Table Topping Weekend Brings Pride Back To Southampton
Monday, 9th Nov 2020 10:25
Saints may have only topped the Premier League for 40 hours, but that was enough to make Saints supporters and indeed the nation that the club is now on an upward projectory again, there is a pride back in the supporters that has been lacking for a number of years.
Glancing back at the years 2014-17 it would be easy to assume they were golden years in our history, to an outsider Saints had three straight top 8 finishes, two Europa League qualifications and a League Cup final narrowly lost to Manchester United.
But this success was played out in an atmosphere of negativity, every summer the club was accused of selling it's best players and having no ambition by a section of the supporters and even the Koeman years were blighted by some fans constantly sniping at the club.
On paper the Claude Puel season can be said to be in or around the top six in the club's history, 8th place and a cup final, yet it was one where some stayed away in droves claiming they were not being entertained.
During these years there was so much negativity that we were talking ourselves down the table and to inevitable relegation, in any business you cannot survive when surrounded by constant negativity.
The arrival of Ralph Hasenhuttl seemed to change things for a while, but the club owner Gao became the focus, he was not pumping multi millions into the club so was therefore a poor owner, those saying this took no account of the worsening relationship between China and the west, notably the USA & the UK and the inability of Gao to invest in the club due to sanctions by the Chinese government in it's companies investing in the West due to the trade sanctions imposed on it .
Just over a year ago it became toxic, that defeat to Leicester took us to the bottom, it meant that now there were two things that always get mentioned when the word Southampton is mentioned, the Titanic and now 9-0.
Like the Titanic we were now sat helpless at the bottom of the sea and broken in two.
But on that night something changed, yes half the crowd was long gone before the 9th goal, but a section of it stayed to the bitter end, a little like the band on the Titanic, they didn't offer a rendition of Nearer My God To Thee, but they sang in an act of defiance.
After this game Gao was the target, very few attacked Hasenhuttl, but most missed the fact that when the Austrian wasn't sacked, it showed that the club was not as rudderless as many thought.
Gao might not have been able to put money in, but he had recruited well and those he had employed looked at things pragmatically, they saw the Leicester defeat as a major blow, but not a knockout one, they believed that their gameplan was still achievable, that they has the right man in place in Hasenhuttl to execute that plan and they never lost faith.
It took a few things and it has to be said that playing in front of the crowd at St Mary's seemed to be difficult, in the fixtures against Watford and Norwich in early December it was do or die, the sceptics stayed away and although there were 5,000 empty seats, probably more considering some season ticket holders didn't turn up, those there gave 100% support and the two games were won and the season back on track.
Then came Covid 19 and lockdown, when we returned to action things were still not right on the pitch, but we had luck from the very start, Norwich failing to take two gifted early chances was fortuitous it could have turned the season in another direction if they had gone in.
But the revival in the restart and eventual 11th place showed what we could do, it didn't go quite as we had expected in the opening two games, but Ralph tweaked again and we went on an unbeaten run and the third game of a winning streak, something not achieved since the last weeks of Koeman's reign saw us go top of the Premier League for the first time ever and in context of the top flight the first time since 1988.
We only held the position for 40 hours, but suddenly we had a pride back in our club that had not been seen since Nigel Adkins took us back to the Premier League in 2011/12, some would say that Pochettino's last season had that pride, but I would say not quite so much, in 2012 we truly believed in 2014 we knew that behind the scenes the club was in turmoil.
It was a glorious 40 hours with Social media full of positivity , Saints fans coming out of hiding and telling the World we were back in business, yes ultimately we needed the weekend in 4th, but there is not a Saints fan alive that will be unhappy with that.
Perhaps some will say it is after only 8 games , yes it is early doors yet, but let's be blunt something like 25 managers have been in place since Chris Nicholl achieved top spot 32 years ago, not one of them managed it at any point.
So we have to keep this positive mood going, as I keep saying we are still a work in progress, going forward we are a top 7 side, defending we have improved greatly in the last six games but I still feel we can improve more, if we do this could be an exciting season.
But it wasn't just on the pitch that things have perhaps taken a better turn this weekend, in the USA the removal of Donald Trump as president will ultimately lead to a thawing of the relationship between China and the West, whether that means that Gao will leave the club remains unclear, but it will make it easier for him to put money into Saints or for that matter sell the club.
Slowly but surely Ralph Hasenhuttl has stuck to his task, he hasn't panicked even in the darkest moments, like Jurgen Klopp at Liverpool, a manager he was compared to even before he arrived at St Mary's, this is not just a job too him, he has bought into the very fabric of the club, immersed himself in it and is helping it build up it's infrastructure, he is not just concerned about the first team but every team within it's structure.
Perhaps we will never be a truly great club, if that is what you want as a supporter then you are always going to be disappointed, at least until the so called Big clubs leave to a European Super League, but of you recognise our place in football as one of the chasing pack of those big clubs then you can once again enjoy being a Saints supporter, the goal at this club is to establish ourselves as a top 10 club and to look to win a domestic cup or two at the same time qualifying to Europe.
That is a realistic ambition, forget reaching for the moo and getting the stars, set achievable but realistic targets, Leicester are the only club to win the Premier League who have not had massive cash injections in the transfer market, even a look at the clubs that have won the FA or League cups in the past 30 years have rarely been outside the so called Big Six, since Wimbledon won the FA Cup in 1988, one of the current Big six has won the trophy in every year bar three, Everton in 1995, Portsmouth in 2008 & Wigan in 2013.
This shows how slowly the big clubs have taken over and how hard it is to actually get any glory. a look at the League cup a tournament where the big clubs put out reserve teams up to the semi finals, in the last 20 seasons only Blackburn in 2002, Middlesbrough in 2004, Birmingham in 2011 & Swansea in 2013 have been outside the BIg Six.
The message is lets take a leaf out of Ralph Hasenhuttl's book, take everything a step at a time, enjoy the ride and just maybe we will exceed our expectations.
Ralph promised us nothing, but he has taken us to the top of the Premier League, perhaps just for a short period, perhaps never again, but he has shown us the way forward, let's enjoy it.
Photo: Action Images
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Letters from Wiltshire #18 by wessex_exile
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Letters from Wiltshire #17 by wessex_exile
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Letters from Wiltshire #16 by wessex_exile
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Letters from Wiltshire #14 by wessex_exile
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