Saints claim the last laugh at Brighton

24 April 2011 02:34
Saints spanked Brighton in their own back yard to end their unbeaten run. THIS was a day clearly intended to be a public humiliation for Saints right from the outset. It ended very much with Nigel Adkins' men having the last laugh, though. Brighton’s first game since winning League One was always likely to generate a party atmosphere among the home fans. But strangely it all felt more like an occasion to celebrate Saints’ failure to claim the title, rather than to mark their own success. Brighton were revelling in their role as champions, taunting their visitors at every opportunity. It started before supporters even got in through the turnstiles, with the front page of the Seagulls programme declaring “Can you keep up?” That was a not-so-subtle reference to Nigel Adkins’ comment after the teams had played out a 0-0 draw at St Mary’s last November. When asked whether he thought it would be Saints and Brighton fighting it out for the title at the end of the season he started his answer by saying: “Well, if they can keep with us, maybe.” Albion had clearly been stewing on those words ever since. And they were desperate to remind Saints – and Adkins – at every opportunity about the remark. Brighton boss Gus Poyet described the game as “an important match for us” in his programme notes. He then added: “For Saints, however, it is even more important as they look to keep up with us and clinch that second automatic promotion place.” Whoever chose the pre-match music list was clearly in on the act too, with the first song of the day “Catch us if you can”. The home supporters had also come armed. One banner read “Are we keeping up?” while another said: “The Adkins diet: Humble pie, egg on face, chip on shoulder, sour grapes, can’t keep up, won’t shut up.” Saints fans could perhaps argue there was a slightly ironic tinge to the “chip on the shoulder” line. Regardless, that wasn’t going to rein-in the home fans. When the PA announcer read out the teams, the names of the Brighton players were all preceded by “champion”. Many of the Saints fans, to their credit, applauded the Seagulls when their new status as league winners was proudly declared for the first time. There was no guard of honour from the visitors for Albion, though. What was present was plenty of abuse towards Adkins when he walked out to the bench. Home fans crowded around the dugout, berating the St Mary’s boss in what were pretty distasteful scenes. There were plenty of chants aimed at Saints, or Adkins directly, throughout the afternoon, with former Seagull Dean Hammond also coming in for his share of stick. The cries of derision only increased in volume when the hosts took the lead just before half-time. That again led to plenty of supporters descending on the Saints bench to harangue Adkins, who seemed to keep his cool for the most part. The visiting support did their best to impact the game throughout, but were so far away from the pitch that it was tough for them to make their presence felt. They could only hope their players would give them a result to wipe the smiles off the home fans’ faces. For so long it looked as if the humiliation would be completed, with Brighton heading towards a win. But incredible late drama, with goals from David Connolly and Jose Fonte secured a remarkable comeback and the most valuable of three points for Adkins’ men. Saints can’t take the title from Brighton, but their fans could at least take delight in claiming the last word at the Withdean, and moving a step closer to joining the Seagulls in the Championship next season.