The Return Of The Saints: Southampton’s Rapid Ascent To The Premier League

8 By Ian  |   The Ball  |   April 30, 2012  |     12

If there was any hint of tension in the air at St Mary’s Stadium on Saturday lunchtime, it didn’t hang around for very long. It took them a little under sixteen minutes for Adam Lallana to give Southampton the lead against a Coventry City that had already been relegated from the Championship with room to spare, and the final tally was a 4-0 rout which confirmed a return to the Premier League after a break of seven years for a club which just last season was playing its trade in League One.

For the second successive season, the other clubs of the division will have cause to stop and wonder how a club newly-arrived in their division could cut their way through it like a hot knife through butter and win promotion at the first attempt.

When attention turns to the key players in Southampton’s successive outstanding season, two names spring immediately to mind – those of Rickie Lambert and Nigel Adkins. Lambert scored thirty-one goals in forty-five matches this season, including twenty-seven in the league. It’s a tally that took his total since signing for the club from Bristol Rovers in 2009 to eighty-eight goals in one hundred and fifty-five matches. Lambert hasn’t played in the Premier League before and at thirty years of age this could be his one and only chance to do so. We will have to wait and see whether he is suited to life in a higher division or not, but there can be little question that he has deserved his chance.

It is the other of these two names which has been attracting more attention over the last couple of days or so. Nigel Adkins will also be landing in the Premier League for the first time, as either a player or a manager. After a playing career that took in Tranmere Rovers, Wigan Athletic and Bangor City and was curtailed by a serious injury to his spine, Adkins’ first post-playing job came in the League of Wales with Bangor City, where he took the team to two league championship wins in his first two years in charge of the club but, having already earned a degree in physiotherapy, he left the club in 1996 to join Scunthorpe United as their club physiotherapist, a position that he would go on to hold for the next ten years.

It took a little lateral thinking by Scunthorpe United to get Adkins his managerial break at the club in 2006.  In his first season, he took the club into the Championship for the first time in more than four decades. Relegation back followed a year later, but in 2009 he took the club back through the play-offs in 2009 and he managed to keep Scunthorpe United up the following season before leaving for St Mary’s and Southampton in September of 2010. All of this means that in a total of nine years in managerial positions, Adkins has won two league championships and been promoted four times – a level of achievement that is made all the more remarkable for the lengthy spell that he spent working in the treatment room at Glanford Park.

If promotion from League One at the end of last season was no great surprise for a club the size of Southampton, the scale of achievement in winning a second successive promotion cannot be understated. Again, the club relegated from the Premier League at the end of last season have flattered to deceive in the Championship, but in contrast with this Southampton won six of their first seven matches of the season and have been around the top places in the division since the very start of the season. As the finishing line started to come into view, recent results  had become patchier with a home defeat at the hands of Reading followed up with a defeat away to Middlesbrough, but Saturday’s match against a Coventry City side that has become completely demoralised both on and off the pitch over the course of this season was perhaps the perfect fixture for a team that needed to regain its composure.

Perhaps the second successive promotions of Norwich City and Southampton haven’t received the blanket praise that they should have done because these are two clubs with long histories in the too divisions already. The achievement of achieving this, however, should not be understated. After all, the Championship this season featured three clubs relegated from the Premier League and several others who had fallen into in in the years prior to last year as well. To scrap through that sort if competition is no mean feat, and with the two sides to be automatically promoted from League One – Charlton Athletic and one of Sheffield Wednesday and Sheffield United – being of a similar profile to them, there is every chance that next season could see another newly-promoted club starting next season with hopes of more than mere consolidation on their minds.

After financial difficulties that led to the near closure of the club, we could reflect upon the progress of Southampton as being little more than a return to normality. This, however, would be to do a considerable disservice to those – including but not limited to Nigel Adkins and Rickie Lambert – that have worked so hard and so effectively to get them there. The recent experiences of the likes of Swansea City, Stoke City and Norwich City have also demonstrated that, for all the lazier assumptions of the media, instant relegation is far from a foregone conclusion for newly-promoted clubs in the Premier League these days. If Southampton FC can remain fiscally sensible and strengthen their squad intelligently, there is no reason why they shouldn’t be able to prosper again in the Premier League.

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Ian began writing Twohundredpercent in May 2006. He lives in Brighton. He has also written for, amongst others, Pitch Invasion, FC Business Magazine, The Score, When Saturday Comes, Stand Against Modern Football and The Football Supporter. Ian was the first winner of the Socrates Award For Not Being Dead Yet at the 2010 NOPA awards for football bloggers.

  • April 30, 2012 at 8:19 am


    Good performance by Saints on Saturday [watched the game on the TV]. Great to see them back in the PL and hopefully they will prosper there. It’s good to see how a combination of thoughtful club ownership and astute managerial skills have restored Saints to the top flight when a few years ago they nearly wnt to the wall.

    The pitch invasion at the final whistle was great fun to witness.

  • April 30, 2012 at 12:36 pm


    Aah, yes. Nearly went to the wall.
    Yup, screwed over lots of smaller businesses and, no doubt, the St John Ambulance, but fuck it, we’re ok now….

  • April 30, 2012 at 2:05 pm

    Tim Vickerman

    Congratulations to Southampton and I wish them every success next season. Hard to believe it was just a year ago we pushed them so close for the 2nd automatic promotion spot from League 1. Looks likely we’ll start next season 2 divisions apart.

    Shame to see Tadanari Lee get injured and miss the run-in after he seemed to be settling in. Hope he gets a few chances to play next season.

  • April 30, 2012 at 5:10 pm


    ” After all, the Championship this season featured three clubs relegated from the Premier League and several others who had fallen into in in the years prior to last year as well”

    Could you point out a championship season where that wasn’t the case? In danger of believing your own hype a bit there!

  • April 30, 2012 at 6:46 pm


    @ WALL “Yup, screwed over lots of smaller businesses and, no doubt, the St John Ambulance, but fuck it, we’re ok now….”

    Wrong actually. Unlike most clubs who exit administration, Southampton, or more accurately the late chairman Markus Liebherr, paid all of the club’s debts in full – every penny. Therefore, even the small creditors which, after the Preferred Creditors Ruling, tend to be the biggest losers when a club goes into administration, were paid everything they were owed.

  • May 1, 2012 at 5:20 pm

    The Wall

    Joe – happy to stand corrected on that but let’s not get too worked up about his money.
    Firstly, it was all a loan, so in fact, despite being a billionaire he had only loaned Southampton £30m (give or take).

    The I found this little snippet “Southampton, promoted from League One last season, made a loss of £11.5m to June 2011 despite going up. Wages accounted for 93 per cent of the £16.4m turnover”

    Wonderful! £11m loss- fantastic. That sure is a good way to get back into that administration loop that your friends down the road achieve so well.

    OK, now the £30m loan has been converted to shares that the family of Markus Liebherr want to flog.
    So you will have a new owner, who will be £30m worse off ( aminimum amount) and no doubt, they will want a return on their investment of £30m+.

    So…….. good luck, you’ll need it.

  • May 1, 2012 at 9:01 pm


    @WALL – Oh, I’m well aware that our financial situation is far from a paragon of restraint (though compared with the blue half of Hampshire, it is…) but at least we came out of administration the right way – paying off all the creditors in full. I just hope that the influx of Premier League money will be used to shore up the financial base of the squad and not entirely spanked on players…

  • May 7, 2012 at 4:03 am

    Gerry Prewett

    As a Bristol Rovers fan I will be delighted to see Rickie Lambert given his opportunity to play at the highest level. I think some Premier League defenders are in for a nasty shock!

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