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Southampton 2 Burnley 2
SOMEHOW the pitch invasion at the end of Saints’ 2-2 draw with Burnley rather summed up not only a woeful season but a miserable few years.
When the final whistle blew for the last time this season at St Mary’s, fans broke through the cordons and ran on to the turf.
Unlike the final game of last season, there were not scenes of celebration.
There were also not scenes of protest.
Instead, everybody looked at each other and wondered why they were there, what to do next and maybe even what they should be feeling.
It was a much more concise summing up of Saints’ predicament than it would be possible to give in any other way.
It was a game, in fact a day, that encapsulated not only this season but the past few years. It is only right to reflect on just why this once great club has fallen so far. But, in among it all, there is the realisation the future starts hereAdam Leitch
This dreadful slide into the third tier of English football for the first time in 49 years has been dramatic from the outside.
But from the inside, for all those those close to the club, it has been in slow motion and has felt almost inevitable.
And it was appropriate that the pitch invasion was in line with the whimper with which Saints bowed out of the Championship.
They went down without any great heart or fight – that had been kicked out of the club and the fans progressively over the past few years.
That is even to the point where, faced with their own club potentially going under, just 23,927 attended.
When they were in the Premiership that would have been unthinkable.
But, as much as this is a time to reflect, it is also a time to look forward.
We should all be grateful that, if this club is bought by a suitable party, then the upward curve of Southampton FC can begin again.
It’s been five years of misery, waiting and waiting for it all to bottom out and, assuming the club is successfully sold, it will have done.
Alright, it will be in League One but hopefully it will be rid of all the major shareholders and characters that have helped to drag it down, intentionally or not.
It’s time to put the past behind us and move on.
Forget the appeal about the points deduction, that’s a waste of time and resources, whether the decision is right or wrong.
This club needs a proper football focus. It needs to become sustainable for the future.
The road back is going to be a long one – starting next season on minus ten means only a one year stay in League One is extremely difficult to imagine.
But this is now about the long term future of the club.
Going down to League One will be painful. However, it does allow the chance to start over, sweeping out all the dead wood in the squad, and building from the bottom up on the principles for which the club was once synonymous.
Of course there is already speculation over who the manager will be and who the players will be.
But in the big picture these things don’t really matter.
The club belongs to the fans. It is they who are left with this shell of a once proud community side, they who have to suffer the ten point deduction and not the ones who caused it but it is also they who will always be there for it and can build it back up again.
Southampton FC has gone through its darkest ever days but, as long as the club’s sale is successful, it has at least gone through them.
And it always needed that to happen for it to rise again.
If the pitch invasion seemed to sum things up, so did the game that preceded it.
Saints played very well indeed, should have easily ran out winners, but instead ended up drawing.
That is the reason why, even without a points deduction, they have been relegated.
You just knew Saints would play well.
The squad has reacted so poorly to even the slightest hint of pressure this season so, now it had been lifted by certain relegation, it was easier to go out and play.
Suddenly the commitment and desire that was so lacking at Sheffield Wednesday last week when the pressure was on came to the fore.
Saints took the lead on 11 minutes when Bradley Wright-Phillips shot across goal took a deflection and looped over the helpless Brian Jensen into the far corner.
Then came two dream chances for Saints to put the game out of sight as first Simon Gillett and then Wright- Phillips got in one-on-one with the keeper only to produce poor finishes and allow Jensen to save.
Having totally dominated the game and not even allowed Burnley a shot, Saints threw their hard work away by conceding a penalty on 32 minutes.
Recent form suggested it would be Jan-Paul Saeijs who gave it away, his third in a few weeks, by tripping Martin Paterson.
Graham Alexander stepped up and blasted the ball down the middle.
But Saints weren’t done for half time and restored their advantage a minute before the break when David McGoldrick tapped in at the far post after Paul Wotton’s header had been brilliantly saved by Jensen.
You knew the writing was on the wall when in first half stoppage time Adam Lallana got through but Jensen got out to save at his feet.
At half-time the St Mary’s crowd were jubilant with the performance of their team. But all those who’d watched Saints all season knew what a 2-1 lead and a host of missed chances would probably mean in the second half.
And so it proved.
As Burnley started to step up the pressure, Kelvin Davis saved well from Chris McCann before Saints threw away what proved to be one final lifeline.
After Jason Euell was fouled as he broke into the box, the referee awarded a penalty which McGoldrick took but saw Jensen save low down to his left.
Just five minutes later it was 2-2.
A left wing corner couldn’t quite be cleared and Clarke Carlisle smashed it home.
Suddenly it was Burnley, who should have been dead and buried, who were rampant.
Jay Rodriguez got through one-onone but looked frightened half to death and didn’t convert before Davis saved well from Robbie Blake and Wade Elliott failed to finish a tough chance at the far post.
Saints huffed and puffed on but they looked like a busted flush.
The final whistle was a merciful end to the meaningful part of the season, but also heralded the chance for the club to start again.
Only by experiencing the lows can you appreciate the highs.
Saints fans should rest assured that when those highs come – and they will – they will feel better than the fans of Manchester United, Liverpool or Chelsea could ever imagine.