by Nick Mabey.
Three weeks after I last wrote we remain rooted to the bottom of the league. In that article (click here to read it) I said that if we didn’t beat Forest we could give up hope. Well, we didn’t beat Forest and yet hope is not lost. Why? Because, after that horrible night, the mighty Saints went on and won two cup matches and a league game. Only football can do this. How is it possible that we find ourselves in the Carabao Cup (League Cup in old money) semi-final after knocking out the mighty Manchester City?
We’ve started looking like a proper football team at last, and still we are bottom. It feels like a corner has been turned, and still we are bottom. We dare to hope and dream of safety, and still we are bottom. I’ve been trawling the fans forums trying to get a sense of the mood of the supporter base. It’s not universally bleak, but neither is it particularly rosy. One of the things I did notice was the different ways fans prepare themselves for the prospect of relegation, and so here is my not-so-scientific analysis of four attitudes I’ve seen most often on my internet travels.
We’ve got the players and we can see they are working for the manager, who is being solidly backed by the club. We’ve turned a corner and got some form. We just need six or seven wins and a couple of draws in our last 19 matches. We’ve got this. We are Southampton; great escapes are in our DNA.
It’s only halfway through the season. The bottom of the league is tight. We haven’t been cut adrift but we do need to start winning games. It’s a funny old game, football, and anything can happen. These cup runs might distract, or they might give us belief. I’m not sure about the quality of the squad or the manager but time will tell and we’ll find out in the next four months. We are Southampton; anything could happen.
“Always look on the bright side”
We’re probably down, but if we did somehow manage to survive then wow, how great would that be? And if we get relegated, that’s not so bad. A season in the Championship will give our young players the chance to mature and we’ll bounce back immediately. We’ve got good owners who are in it for the long term. The Championship is a good division. There’s more games and most are Saturday 3pm kick-offs, like the good old days. It’s proper fans too, no football tourists. And there’s some big clubs down there. We’ll thrive in the Championship and probably end up champions next season. We are Southampton; we march on.
If we go down we stay down. Our best players will leave. Our youngsters won’t fancy being kicked around inferior pitches by lower league giants and they’ll regress or leave. Our owner’s vision and strategy will be in ruins and they will move on to pastures new. We can look forward to a future in second tier football, and that’s if we’re lucky. It’s a slippery slope down to League One, a road we know only too well. Only next time we won’t have Marcus Liebherr to rescue us. We are Southampton, we specialise in misery.
I look at the teams who got promoted last year for clues, and they tell a mixed story. After taking 100 years to get to the top level and surviving five seasons, Bournemouth bounced back pretty quickly from relegation, spending only two seasons in the Championship. Fulham have become a yo-yo club rotating between the Premier League and the Championship for the past five years, a bit like Norwich or Watford. Meanwhile, before this season, Nottingham Forest were last in the top flight in 1999. After a golden period of success under Brian Clough they’ve had a two-decade struggle to get their seat at the top table back. There’s a story for every attitude there, so take your pick.
By the time I write again it will be mid-February. We may still be in the FA Cup, we may not. We may have signed a striker, we may not. We may be looking forward to a Wembley final, we probably won’t. We may still be bottom, it’s likely. I may have given up hope completely, who knows?
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