995-96. The following season, Graeme Souness led Saints to a brutal 6-3 battering of Ferguson's side at The Dell. All fantastic achievements and results that won the club many friends. Supporters of the big guns all had a soft spot for the Saints, they loved the little tin-pot stadium that was The Dell and loved how Matthew Le Tissier could score so many wonderful goals without covering barely a single blade of grass during 90 minutes. Most of all, though, they loved the spirit around the club, the family vibe. They were never going to win the league, but every year was an epic battle and, until 2005, sheer grit and determination, coupled with some fantastic supporters, won the day and top-flight status was secured time and time again. But something changed when, finally, six years ago, Saints' against-all-odds survival skills deserted them. All of a sudden, the little club in the big league that everyone loved became a wounded animal, caged and shackled in the Championship and, during that first season in the second tier, almost falling to another relegation. Dropping into League One in 2009 did little to halt the disdain among fans and, when Cherries were elevated to the same level as their south coast rivals last season, it was too much for many supporters in the SO postcode to take. Rather than welcome the boot being on the other foot after so many years of playing David to the Premier League's Goliaths, an undercurrent of arrogance began to seep out of St Mary's. The tiny club of the 90s was now far too big to welcome the likes of AFC Bournemouth and Dagenham & Redbridge to its 32,000-seater St Mary's home. Dubbed South Coast Club' by the Sun newspaper following a ban on press photographers at the stadium, chairman Nicola Cortese then sacked manager Alan Pardew in August. Clearly a 4-0 away win at Bristol Rovers was simply unacceptable for such a giant of the third tier. And so in came Nigel Adkins, a perfect candidate to take the belittling of Saints' less glamorous rivals to another level. When you speak to all the opposition managers or you read their reports after the game, you will find that it is the best their team has played all season when they play Southampton, rambled Adkins ahead of Saints' 1-0 defeat to Walsall on March 1. Every game that you play now is a cup final in people's minds, because they will raise their games playing against a club the stature of Southampton, Adkins continued when asked about the prospect of playing Exeter City at St James' Park. And so, despite the stature' of the club, Saints currently sit three points behind tiny Cherries going into tomorrow's cup final' at Dean Court. So much for running away with it. The truth is, Saints have more in common with the little 'uns down in Dorset than they think. Both clubs were mis-managed in the past, resulting in slides down the Football League ladder, and both clubs are finally finding their feet on and off the pitch thanks to the late Markus Liebherr and Eddie Mitchell. Both clubs have some fantastic players, the likes of Marc Pugh and Adam Lallana lighting up the league with inventive and, at times, dazzling displays. Both clubs have fantastic and, by and large, respectful supporters who have stuck with their heroes through the bad times as well as the good. All in all, both clubs now have so much going for them. But the club residing the other side of the New Forest needs to take a long hard look at itself, to remember where it was and where it is now. For if Southampton Football Club does fail, for a second season, to get back to its level', the St Mary's powers that be might need a few of those friends from years gone by. If they can fight their way through the enemies made during this campaign first.