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.
You can follow Twohundredpercent on Twitter by clicking here.