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SAINTS 1 - MAN UTD 2
AS one door closes, another one opens.
As a numb St Mary's faithful made their way to the exits yesterday they suffered a full gambit of emotions.
Much like grief of losing a loved one it ranged from upset to anger, from abject despair to defiance.
St Mary's was a raw place yesterday.
Every nerve was on display and frayed. Every drop of hope and every stored up tear was released.
Every feeling of resentment and anger came rushing out.
But through it all came the light at the end of the tunnel.
The fans stood, chanted, cheered and applauded, a defiant last stand to say their goodbyes to the Premiership.
In three months' time this club will still be playing football.
In three months' time they will still have a magnificent stadium and a glorious history.
The only difference is they won't be competing with football's elite.
But it's hard to argue the club haven't got what they deserved.
The league table never lies and the final Premiership table has Saints at the bottom. The worst team to play in the Premiership this season.
Even the three promoted teams did better over 38 games.
Even the established teams such as Fulham and Birmingham, who struggled, did better.
Saints were the worst team according to the table and therefore their relegation is deserved.
There were ups and downs in this match just as there have been all season, but their fate was not won and lost here.
Rather over the last two years, ever since that summer after the FA Cup final where under-investment in the playing squad became ever more problematic.
Ever since the affairs of the first team seemed to take a back seat.
Even further back to when Saints decided the days of being a friendly, family club were over, once it became a plc and it was all about profit margins and superficial rubbish.
It's a sad day for the club and without doubt Rupert Lowe will receive most of the stick as the figurehead of the club who has overseen this period of transition.
His masterplan has failed and in spectacular fashion.
Whether this experience will be learned from remains to be seen.
Lowe at least learned from his previous errors when he appointed Harry Redknapp but it was too late even for him to save them.
Unfortunately, Rupert Lowe's programme claim that the club's matchday and non matchday hospitality is the envy of many clubs is scant consolation to the fans of a relegated club.
Nor is the growth of the club's radio station or community and educational activities.
This is pretty much typical of how Saints have slid downhill, yet hoped to delude themselves that everything would be all right.
These policies are all commendable but the ones relating to the first team, in particular to squad investment and the appointment of managers, were not.
There is now a queue of people to say 'I told you so' to Lowe but nobody takes any pleasure from it.
He just got it wrong and now the club has been relegated after 27 years of top-flight football.
It was the ultimate price to pay and it's happened.
As for the final nail in the coffin, well hoping to beat Man United on the final day of the season after winning only six league matches all season was a long shot.
After ten minutes there was much hope as Graeme Le Saux's dangerous corner was turned into his own net by John O'Shea under pressure from Nigel Quashie, who showed unbelievable heart as he has since he joined from Portsmouth.
The game was end to end but United always looked like they had gears to spare.
Though Saints were competitive, United's classy frontline and Saints' frail defence looked a problem.
After David Prutton's dangerous cross just eluded Brett Ormerod, United got back on level terms on 19 minutes when Darren Fletcher wasn't tracked running from deep and flicked home O'Shea's cross with a great header.
Redknapp had gambled on playing Ormerod and Henri Camara and playing balls into the corners to try and get them to turn the United defence, a gameplan enforced by the absence of Peter Crouch.
And it seemed to work at times but there was never a huge degree of confidence it would provide a win.
Antti Niemi was kept busy throughout the match, while Saints scrambled an O'Shea effort off the line in the first half.
In the second half United hit cruise control and Saints gave it their all but struggled to get the ball off them.
Ruud van Nistelrooy gave United the lead on 62 minutes when he headed home Alan Smith's stood up cross at the far post.
Saints gave it everything to get another and Camara hit the bar but it wasn't to be.
As the scores filtered through from the other grounds the reality sunk in.
Saints had gone from fourth from bottom after an hour to bottom within the space of a few minutes and life in the Premiership was over.