What happened last season?
Oh God, do you really have to put me through that pain again? Sigh. Well, from start to finish it was an unmitigated disaster.
Pre-season started with rumours of players and coaches not happy with Paul Sturrock. This grew and grew and other rumours were leaked out that some of Saints board were also regretting appointing him due to various reasons that I will need a lawyer to discuss further here. The opening few games were terrible and Sturrock got the boot. In came Steve Wigley and despite being popular with the players, they well and truly let him down and continued to play with little desire. It seemed to me that many of them were taking the piss and probably thought they would up their effort later in the season and the club would escape relegation. Especially considering that Norwich, WBA & Palace were looking well adrift before Christmas.
Wigley went and in came Harry Redknapp, which caused a storm of controversy following his exit from big rivals Pompey only a week before. Harry seemed on paper the right man for the job; someone who was clearly the manager (none of this “head coach” bollocks) and who wouldn’t suffer fools gladly. However, the rot was so deep into the squad that even the injection of fresh faces like Quashie and Camara, plus the excellent form of Peter Crouch, wasn’t enough to stop the team from continually shooting itself in the foot.
We had the total embarrassment of the 4-1 defeat at Pompey. A match that will scar Saints fans for years. It was abject surrender and further proof that our squad was lightweight and lacking bottle.
Saints lost 12 points last season in the last 3 minutes of the game. If we had got those points we’d have finished mid-table. Our run-in had us up against all our rivals around us, but in typical Saints style we looked to have put ourselves in poll position to avoid relegation, but against a half-hearted Man Utd on the last day of the season, we let a lead slip yet again and once behind, gave up. In the end we finished bottom and I couldn’t argue against it.
27 consecutive seasons in the top flight thrown away so cheaply. Rupert Lowe takes a lot of the blame for appointing the wrong managers (Sturrock & Wigley), but the players really do take most the blame. Trouble is, most of those players who let us down… are still here.
What's going to happen next season?
Common sense would say that our squad really should be good enough to be challenging for automatic promotion. We also have a manager who won the Championship three seasons ago at a canter. We have a great crop of youngsters coming through and out of Walcott, Dyer, Cranie, Mills, Blackstock, Best and Richards… I’d put money on at least three of them becoming household names in years to come. We have the infrastructure of a Premier league club and hopefully not too many fans will desert us following relegation.
That’s all the positives and if it all clicks, then Saints really could be at the top of the league all season.
I am still worried about the team spirit that was so lacking last season and that some of our players may not fancy getting their precious fingers dirty fighting their way out of the CCC. I am also concerned about the mixed messages coming from Harry Redknapp who seemed to have his arm twisted to stay at Saints and hasn’t exactly sounded mega confident in his interviews to date. I get the feeling that Harry has one eye on retirement and it may not take much for him to jack it in and leave Saints looking for our fifth manager in 2 years. I hope I’m wrong, but I feel it’s vital that Saints get off to a good start otherwise their maybe more trouble ahead.
There is also the relegation factor that often proves that clubs coming down find it hard to adjust to the CCC and struggle in their first season.
So, overall, I think Saints will finish the season in the top six and will be promoted. However, I’m taking nothing for granted and every team in this division deserves our respect. For years Saints have had the mentality that avoiding relegation is good enough in the Prem and there is likely to be at least three teams worse than us. This season a whole new mentality is needed. We have to be looking to win nearly every game and be as positive as possible.
From a personal point of view, I’m looking forward to CCC football and seeing new teams and old teams we’ve not played for years. I have grown sick of the over commercialism of Premiership football and the quality of football really isn’t that great either. Too many sides play to avoid defeat and if Saints were to have a good season this year, I think fans will be refreshed and reborn. After all, we go to see our team win games. I’d rather see my team win 18 games in the CCC and finish near the top than win 7 or 8 in the Prem and just avoid relegation.
Soundbites(from assorted census correspondents)
"I don't care who plays where in my team and I don't care about Ecuador"
"don't really like the taste of coca cola"
"Lundekvam is a clown!"