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Former Southampton defender Jan Paul Saeijs recalls his 30-yard free-kick against Watford in 2009
WHEN Saints last visited Watford, they were a club very much on their way out of the Championship.
The same might be true when they travel to Vicarage Road this weekend – although for very different reasons.
Nigel Adkins’ men will be aiming to reinforce their promotion hopes against the Hornets on Saturday.
But it was a completely different tale when they last made the trip to Watford, in April 2009.
Saints had slipped into administration less than a week earlier and were facing D-Day in their battle to avoid a points deduction.
The Football League board was meeting on the morning of the match and was set to decide whether the club should face a penalty for its parent club calling in the administrators.
As it was, just hours before kick-off, the League announced they were delaying the decision as they waited for independent forensic accountants to look at the situation.
That left Saints’ future in limbo as they took to the pitch for what proved to be a memorable game.
The hero turned out to be a Dutch defender who had joined the club on loan just three months previously.
Jan-Paul Saeijs netted both of Saints’ goals in a 2-2 draw, including a stunning lastminute 30-yard free-kick.
“I will always remember the game,” he told the Daily Echo.
Saeijs particularly recalls the feeling as the squad waited to hear whether they would suffer a deduction that would ensure their relegation to League One.
“We didn’t know what was happening with the finance of the club,” he said.
“We heard in the hotel a few hours before the game, then everyone was talking about it on the bus when we drove to the game.
“In the dressing room Mark Wotte said ‘Don’t talk about it anymore, play the game, win the game and we will see what happens’.
“So we went into the game focused on winning.
“In the end it was a good result, because we were losing right at the end, but it was also a game we could have won.”
Saints had actually taken the lead, as Saeijs headed in Ryan Smith’s early corner.
“It was a good header that bounced on the ground and into the corner of the goal,” said Saeijs.
“But after that it was a difficult game for us.”
Actually, despite that perceived difficulty, Saints dominated much of the match. They controlled the play for large parts and created chances.
But, as seemed to be the case so often that season, they found a way not to win a game they really should have.
“They got a quick equaliser and then they scored to make it 2-1,” said Saeijs, referring to Aleksandrs Cauna’s strike and a second-half Tamas Priskin effort, which was set up by current Saints midfielder Jack Cork.
All was not lost, though, for the despondent away fans as Saints were awarded a late free-kick in a central position, albeit some way out.
Saeijs wouldn’t have been top of most people’s lists to take it – even among his colleagues it seems.
“We had trained on free-kicks every day before the game,” recalled Saeijs.
“The boys were always laughing at me, because I was shooting over the goal on the training pitch. Sometimes it went in, but they were always laughing at me.
“But I took the free-kick and it went right in the top corner.
“I still sometimes watch it on YouTube – it was a great goal, but it was a shame we didn’t win.
“It’s one of the goals I always will remember. It’s definitely one of the top five best of my career.”
While the point was savoured at the time, it ultimately made no difference to the club’s cause.
The Football League soon concluded Saints should be docked points – a decision that ensured their collapse into League One.
All that was left to play for in the last few weeks was whether the deduction would apply that season or at the start of the next campaign.
“In the end it didn’t matter, because we had the ten-point deduction. It was really terrible,” said Saeijs.
“The trainer said to us ‘Let’s try to get the ten points this year, because it will be very difficult for the players playing next year to start on minus-ten.’ We tried to do that and played some good games, but we didn’t have the luck with the scores. It was terrible for the club.”
Relegation also had ramifications for Saeijs himself.
“I signed a contract for half-a-year and when we stayed in the league I would sign a contract for another year,” he explained.
“So when we got the ten-point deduction I knew I had to go back to Holland, because we were already down.
“After I went back to Holland we still tried to stay with the club, because the people around the club were very happy with me.
Despite relegation and the enforced end to his time at Saints, Saeijs has no bitter memories.
“I played 20 games and they were 20 of the most beautiful games of my life,” he said.
“In 13 years of football it was my best time. I played in the final of the cup in Holland once, which was good, but playing in England was the best time of my career.
“There were good lads on the team and they picked me up from the first time I was there.”
Saeijs, who now plays for Dutch side De Graafschap, remains a fan of the club to this day.
“I still keep up with the highlights,” said the 33-year-old, who is delighted to see a re-energised Saints now pushing for the top flight.
“I always look at the scores after we have played at the weekend and sometimes on the Internet you can see the games or the goals.
“I’m still planning to come and visit sometime and see all the people.”
And Saeijs is hoping that, when he does come over to watch a game, it is a Premier League fixture.
“It doesn’t matter if you’re second or first,” he said.
“They make a chance and I hope for them that they do it.
“I have to say well done to all the lads and people at the club for getting Southampton back to where they should be.
“Southampton is a club that played lots of years in the Premier League and I hope that when I come back to see them they are back there. And I hope for the club it will be this season.”