After 27 years of enjoying top-flight football, Southampton were relegated to the Championship in 2005. However, this tragedy reached new depths when they were relegated again to League One in 2009 and were forced to ensure life in footballs third tier for the first time in 50 years. Surely it couldn’t get any worse! ‘Oh yes it could’ and in true Panto style the Saints were docked 10 points for going into administration – all of this happening within six years of being FA Cup finalists, UEFA Cup participants and previously finishing eighth in the Premier League. But never fear, a real life Prince Charming was waiting in the wings and plucky Southampton (Cinders) FC secured back to back promotions under the new management of Nigel Adkins and returned to the nirvana that is the Premiership.
Sunderland now face a crunch trip to fourth bottom Southampton, this being the Black Cats’ only meeting with a side outside the top 10 over the festive period. The Mackems won their last six-pointer against Reading and the St Mary’s clash carries equal significance. A defeat could see the Black Cats drop into the relegation mire; a win would give them breathing space before of a trio of games against Premiership heavyweights. However, the omens are good, as Martin O’Neill’s men have lost to just one side in the bottom half this season with two of their three victories coming against sides in the drop zone. Perhaps there is a real hope of some Christmas cheer!
But wait; the Saints have enjoyed a refreshing two-week mini break and are in high spirits following their own victory over Reading. Not only have they had time to do their Christmas shopping, but they have suffered only one defeat in their last 6 games, including a welcome victory over Newcastle – surely a result that all Mackems wish to emulate and forming part of any 2013 New Year resolution.
With Richie Lambert, Southampton have a striker that has served an extensive apprenticeship in the lower divisions and the 30-year-old is enjoying his first taste of the top flight with 6 goals. He has been ably supported in his Indian summer by attacking midfielder, Jason Puncheon, who has rattled in four goals for good measure. In fact scoring goals hasn’t been a problem with the Saints being the best in the bottom third of the table. The club certainly don’t lack ambition having spent £12 million on Uruguayan winger/striker Gastón Ramírez from Bologna just before the transfer deadline. However, despite hitting the back of the net with reassuring regularity, they have been less successful in keeping them out (conceding 32) and have the leagues second worst defensive record.
Given the Black Cats injury worries with Bardsley, Johnson, Fletcher, Brown, Cattermole and Rose making the treatment room resemble the Sunderland Royal Casualty Department on ‘black-eyed-Friday’ – O’Neill will have some important selection decisions to make. Certainly Wickham is worth a run out and it will be interesting to see if Meyler is recalled from Hull after making seven appearances and scoring two goals in as many games. McFadden is also in the frame and the 48 times capped Scottish international may get a chance to add to his 160 plus Premiership appearances.
One things certain, Sky Sports football pundit Matthew Le Tissier (the best-loved player in Saints’ history) will be more than a little biased, not unlike his colleagues when it comes to non-London teams. I also don’t doubt that ex-Southampton manager and ex-Sunderland curse, Lawrie McMenemy will be rooting for a team in red and white…
So the big question is will Sunderland end up being sinners against the Saints? My Christmas wish is certainly for an away win – Dear Santa…
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