Firstly, thanks to everyone who voted for this site, whether it was via Facebook or Twitter. The awards shortlists were announced last night, and I was chuffed to see georgeweahscousin.com in the four site group.
All eyes will now be on the awards ceremony in Manchester on the 13th July, but it is fantastic to be named amongst three other great sites, and ahead of many others. Alongside us in the “Club Specific” category are:-
No game this season has been or is likely to be as big as this.
Just nine goals separate Saints and Reading, and both have a six point advantage over third placed West Ham. There is just four games left to play and on Friday night they face each other.
Realistically, both sides need seven points (six for Saints with their goal difference) from their remaining four fixtures to book a return to the big time so Friday’s match gives both an opportunity to both make a major dent in that and take the advantage in the race to be Champions.
Reading have been on staggering form after a shaky start, and Saints have been in the top two all season. This really is a case of “the unstoppable force against the immovable object”.
Reading have a few players either injured or recovering when they visit St. Mary’s, and Saints will be without playmaker Morgan Schneiderlin, but hopefully this game will live out to be the spectacle that it deserves.
I caught up with Dan from top Reading blog The Tilehurst End and asked him a few questions about the big match:-
So this is the big one, how do you feel it will go?
“It’s weird because for ages this is the game I’ve been most confident about. I thought we’d get a draw at West Ham and get beat at Brighton before nicking a win at your place. Now that we’ve got 5 more points than I thought I’m suddenly more nervous!
While Tuesday night was a great win it was very much a backs to the wall effort (a bit like your win at Leeds a while back!) and we very much felt the impact of having our first, second and third choice central midfielders out injured (Cheers Colin & Leeds….) . Jem Karacan is out for the season while Mikele Leigertwood and Jay Tabb are both doubts for Friday’s game and without at least one of those back to partner Hayden Mullins we might well struggle to contain you.
Beyond that, with the likes of Lallana, Sharp and Lambert you’ve got the ability to punish us but our defence have risen to just about every challenge so far and I hope they will do again.
I wouldn’t rule out us going and winning 2-1… but my sensible head says 1-1.”
After a less than impressive start, your turnaround has been amazing, what changed?
“Losing at Wembley + No Money + Selling our captain & top goalscorer = a bad Reading side to start the season.
Losing Matt Mills and Shane Long was always going to be difficult, especially when those are sales to survive rather than to generate funds for new signings. On top of that, some of the team that did so well at the end of the previous season came back injured or just plain out of form. Ian Harte, Jem Karacan and Mikele Leigertwood were all horribly out off the pace and there just seemed a malaise around the place.
But before the end of the month Brian signed the likes of Kaspars Gorkss, Adam Le Fondre and Joe Mills and we slowly started to grind out some results. We were looking like staying in the play-off race at Christmas but a modest advance of funds from our prospective new owners allowed us to sign the likes of Jason Roberts in the January window and with him we’ve never looked back. Suddenly we had the striker we needed to play 4-4-2 effectively and him, a rejuvenated Ian Harte and rock solid back pair in Pearce and Gorkss have enabled us to be the best side in this league in 2012.”
Who do you fear in the Southampton side?
“As mentioned it’s hard to look past Lambert, Lallana and Sharp. Some Reading fans have branded you as Lambert FC but it’s clear you’re capable of scoring from all over the pitch and can punish any lapse in concentration. The game at the Madejski last year was clear proof of that, as a Reading side seemingly in control was undone by switching off for a moment at a set peice. You’re top of the Championship for a reason and we won’t be underestimating anyone.”
Your the boss, how do you lineup the side to beat us?
“Without knowing who will and won’t be fit it’s a bit of a nightmare! Based on who MIGHT/HOPE will be fit I’d stick with the tried and tested 4-4-2 that has done us so well this year.
Cummings Pearce Gorkss Harte
Kebe Leigertwood Tabb/Mullins McAnuff
Our gameplan is based on soaking up pressure, with our central midfielders sitting deep and winning the ball to release Kebe and McAnuff, or getting it up to Hunt or Roberts to flick on from one another. It’s quite scary to watch as often we’re happy to give the oppossition the ball in our half but we seem to have a lot of control and patience and even going behind doesn’t phase us.
Howevert, with the injuries we have we had to play a bit of a 4-5-1 on Tuesday night so you could well see Cywka, Mullins and McAnuff as the midfield trio with Kebe and Hunt winging it and Roberts up front Solo.”
How will the top 3 look after the last game of the season?
“Hoping it’s 1. Reading 2. Southampton 3. West Ham.
If I wasn’t a Reading fan I’d have to fancy West Ham to totally implode. Their players looked as if they won the cup when they sneaked a late equaliser against Brum so it was great to knock the stuffing out of them with a win at the AMEX on Tuesday. If Friday ends in a draw as I’m predicting, Reading should hopefully dispatch Forest and Palace while I think Boro could nick a draw off you. That would mean a winner take all final day and in those circumstances I think we can beat a Brum side who will have 1 eye on the play-offs.”
I was happy to return the favour for Dan, read my responses to his questions here.
“I was surprised how fierce the rivalry was when I first came down to Hampshire in the late 1970s. I’ve been involved in three other local rivalries – the Merseyside and north London derbies as a player and in Manchester as a manager – and the feeling is as high here as anywhere.” – Alan Ball 2004
With the next chapter in the South Coast saga just twenty four days away, I thought I would take a look at the men who have braved the wrath of the supporters of both clubs by crossing the Hampshire divide. Surprisingly, many have done it, and many have done it without becoming hate figures, notable twitching cockney managers apart.
Much will be made of the passion and sadly the hatred that encompasses the clash between Hampshire’s finest in the lead up to the Fratton Park fixture, but hopefully these profiles will stir nice memories for the supporters of both clubs.
First up is a man who captured the true spirit of what a rivalry is all about and managed to see the lighter side of it.
14th May 2002, Matthew Le Tissier’s Testimonial at St. Mary’s. Le Tissier’s former Saints teammate Dave Beasant is in goal for the England XI in the second half, having recently completed a season playing for Pompey.
The crowd at St. Mary’s are deep into a rendition of a Saints terrace classic “When I was just a little boy, I asked my mother, what should I be, Should I be Pompey, Should I be Saints, Here’s what she said to me, Wash your mouth out son, Go get your fathers gun, and shoot the Pompey scum and support the Saints…..”
Beasant turns to the crowd behind his goal, holds his heart like he has been shot and then dramatically falls to the ground and plays dead.
Lurch, as he is affectionately known has always been a character, and perhaps it takes that level of humour to play for both these fierce rivals, and Beasant had experienced the nastier side of the derby first hand. Beasant was Saints keeper in two derby games, firstly in May 1994 when Saints went to Fratton Park for Alan Knight’s testimonial and then in January 1996 at the Dell for an FA cup tie.
Beasant commented on the 1994 visit to Fratton afterwards ‘The intensity of the fans was something else. It just wasn’t like a testimonial. All sorts of things were going on outside. It was like a mini-riot.”
Beasant joined Saints in November 1993 after Tim Flowers had departed for high flying Blackburn Rovers. Coming armed with a calamitous reputation from his time at Chelsea, and a career very much on the decline after his 1988 FA Cup final high, which had peaked with two England caps in 1989 and travelling to the 1990 world cup to replace David Seaman.
His move to Saints proved to be a good one though, despite a shaky start Beasant became a reliable first team keeper for a Saints side that became rejuvenated under Alan Ball. Still liable to the odd concentration lapse, Beasant was soon forgiven due to his likeable nature and the odd camera save.
Beasant made eighty eight appearances for Saints before dropping down the pecking order behind Paul Jones and Maik Taylor. In the summer of 1997 the veteran keeper headed to Nottingham Forest on loan before making the move permanent.
After four seasons with Forest it was under difficult circumstances that Beasant found himself Hampshire bound again.
Pompey had tragically lost keeper and former Saints youth player Aaron Flahavan in a car crash in the summer of 2001 and Beasant was brought in to take his place.
In a difficult season for the blues, Beasant was a steady and reliable performer under Graham Rix, but the Redknapp revolution was just around the corner and Beasant was surplus to requirements, oddly heading to Spurs and back to the Premier League aged 39.
Pompey fan @BileysMullet gave me his thoughts on Beasant’s time at Fratton:-
“Beasant was one of the few ex-scummers accepted, as a result of some age defying performances and the fact he took the banter so well..”
Beasant would go on to further play for Wigan Athletic, Bradford City, Brighton and Fulham before retiring in 2004, he is now a senior coach at the Glenn Hoddle academy.
“Well, if they can keep with us, maybe.” – Nigel Adkins 23rd November 2010, having been asked if Saints and Brighton would be battling it out for promotion come the end of the season.
Brighton were eight points clear of Saints at the time.
“They play the same kind of football as Dagenham and Redbridge. The only difference is they’ve got (Rickie) Lambert. If you gave Dagenham and Redbridge (Lee) Barnard and Lambert they would be in the top six.” – Gus Poyet speaking on the 23rd April 2011 after Saints 2-1 victory at the Withdean ended Brighton’s undefeated home run.
Southampton were being praised from all corners of the media and opposition fans for their attractive flowing football under Adkins.
Last season something funny happened between the respective prides of Hampshire and Sussex. Almost as a sub-plot to the season, a rivalry (many fans will insist that it wasn’t a rivalry , but it was) developed between two of League One’s South coast clubs. Saints fans had never really cared about Brighton (and vice-versa I am sure), in fact I’ve always kind of liked them, but the events of last season brought about a new outlook on each other, that was fuelled mainly by the quoted comments above.
The great thing about rivalries is that they are the added to spice to any season, and last season’s campaign saw both teams without games against their real rivals. In fact both had been starved of regular derby games for a few years, so when a side reasonably local becomes your main promotion challenger things are likely to hot up. Add to that a sprinkling of former Brighton players now turning out for Saints and there was already enough reasons to see some full blooded encounters between the two.
The fanning of the flames though, didn’t come from the terraces, but from the clubs respective managers.
Nigel Adkins comments, following the 0-0 draw at St. Mary’s were unwise to say the least. Perhaps said tongue in cheek, as we all know Adkins likes a little joke with interviewers, but when you are eight points behind, it was enough ammunition to make the Saints boss a figure of hate for the Seagulls faithful. The disdain from the Saints fans point of view came from events on the pitch in that game. I was never a fan of Poyet as a player, and what I saw that night was a team very much influenced by their manager. Time wasting, play acting and imaginary card waving seemed to be the order of the day from the team in blue and white and incensed the Saints fans.
So the scene was set for the rest of the season.
The build up to the return match at the Withdean was almost comical, mainly because despite the months of ‘banter’ between the two sets of fans, both claimed to not really care about the other. The banners made especially for Nigel Adkins by the Brighton fans and the wild celebrations of the Saints fan after Jose Fonte’s winner would suggest nothing could be further from the truth. Another incident surrounding this match, that was blown out of proportion was the non-guard of honour. A contentious issue no doubt, but one that was spoken about far more because of the bad blood that had already built up between the clubs. Brighton were deserved champions, and under any other circumstances I am sure that Saints would have obliged, but I backed Adkins decision then, and I do now. Guards of honour are usually provided by teams with nothing left to play for in a season, and when the game means nothing to either side. That certainly wasn’t the case for a Saints team still chasing automatic promotion and the game clearly did mean a lot to both teams, managers and fans.
If Saints fans had cringed in November when Adkins had made his vocal faux pas, it was time for the Brighton fans to put their fingers in their ears, as a clearly disappointed Poyet came out with his uninformed and factually incorrect rant after the game. A man who had also claimed that the game wasn’t important to him, but had withdrew the ball boys with twenty minutes to go when 1-0 up, Poyet’s South American passion had clearly got the better of him.
The comments may have been fair had they been aimed at Saints under Alan Pardew, who did like to go the direct route often, but it was now a weapon that was used only rarely by Adkins, albeit effectively to seal a last minute winner at the Withdean. The most insulting thing about it though was the disrespect to the Saints squad, dismissed as pawns for Lambert by Poyet. Many Saints fans (myself included) have since take glee from the reports of opposition fans in Brighton’s last few games, which suggest that since the signing of Billy Paynter, Poyet himself has mixed it up a bit with some punts to the big man, style is one thing, adapting to situations is another…..
So where does it leave us this season? As Saints and Brighton prepare to face off for the first time in the new campaign, things have very much died down. Brighton have found the step up slightly tougher than Saints, but neither has looked out of their depth. We both have our ‘real’ rivals to worry about now.
Saturday will have some needle though, there is no doubt about that. Poyet won the war last year, but didn’t win any battles and that will hurt him. Nigel Adkins and the Saints players will be fuelled by the Dagenham and Redbridge comments, and both sides will be looking at a possible reverse of the unbeaten home record situation.
It will be a good game, of that I am sure, and a little bit of rivalry and friendly banter never hurt anybody. We will rib Gus, and the Seagulls fans will rib Nigel, but I expect it will all be done with an undertone of begrudging respect for the fantastic jobs both men have done.
Both teams play nice football, and there are some great players in both sides. The additions to Brighton’s squad this season, particularly Mackail-Smith and Vicente are impressive and this could be Saints toughest home game so far. Let’s hope that the talking points all come from the pitch though, and not the post match interviews.
I for one can say honestly, that I have enjoyed the online battle of wills with the Brighton fans, and found it to be humour filled and fun, and long may it continue. Can you keep up?
Spare a thought for poor old Dagenham & Redbridge though. Staring non-league football in the face, but for a Rickie Lambert they would be on the brink of the Premier League….
Where better to get an all round overview of the thoughts of Championship fans on the coming season than the fantastic club specific blogs. I caught up with a contributor/tweeter from each of the twenty four Championship clubs and got their thoughts on the coming season…
What can we expect from your club this season? Expect to see a far more resilient and united team at Oakwell this time out. What we may lack in stand-out names on our team sheet, we will more than make up for in our approach and ethic. Many have Barnsley FC as relegation certainties, I disagree. We feel the time may be arriving when our Academy and shrewd acquisition may just begin to bare fruit.
Who is your most important player? It’s a very fresh (expected first eleven) this season, but I would highlight Jacob Butterfield who has featured last season, but would expect to make it in to automatic selection this season. He has excellent skills and vision, which would make him our natural playmaker to link our attacking force together.
Your predicted finishing position? Mid table.
Who might win the Championship? Big Sam will sort it at West Ham United.
Who definitely won’t? Peterborough United.
Most anticipated fixture? It would probably be Leeds United. Last term we took 4 points off our local rivals and love to destroy their so called mighty status. No Leeds fan would admit they were the weaker team last season and have attributed both results as a poor day at the office on their part. Let’s see!
Most anticipated fixture that doesn’t involve your club? Champions League Final, to see if Barcelona really have re-written the football blueprint. Will Manchester United or any club overcome them soon? It’s an interesting situation.
If you could take one player from someone else’s club (Championship only), who would it be? Kevin Nolan will be different class in the Npower Championship. His willingness to compete and his goals mark him a class apart.
You find yourself stuck in Elland Road. How do you escape unnoticed? Wait until they score first, knowing that their demise will inevitably follow later in the game versus The Super Reds. Pride always comes before a fall and in this instance, there’s always so much smug self satisfaction going on, they would fail to see anything else happening … You only sing when you’re winning!
What can we expect from your club this season? Err, good question. Things are very odd at the moment, not even sure if we have a full squad! I hope some entertaining football though under Chris Hughton.
Who is your most important player? Any who are left? 😉 Difficult to say, but I will be really pleased if we can keep Scott Dann. He is an amazing defender.
Your predicted finishing position? I’ll be happy to be in the play off mix as a minimum.
Who might win the Championship? Got to between Leeds, Forest, West Ham, Leicester and I hope us! (Well you never know!)
Who definitely won’t? Peterborough. Sorry Posh.
Most anticipated fixture? Probably v West Ham as there is no love lost between our present board and our previous board. Also the way we knocked them out of the Carling Cup last season.
Most anticipated fixture that doesn’t involve your club? Leicester v Forest I would have thought.
If you could take one player from someone else’s club (Championship only) who would it be? This is tough, because I didn’t pay any attention to the Championship last year mainly because I didn’t think we would be in it this year! 🙁
You find yourself stuck in The Ricoh Arena. How do you escape unnoticed? I would ask could they tell me where the other two Cathedrals were!
What can we expect from your club this season? More of the same. Gus Poyet is very definite in his views on how the game should be played: pass, pass and pass again. We have some exciting new players offering lots of attacking promise whilst we’ve yet to strengthen at the back. Maybe we’ll win every game 6-5.
Who is your most important player? That’s a tough one given our new blood. Craig Mackail-Smith is the big money big (and long) name but I have a sneaky feeling that Will Hoskins will turn out to be key for us this year. At the back we’ll be looking for Gordon Greer to lead by example, and that includes not picking up needless sending offs.
Your predicted finishing position? Hopes of ‘doing a Norwich’ are perhaps a tad optimistic, but I think we’ll have enough to ensure we remain free of relegation concerns. Mid-table mediocrity? Yes please!
Who might win the Championship? It’s an obvious answer, but West Ham or Leicester should be there or thereabouts with the squads they have.
Who definitely won’t? Crystal Palace. Woeful.
Most anticipated fixture? Crystal Palace at home. For the first time in a generation, we get to compete with our rivals on an even footing.
Most anticipated fixture that doesn’t involve your club? I really can’t think of one. I’m not sure there’s another Championship game I’d pay the entrance price to see. But, given the source of these questions, I’ll say that sampling a derby between those other 2 South Coast Championship clubs probably holds the most appeal.
If you could take one player from someone else’s club (Championship only), who would it be? Glenn Murray. It sounds like he needs a big hug already.
You find yourself stuck in Selhurst Park. How do you escape unnoticed? I’d pretend to be Glenn Murray – nobody will be noticing him in a few weeks time.
What can we expect from your club this season? Hard to say with all the uncertainty still surrounding Nicky Maynard. He really is vital to any potential success we may have. After a turbulent (to say the least) season last time around, I’d expect us to improve upon that with a far more settled side. Mid-table finish after a short flirt with the play offs, maybe sneaking in should Mr Maynard stay the duration.
Who is your most important player? Maynard without doubt. Can produce something from absolutely nothing, something very few players in the Championship can do. If he leaves, then Albert Adomah who had a storming debut season on the right wing, and is on the verge of full honours for Ghana.
Your predicted finishing position? 11th.
Who might win the Championship? Hard to look past West Ham and Leicester at this stage.
Who definitely won’t? Barnsley are perennial top of the bottom 6 material.
Most anticipated fixture? With Swansea gone, our games with Cardiff should be reignited. West Ham at Upton Park will sure to be a popular one as well.
Most anticipated fixture that doesn’t involve your club? Couple of fantastic derby games this year. West Ham Vs Millwall being the obvious one. The two South coast clubs (Pompey and Saints) on even standings should be interesting as well.
If you could take one player from someone else’s club (Championship only), who would it be? As our defence resembles the red sea in biblical times, Matt Mills would plug the hole I’m sure.
You find yourself stuck in the Memorial Stadium. How do you escape unnoticed? I hide myself in the large tent behind one goal (the away end) and wait untill the end of the season until its wheeled away to be used at the Wimbledon Tennis Championships. I mean what sort of tinpot club has a temporary tent?
What can we expect from your club this season? That’s a good question and right now it almost feels as if we are about to step into the unknown. Since the squad reported back for pre-season training no less than three of them have left with a further two, Chris Eagles and Tyrone Mears, expected to leave for Bolton at any time. To replace them we’ve signed two young defenders on loan from Manchester City and as yet, nothing else. There is time yet but it does feel as though we’ve wasted an opportunity by not getting the squad together early enough.
Who is your most important player? Hopefully all of them will be important but the stand out players are Chris McCann and Jay Rodriguez who have both come through the youth system at Burnley. McCann is fit again after almost two years out of the game and at his best is as good a central midfield player as you will find in the Championship. He’s been so badly missed and it will be like having a new signing. Rodriguez, despite the name, is a real case of local boy makes good. He’s just enjoyed his first season in the first team and has become a crucial member of the side. He ended the season as leading goalscorer and not many players in the entire Championship scored more goals than he did. HIs 15 didn’t include a penalty and he could well step up towards 20 goals this coming season. He made an England debut last season at under-21 level and has an exciting future in front of him.
Your predicted finishing position? I would love to say first, but so would any supporter of any club. I’ll be realistic and I think if we could make a good start then we have a decent chance of making the play offs. In 2009 we finished 5th so I’ll go for that again.
Who might win the Championship? Not many eyes are looking too far beyond Leicester at the moment. Only today they have signed Manchester City’s Michael Johnson on loan and they are certainly putting a strong squad together. You know there’s money around once Sven Goran Eriksson shows his face, but for how long? Could it be another club where it all ends in tears? For now though they have to be favourites.
Who definitely won’t? I suspect there are a few who fall into that category. I think Peterborough will struggle and I don’t think there will be too many complaints if they do given they’ve got both Barry Fry and Darren Ferguson there.
Most anticipated fixture? Right now it’s Watford because it’s our first game. We’re stuck with hardly any local games this season with Blackpool as the only other North West club in the Championship. Personally I’m looking forward to going to Brighton and not having to suffer the Withdean but maybe Leeds will be the big games for us.
Most anticipate fixture that doesn’t involve your club? If that’s in the Championship then I’ve no real answer. Nothing stands out above anything else. Outside the Championship, and outside England, I’ll have the Barcelona v Real Madrid games marked in my diary.
If you could take one player from someone else’s club who would it be? It would have to be a goalscorer. They are the players who win the games for you. I’d have liked to have re-signed David Nugent so I’d go for someone like him or potentially Reading’s Shane Long.
You find yourself stuck in Ewood Park. How do you escape unnoticed? That’s easy. I’d just walk out. They’d be too busy tucking into their Venky’s chicken.
Part Two featuring Cardiff, Coventry, Palace, Derby, Doncaster and Hull coming soon…
The other night, I decided to run a little competition to get myself to 500 followers on twitter, the reward for being my 500th follower (other than a daily intake of my wittiest and fascinating 140 character world insights) was that I would write a piece on here that would revolve around the supported club of the new follower.
Unfortunately, rather like Chris Iwelumo on an international debut, I took my eye off the ball. This meant I wasn’t sure if Brighton fan @Mareschappie or Southend fan @CallumReavelll was number 500, so I sensibly did, the only thing I could do, I bravely declared that I would write a piece that involved both clubs. Now, I wanted this piece to have a positive spin for both clubs, otherwise, what kind of prize is that?
This proved to not be easy. The two clubs, while both rich with individual history don’t seem to have any mutual heroes, neither do they share any years where both achieved something of note. Then I hit upon somebody who achieved something with both clubs, and what’s more, a man who is well known throughout English football and in my opinion, the worst manager England never had….
You often hear Brian Clough described as “The greatest manager England never had”, his achievements in club football are as well known as they are remarkable, and the decision not to employ him as the boss of the national team after interviewing him in 1977 is one that often makes people wonder what might have been. Clough’s assistant Peter Taylor was also revered for the job he did with Derby County and could have followed “Ol big head” to Lancaster Gate had the FA seen differently. Another Peter Taylor came even closer to the three lions dugout, in fact he was in it once, but what now seems implausible, he was also interviewed for the England job full time in 2006, and not just as assistant.
Peter John Taylor started his career at Southend United, near to his home town of Rochford, Essex. A winger by trade, Taylor was a pivotal part of the Shrimpers side that won promotion from the fourth division in 1971/2, and was soon catching the eye of bigger clubs. Taylor went on to play for Crystal Palace and Spurs at the peak of his career and gained four England caps, the first of which he gained while still playing in the third division at Selhurst Park, but it is as a manager that Taylor is mainly remembered.
Taylor did his managerial apprenticeship in non-league football with Dartford, where he spent four years with much success. Southern cup winners twice (denied a third in the 1990 final) and two Southern league championships saw Taylor sought after by his former club Southend. Taylor took the reigns at Roots Hall in 1993 and would last just sixty six games. He suffered that unfortunate turn of fortunes, going from fans favourite for his exploits on the pitch to hate figure for his fortunes off it. For further examples see Souness, Graeme and Gunn, Bryan. Taylor’s Southend tenure was described in the clubs own history records as “disastrous” and he was soon on his way back to the non-league with Dover Athletic.
In what must have been a bizarre turn of events for the Southend fans, Taylor was only with the Kent club for two months, before being appointed as manager of the England U21’s as part of Glenn Hoddle’s new staff. It was the subsequent period with Englands “young lions” that for me, Taylor’s reputation and all future job offers were based on. He carved a persona as good man manager who the players liked and had a decent record, losing just twice in nineteen competitive games during his time at the helm. The likes of Frank Lampard, Rio Ferdinand, Michael Owen and Emile Heskey were brought into the setup by Taylor, and became four of the eleven to make the step up to the full squad under his guidance. Actually his replacement by Howard Wilkinson in June 1999 was controversial at best, and for seemingly no reason other than moving Hoddle’s men out.
In what was now becoming a commonplace feature of Taylor’s managerial career he yo-yo’d all the way down to the second division with Gillingham, proving his England U21 succeses were no fluke, taking the Gills to playoff glory at the first attempt. Leicester City, hot from several years of success under Martin O’Neill, including a League Cup win and european football decided to appoint Taylor in 2000. For many people this is where he got found out. He started well, but soon the performances tailed off. Dressing room unrest amongst senior players Steve Walsh and Tony Cottee coupled with a poor start to the 2001/02 season and gaining a reputation with the Filbert Street faithful for poor transfer dealings (Taylor spent £23 million in his time at Leicester, including £5 million for Ade Akinbiyi, £3 million for James Scowcroft and £1.5 million for Trevor Benjamin) saw Taylor sacked and destined never to manage in the top flight again (to date).
During his spell at Leicester, Taylor did however have perhaps his finest hour. After the resignation of Kevin Keegan as England manager in October 2000, the FA needed someone to take the reigns for a friendly against Italy in Turin. Taylor didn’t mess around and decided to use his opportunity to put his own stamp on proceedings, turning to many of his U21 stalwarts, Rio Ferdinand, Gareth Barry, Jamie Carragher, Seth Johnson, Emile Heskey and Keiron Dyer. He also handed David Beckham the England captaincy for the first time. England lost the tie 1-0, but it would be the start of a long international career for many of those players and notably a renaissance for the newly crowned skipper.
Taylor, wounded from his experiences at Leicester, but also strangely bouyed by his chance with the national team, ended up on the South Coast with Brighton & Hove Albion. Here he proved again, that getting a club promoted from one of the lower divisions was not difficult for him, as he guided the Seagulls to top spot in the second division. This may have been the start of something special for Taylor, but he left at the end of the season, claiming “lack of financial resources” as his reason. He was soon back in football though, back in the basement division with Hull City. An attractive prospect for Taylor, soon to be moving into their new stadium and serious financial backing meant he could soon work his promotion magic, getting the Tigers from Division three to Division one in three seasons.
During his time at the KC stadium, the FA came calling again, and Taylor took on the U21’s as a part time role. It didn’t go quite as well in his second spell, though competitively results were good. James Milner was the young star, as England again came close in the European championships. Taylor’s achievements at Hull had been noted by his former club Crystal Palace and they took him on to lead them to promotion from the Championship and around the same time, Sven Goran Eriksson left his role as England manager. Taylor confirmed in an interview with the Independent that he had been interviewed for the vacant position and life must have seemed pretty rosy. Unfortunately for him, he did not get the job, and the shake up meant he was relieved of his duties with the young lions too. If that wasn’t a bad enough chain of events, form at Palace dipped dramatically and with the possibility of relegation a very real one, Taylor was sacked.
Unsuccessful spells at conference side Stevenage Borough and League Two Bradford City sandwiched another lower league promotion with Wycombe Wanderers.
So is Taylor the worst manager England never had? Despite being the one of the most qualified coaches in the country, his managerial record is up and down. Somewhat of an expert at getting sides promoted from the lower divisions, quite what the FA saw in him as a top level manager is beyond me. A man manager? His 96-99 U21 side would say yes, his 2000 Leicester side would beg to differ. A tactician? Supporters of his lower league promotion sides would say so, those of his higher level clubs would not.
Luckily for us, the FA chose not to employ the Englishman with no great success record behind him, and opted for Steve McClaren, and we all know how that turned out….
Goodbye to you my trusted friend. We’ve known each other since 2009/10…
When Saints were relegated to the third tier of English football in May 2009, the club was at it’s lowest ebb. Administration, wages not being paid and liquidation a very real possibility.
The rescue of the club by Markus Liebherr was both spectacular in it’s suddenness and an early sign of things to come, especially in terms of how the new owners and chairman conduct their business. In private.
The new regime moved quickly to remove the disastrous Dutch coaching team and install the experienced and somewhat “punching below his weight” Alan Pardew. Suddenly, just as quickly as the club had spiralled downwards, it was growing again, and smiles were seen again around the city. The first season in League One was always going to be interesting. A new division, a new manager and a new team can be uneasy ground at the best of times, but add the points deduction that Saints had suffered as punishment for their financial troubles the previous season and you have a dangerous mix.
As it happened, it was a difficult start for the Saints, and there was an air of “here we go again” in the St. Mary’s stands. It was eight games before they registered a League One win, and ten before they hit “positive” points.
For the first time in a long time, Saints were a scalp. After years of being a weekly underdog, now they were facing life on the opposite side of the fence and it was tough. Smaller clubs desperate to take us down. The opposition League One fans were also hard to please, if a Saints fan suggested promotion they were “arrogant”, but if they suggested otherwise it would be ridiculous for us not to win the league with “our resources”.
But once Pardew’s men got the points deduction monkey off their proverbial backs, there was no stopping them. Showpiece signings like Rickie Lambert and Jose Fonte soon got the team fired up the table, and despite some disappointing results away from home, Saints got themselves to within just seven points of the playoffs, highlighting the true punishment of a deduction. They did make Wembley however and lifted the Johnstones Paint Trophy in front of over fifty thousand of their fans, in what was a truly fantastic day for all concerned.
Saints fans went into the summer, cautiously optimistic, the team looked like it was now equipped to deal with the division, and with no points deduction the possibility of promotion was high. But as Saints fans, we learnt a long time ago to never “expect” anything.
It seemed inconceivable as Saints entered the 2010/11 season that there could be anything but good spirits at the club. Sadly there were undercurrents of mistrust between the manager and the board that spawned rumour after rumour. Coupled with an opening day televised home defeat to Plymouth Argyle and all the optimism of the summer was draining away fast, could it get any worse for Saints fans?
It could. Just three days after the first game of the season, Saints owner and saviour Markus Liebherr passed away. A city in shock, suddenly with it’s future up in the air again, and mourning the man who had brought back their smiles.
It didn’t improve on the pitch. A draw at home to Leyton Orient and grumblings of unfit players and poor pre-season preparation spelled the end for Alan Pardew, dismissed ironically after a 4-0 away win at Bristol Rovers. The next three league games all ended in defeat. Saints were 23rd in League One, their season already looking in tatters.
Enter Nigel Adkins. The Scunthorpe manager brought mixed reaction from the Southampton faithful, many still smarting from the removal of Alan Pardew, but after a losing start, the Saints players under a new regime started to put a good run of form together. The emergence of another Southampton “teenage sensation” in Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, the fantastic form of Adam Lallana and a much steadier looking back four made the Saints a tougher prospect and they were soon battling it out at the business end of the table.
It still looked like automatic promotion was going to be a difficult prospect though, and that we would be victims of our own poor start. Runaway leaders Brighton were having a fantastic season, Huddersfield, Bournemouth and a resurgent Peterborough United under Darren Ferguson all looking to take the second spot. A 0-1 defeat away at Walsall and many Saints fans would have been eyeing potential play off matches, but the run the team put together after that was to fire us half way back to where we belong.
The last fifteen games of the season. Thirteen wins. One draw. One defeat. Amongst this remarkable form there were moments of real inspiration, that finally had me, a natural pessimist believing we could do it.
MK Dons at home. 2-0 down and looking like a serious promotion challenge dent. Cue Jonathon Forte, brought on in the 63rd minute, pulled one back in the 66th and equalised in the 67th. I had no doubt in my mind at that point that we would win the game and we did.
Bristol Rovers at home. Having just lost 0-2 at Rochdale, Saints needed to pick themselves up again. I was in Qingdao, China, where nearly all social media is banned. I was sat in my hotel room at 2300 local time watching the text updates on the official site. Saints carved out chance after chance, but couldn’t score. Until the 82nd minute. Guly do Prado, sending at least one of the 1.3 Billion people in China into a state of delirious satisfaction.
Brighton Away. The deserved champions had got a little big for their boots, the snarling and baiting of their fans towards Nigel Adkins leading up to it, gave the game an unhealthy edge. David Connolly got the equaliser and Jose Fonte and Saints deservedly snatched their unbeaten home record in the last minute. The best team in the league statistically, couldn’t keep up.
Saints went into the last three games knowing that two wins was enough. We won all three, and promotion was sealed.
I have often heard our stay in League One described as a nightmare, but it really wasn’t. Of course it is a blow to find yourselves at this level after years of Premier League extravagance, but it was nice to have a period of winning more games than we lost. Having said that, I am glad to be out of it, and hopefully we won’t be back, although there is something rather refreshing about the less commercial League One.
It is a really weird feeling to be elated about going to the Championship. Last time I was devastated…
We had joy, we had fun, we had two seasons in League One…
As we near the end of the 2010/11 season, there is an area of the country that will be happier than most, and it isn’t London or the North West, but somewhere a little less traditional.
Two clubs have dominated their way to promotion this year and both are from the relative footballing backwater of Sussex. In fact both of the more modern East and West Sussex administrations are represented, Brighton & Hove Albion from the East and Crawley Town from the West. This can only be a positive for South Coast football, an area that has been long starved of success. It often amazes me that the South Coast hasn’t produced a bigger force in English football, it is a nice big catchment area, the main clubs all have big potential fanbases, but they so often get close to rubbing shoulders with the big boys, but don’t quite make it. Portsmouth’s relegation last year broke an uninterrupted thirty two years of South Coast representation in the top flight, but barring a few exceptions, neither the red and blue halves of Hampshire pushed on to be silverware manufacturers.
But now the South Coast is on the resurgence it would seem. Portsmouth have beaten a rocky start to cement their place in the Championship, Brighton will be joining them, and both Saints and Bournemouth both potentially could. Add to that the promotion of Crawley Town to the football league for the first time in their history and several money men getting involved with the areas clubs, it can only be a matter of time before we are represented again.
Crawley Town have been an unmitigated success story this season, and they set out their stall early. Having had the debts of the club written off by new owners, the club was even in the position to give manager Steve Evans transfer funds to rebuild the squad. In what is staggering amounts of money to be spending at Blue Square Premier level, the likes of Matt Tubbs and Sergio Torres, players with football league experience (Torres having played in the Championship with Peterbotough United last season) and others cost the club in the region of £500k.
Some non-league fans were critical of Crawley’s spending, but the outlay has paid dividends. Not only have the “Red Devils” stormed their way to the league title, but also put together a money spinning FA Cup run which saw them take the football league scalps of Swindon Town, Derby County and Torquay United before being felled by just one goal at Old Trafford. Such has been the impact of Crawley’s impressive performances as they were propelled into the public eye, that many are predicting the possibility of a second successive promotion for the Broadfield Stadium outfit, and if the financial backing continues who would be surprised?
While Crawley may have been the surprise package in the Blue Square Premier, their East Sussex neighbours Brighton weren’t about to let them steal the show. When Gus Poyet took over the “Seagulls” in November 2009, they were a club in trouble, struggling for results and looking in serious relegation danger, they were a far cry from this season’s win machine. Poyet steadied the ship and they retained their League One status comfortably by nine points. Nobody though was tipping them for anything more than consolidation this season. A good example of this was the scoffing from Swindon Town fans, when Brighton reportedly made a move for their previous season’s play off final captain Gordon Greer. Perhaps Greer could already see what the Swindon fans or anyone else couldn’t, as he chose the Withdean and the Robins went into freefall.
Poyet also re-signed Spaniard Inigo Calderon, fighting off interest from Southampton and brought in experienced keeper Casper Ankergen along with others, as the Brighton ownership also decided to show their Sussex clout. Like Crawley, the results were almost instantaneous, Poyet had created a tight and efficient unit who it soon became clear were not going to be easy to beat.
The style of play Poyet has them playing, is not every bodies cup of tea, but it is certainly effective. Clearly influenced by his South American roots, Brighton established themselves as the League One keep ball masters, a slow and patient build up with Elliott Bennett and Glenn Murray providing the attacking potency. The real key to Brighton’s title win however, is the same as all good champions. Consistency. While, as a Saints fan I am sometimes bemused as our talented pool of players come a cropper against beatable opposition, Brighton are getting results week in, week out, and here lies the key to a somewhat controversial PFA League One team of the year. Five Southampton players and only three from Brighton. Seems wrong, and perhaps it is, but Brighton’s dominant team unit is far more of a threat than five great individuals.
The crazy thing is, that in any other season the “Seagulls” fans could be forgiven for bemoaning bad luck. Brighton have developed a knack for earning then missing penalties, were they not going up, that might have put a serious downer on their year.
With Albion, it is case of double celebration this summer too, as they will start their Championship campaign in a stunning new facility at Falmer, the Withdean has long been holding this potentially big club back, and with their shiny new ground, and season tickets selling fast, it makes you wonder what might be in store for them.
So what we have with these two clubs is two dominant and deserved champions. Yes, it does pain me to say this as a Saints fan, Brighton are doing what perhaps we thought we might have done this year, and for me personally, as not a fan of Gus Poyet it is doubly frustrating. But there comes a time when you have to hold your hands up and say the best team won. Congratulations to both Brighton & Hove Albion and Crawley Town.
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