With our season drawn to a close, here’s my top five moments of the campaign.
5. The appointment of Adkins.
Pardew was sacked after the 4-0 demolition of Bristol Rovers, and almost immediately, mystery surrounded his successor. Dean Wilkins oversaw the next two league games, which resulted in losses, but Adkins was announced on the 12th September and immediately began to steady the ship. 22nd in the league when he took charge, it was evident from the start that he had a lot of work to do, but the Southampton hierarchy saw him as an ideal candidate from the job. The news of his appointment meant that we could finally get our season under way, and having experience in promotion from this tier in the past, Adkins injected a new wave of optimism into the fans, the squad, and the city.
4. Dean Hammond’s goal against Bournemouth.
The game away at Bournemouth would have just been like any other League One encounter, had the Bournemouth fans not built it up to be bigger than the Old Firm or on par with a meeting between Boca and River Plate. Granted, the sides were close in the table, but the rivalry between the clubs is a product of the overzealous Bournemouth fans’ imagination.
Cries of “We are Southampton, we don’t care about you” soon put Bournemouth in their place, but on the pitch, the home side showed why they were contending the automatic places early on, as the game was evenly fought. The Cherries took the lead on six minutes, after on-loan striker Lauri Dalla Valle fired home from close range. Five minutes later, however, Saints were level, as Lee Barnard’s header was fumbled over the line by the Bournemouth ‘keeper.
It wasn’t until mid-way through the second half when Dean Hammond provided my fourth favourite moment of the season. Alex Chamberlain’s free kick from the right appeared to elude the Bournemouth back line, and it fell to Hammond waiting at the far post, who slid and knocked the ball past the ‘keeper. Putting Southampton into the lead, and above Bournemouth into the table, it sent the travelling fans into a jubilant celebration. It was madness, and a massive relief, since Bournemouth had been battling hard.
Lambert made sure of the three points with a superb free kick late in the game, but it’s Hammond’s vital goal I’ll remember this game by, and the celebration that followed it.
3. Lee Barnard completing the comeback against MK Dons.
Every game during the run in was massively important as we chased automatic promotion, and the home game against MK Dons was no exception. Going into the game level on points, and with both teams sat in the playoffs, the winner of this tie would gain an invaluable advantage. Having beaten us 2-0 away from home in Adkins’ first game in charge, MK again went 2-0 up early in the second half. It looked as if our luck had run out, that MK would pile even more pressure onto our remaining games in hand, but an inspired substitution from Adkins put paid to any idea that we would go down without a fight.
On came Jonathan Forte, and within two minutes, he had pulled a goal back with just his second touch of the game. Forte had given us hope, and with the fans making more noise than ever, it took just another two minutes before he had single handedly put us level. Firing home from deep inside the MK Dons box, Forte had put our promotion push back on track. It was an incredible five minutes from the Saints, and from Jonathan Forte.
For the next few minutes the home side pushed on for the win, and when Rickie Lambert played an inch-perfect through ball, the St. Mary’s crowd held their breath. Lee Barnard timed his run perfectly, latching on to the pass, before burying his shot in the top left hand corner, completing a sensational eleven minute turnaround, and securing the win.
Safe to say we celebrated like mad, and more importantly, Southampton had gone three points above promotion rivals MK Dons, with three games in hand.
2. Jose Fonte’s winner at Brighton.
Facing a plethora of banners as soon as we entered the Withdean, their sole intention the winding up of us fans and Brighton’s arch enemy Nigel Adkins, we knew the Champions, unbeaten at home all season, would love nothing more than thrashing us, and showing up our manager.
The game was quite an open affair, both teams going close early on. On the stroke of half time, Radhi Jaidi’s horror back pass was taken advantage of and slotted away by Ashley Barnes. Brighton held their lead until the 84th minute, when substitute David Connolly superbly swiped home Lambert’s knock down to surely rescue a point.
Us away fans were still celebrating when Kelvin Davis lobbed a long free kick into the box, and Jose Fonte, rising at the far post, headed back across goal and over the beleaguered Brighton ‘keeper into the back of the net. I celebrated like I had never celebrated before. Another remarkable turnaround stunned the Brighton support into silence. It destroyed their unbeaten home record, and put us in prime position to claim second place.
In celebrating Fonte’s goal, I went from the back of the stand to the front, tumbling down the steps and ending up a heap on the floor just beyond the barrier. It was pure madness celebrating that goal, and one I’ll never forget.
1. The final final whistle at St. Mary’s.
Having won at Plymouth and all but secured the second automatic promotion spot, the final home game against Walsall would be a celebratory event. Huddersfield would need to win something like 8-0, and hope we lose by the same margin, to have any hope of going up automatically, so promotion was essentially ours to celebrate.
Excellent goals from Guly, Connolly and Chamberlain secured a 3-1 win, and as the clock edged into the late eighties, we made our way down to the front of the Northam to participate in the likely pitch invasion.
The referee made a run for it as he blew his whistle, and the crowds began to surge onto the pitch. I hopped over the advertisement board and hobbled on, following everyone else towards the dugout. Soon losing my mates, I found a crowd surrounding Rickie Lambert, everyone congratulating him. He was hoisted onto the shoulders of the fans, a massive grin on his face, and started chanting “we are going up, we are going up”. It was great to see.
A majority had congregated in front of the dugout, looking up at Cortese as he presided over the thousands of fans now on the pitch. It wasn’t long before the players appeared, each one to massive applause. The thousands on the pitch continued to sing, many of the players joining in, and it was a fantastic experience. Our first promotion for over thirty years, and it felt excellent.
All the aforementioned moments were fantastic, and all of them played their part in our dramatic push for promotion which ended with the joyous scenes at St. Mary’s.
These are just five of many quality moments that happened over the course of the season, a season that saw us promoted for the first time in decades. We can now look back fondly on our time in League One, and at the same time focus our attentions towards next season, and maybe, just maybe, another promotion push?