“If God had wanted us to play football in the clouds, he’d have put grass up there.” – Brian Clough
Saints head to Pride Park this weekend to face Derby County in a top of the table clash which has already attracted a crowd of thirty thousand people.
Nigel Adkins will be pitting his wits against Nigel Clough. Both have had fantastic records so far this season, and have their teams playing the way football should be played. One stark difference for them though, is that for Clough, he will always be compared to “Old Big ‘Ead” himself, father Brian.
Clough Snr will always be regarded as one of the greatest managers this country has ever produced, bringing attention to himself, first with Saturday’s opponents Derby, before huge success with arch rivals Nottingham Forest, and it was in his Forest days that Clough Snr, proved to be somewhat of a spoilsport for Saints. Twice, the great man denied us in cup finals, some thirteen years apart.
Firstly, in 1979 Southampton found themselves the underdogs for another Wembley final in the League Cup, taking on league champions and holders Nottingham Forest. Despite taking an early lead, Saints were eventually bossed by the class of Clough’s men. A valiant effort from the team in yellow though saw the final score at 3-2 in favour of the champions, with Saints goals coming from Nick Holmes and David Peach. Archie Gemmill the architect for Forest. Strike one to Clough.
1992 saw Saints and Forest meet again in the capital, this time for the Zenith Data Systems Cup final, Clough’s side may not have been the force they were thirteen years previously, but they were going well in the league, and had been in the previous season’s FA Cup final. Amongst their team were two sons of note, Nigel making a name for himself up front, and Scott the offspring of 1979’s chief tormenter Archie. Saints came back from a 2-0 deficit to take the game to extra time, Kevin Moore and Matthew Le Tissier getting the goals, but it was to be a Gemmill again that would have a definitive say in the outcome. Adding to his fifteenth minute opener, Gemmill won the match in the second period of extra time, for another 3-2 Forest victory. Strike two to Clough.
Son Nigel has followed a similar career path to his Dad so far, starting in the lower echelons of English Football with Burton Albion, and now overseeing things at Derby County. He hasn’t quite emulated Brian’s successes just yet (Clough Snr won the second division in his second season at the Baseball Ground), but signs this season are that he has what it takes to make the Rams Championship challengers.
What does look certain, is that the battle of the Nigel’s, could be both a fantastic spectacle and a meeting of two of this countries top up and coming managers. Saints will be hoping, that the Clough factor is a thing of the past, and that 2007 Pride Park playoff semi final memories can be banished forever. With no chance of Leon Best or Inigo Idiakez being on penalties, Saints will have more than a chance, but away performances haven’t been spectacular recently, and Derby smarting from a a 4-0 defeat at the hands of Leicester last time out will be looking to bounce back.
It is no surprise that this seems to be the Championship “Game of the Week” for many of the countries media outlets. First against third, Let’s hope it lives up to it.
What can we expect from your club this season? Hard working, resilient, high spirited performances with the determination to prove our doubters wrong (hopefully).
Who is your most important player? Every single player at our club is important. However, the most important man at our club at present is manager, Andy Thorn.
Your predicted finishing position? Difficult to say, mid-table obscurity at best.
Who might win the Championship? It pains me to say, but both Birmingham and Leicester are clear favourites although my outsiders will be Hull and Ipswich to be up there.
Who definitely won’t? We definitely won’t.
Most anticipated fixture? First game of the season against Leicester and pretty much every fixture after that.
Most anticipated fixture that doesn’t involve your club? I’ll be interested to see how Blackpool do this season following relegation, so let’s say Holloway going back to Leicester to pick his wits against Sven.
If you could take one player from someone else’s club (Championship only), who would it be? I could give you a list as long as my arm but I think us City fans are still bitter about the Marlon King scenario so if we could turn back time and make him stay that would be nice. Although I also think Jonathan Greening will be a big signing for Forest this season.
You find yourself stuck in the King Power Stadium (formerly Walkers Stadium), Leicester. How do you escape unnoticed? I would dress up as a £20 note and sneak out without anybody noticing, the amount of money going out of that club surely nobody will notice an extra £20?
What can we expect from your club this season? Expect us to be a surprise package this season. We’ve been written off by the bookies already to go down and from other team’s message boards, it seems like we’ll be hovering the bottom quarter of the league again. We’ve signed three internationals and one of League One’s top scorers last season so far. Although I’m not saying we will win the league, or even finish in the top half, I’m saying that I think we will be an improvement to the team that won one game away from home all season.
Who is your most important player? Our most important player is Nathaniel Clyne. The young full back has sparked interest from a lot of Premier League clubs lately. He’s an England U19 international and it’s only a matter of time before he’s called up the U21s. The lad has bags of quality and kept a lot of high profile players quiet including Gradel and Bellamy. His pace plus his great defensive work makes him my most important player.
Your predicted finishing position? I predict we will finish 15th this season. The last two seasons we have survived by the skin of our teeth, and from the outside they may see a young amateur manager with some young players, but with a legend having the best interests of the club at heart and one of the country’s top academies, I think we will succeed in our goal of mid table mediocrity.
Who might win the Championship? No idea who will win the Championship, that’s what makes this league great. Look at the three teams that came down last season, none of them went back up. Blackpool were relegation favourites at the start of 2009/10 and they got promoted too. Leicester have got a great team coming together, but as Cardiff, Middlesbrough (and us, to an extent) can tell you, you can’t buy this league. I’m going to have a guess at West Ham as they have Parker and Nolan. That is a great combination.
Who definitely won’t? Cardiff will not. Their financial problems off the field seem too much. They relied heavily on getting promoted last season and pretty much threw away the clubs financial security to reach the Prem ala Portsmouth with the FA Cup. I can’t see Cardiff finishing top half this season.
Most anticipated fixture? Obviously for me I’m looking forward to Brighton v Palace at their new wonky stadium as it’s been a few years since we played them and they’re looking a lot stronger this time around (as much as it pains me to say it).
Most anticipated fixture that doesn’t involve your club? West Ham v Millwall has to be the most anticipated fixture due to the history between them. Both very working class clubs with similar fans, and there is nothing but pure hatred between them. You only have to look at the Carling Cup tie to see what an entertaining fixture this will be.
If you could take one player from someone else’s club (Championship only), who would it be? If I could take one club’s player it would be Scott Parker. The guy is a machine and really passionate about playing football. If West Ham stayed up last season, Scott Parker would have done it on his own. The team around him were not very good at all compared to him. I’d be surprised if he played in the NPC this season.
What can we expect from your club this season? Modest investment in players is not enough to guarantee a play-off spot in an increasingly competitive division. Despite the club’s stated aim of a top six finish, mid-table is probably about as far as the current squad can go. A poor start to the season may well trigger serious unrest amongst the supporters and it’s conceivable that Nigel Clough could be sacked before the end of 2011/12, the final season of his current contract. A meaningful improvement on the embarrassments of last season is required to see off Clough’s detractors and earn him an extension from our American owners.
Who is your most important player? Weirdly, it could be the former Notts Forest forward Nathan Tyson. I say weirdly because a fair percentage of Rams fans would rather Tyson was anywhere but Pride Park, due to that infamous afternoon in August 2009 when he taunted us with a Forest corner flag at the City Ground. Many fans will get behind him regardless of the corner flag incident. However, if Tyson has a bad start to the season, it could get a bit hot for him at Pride Park, where the fans have previous for rejecting ex-Forest strikers (Stern John was basically booed out of the club in 2005). On the other hand, if the undeniably fleet-footed frontman gets off to a flying start, he has the potential to become the most unlikely of Derby County cult heroes.
Your predicted finishing position? 12th.
Who might win the Championship? West Ham United. They’ve made a canny managerial appointment in Sam Allardyce – would Matt Taylor and Kevin Nolan have dropped into the Championship for anyone else?
Who definitely won’t? Coventry City are amongst my favourites for relegation this season. They are owned by SISU, a hedge fund who tried to buy Derby from since-disgraced fraudsters ‘The Three Amigos’ in 2006. Anybody tainted by association with the criminal Amigos is probably best avoided. Coventry have lost three key players this summer without signing any replacements and, under an unproven manager, are seemingly set for a season of struggle.
Most anticipated fixtures? Forest home and away. Both Leeds United games, but especially at home on Boxing Day. This season, West Ham United away also takes on added significance – probably the last chance to visit Upton Park before the Hammers move to an athletics stadium…
Most anticipated fixture that doesn’t involve your club? The play-off final, probably.
If you could take one player from someone else’s club (Championship only), who would it be? Billy Sharp from Doncaster Rovers. We haven’t had a talismanic striker for a long time and the fans would love him. Unfortunately, the board aren’t putting in the sort of money that would buy us a player of that calibre.
You find yourself stuck in the City Ground. How do you escape unnoticed? That’s simple. Just put up my brolly, whistle ‘Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head’ and have a quick promenade in front of the dugouts, before disappearing down the tunnel at full time. They’ll think I’m the manager…
What can we expect from your club this season? A better season than last time. Hopefully we’ll have better luck with far less injuries. Despite being the bookies favourite for relegation I think we’re going to prove them wrong yet again.
Who is your most important player? There’s two in our squad really. I’d have to say the obvious Billy Sharp as well as James Coppinger. Both had spells out last year through injury and it’s clear how much we missed them.
Your predicted finishing position? I think mid table so around 14th but if we can improve our squad even more, and we’re luckier with injuries there is a possibility of pushing for the play offs. I don’t think that can ever be ruled out. But we’ll definitely be safe by May.
Who might win the Championship? I think there’s the obvious like West Ham but with the money being spent throughout the Championship it’s quite open. I know Southampton have made some big changes so you definitely can’t rule them out.
Who definitely won’t? Crystal Palace have struggled in the past couple of seasons and with an inexperienced manager it seems very unlikely. Peterborough struggled last time they were here too so I’d have to rule them out too.
Most anticipated fixture? Our opener away at Brighton is one we’re all looking forward to because of the history between the clubs and also the new surroundings. Leeds is always one of the first to look for when the fixtures are released too so that should be an exciting encounter.
Most anticipated fixture that doesn’t involve your club? Millwall against West Ham will be a huge game definitely anticipated by both sets of fans. I’m not sure when they last faced each other so that could definitely be a tasty one!
If you could take one player from someone else’s club (Championship only), who would it be? Jason Shackell. He was a great addition when on loan here and was missed when he’d left. Signing for Barnsley made it even worse for us Donny fans and we still haven’t found anyone as good.
You find yourself stuck in Oakwell. How do you escape unnoticed? With great difficulty! Keep your head down and maybe add a limp lol. I’m not one for offending the opposition so that’s as far as I’ll go, I bet they say worse about us!
What can we expect from your club this season? After watching them in pre-season friendlies some nice flowing football… Manchester United style!!! Also hopefully plenty of goals and a push for promotion.
Who is your most important player? Cameron Stewart as he is quick and terrorised defences last season. He will be cruicial in open play for assists.
Your predicted finishing position? 4th.
Who might win the Championship? It’ll be a close one between West Ham United or Leicster City as they both have very good players.
Who definitely won’t? Birmingham, even though they have a very good and experienced squad I think they will struggle.
Most anticipated fixture? Most probably a Yorkshire derby however with both West Ham and Hull pushing for promotion back into the Premier League the last game of the season (West Ham v Hull) will be cruicial depending on points.
Most anticipated fixture that doesn’t involve your club? Either West Ham v Milwall or Southampton v Portsmouth. Both have very big rivalries.
If you could take one player from someone else’s club (Championship only), who would it be? Scott Parker as he is a strong midfielder and has the experience.
You find yourself stuck in Elland Road . How do you escape unnoticed? There is no where to get stuck in Elland Road as the ground is falling down, there is probably a hole you can escape through!!!!
Part Three featuring Ipswich Town, Leeds, Leicester, Middlesbrough, Millwall and Nottingham Forest coming soon…
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