Ahead of their penultimate match of the 2010/11 League One campaign, the Southampton players came to an agreement with Chairman Nicola Cortese.

If they got over the line and confirmed promotion to the Championship, he would pay for a celebratory trip to Las Vegas.

A couple weeks later they were of course in the sunshine of the American southwest, promotion secured after 3-1 victories against Plymouth and Walsall.

READ MORE: 'Beyond dreams' - Lambert's St Mary's journey through 10 defining goals

While at their hotel in Vegas, the Saints players stumbled on a peculiar coincidence - the Norwich City squad, themselves celebrating promotion to the Premier League after achieving back-to-back successes from League One.

Call it a sign, an omen or something else, it did the trick. The chance encounter stirred something in this already ridiculously ambitious set of players. If Norwich did it, why couldn’t they? 

READ MORE: Saintsplus - subscribe for £1 for the first month

In truth, this group didn’t need any extra motivation. Really, they were just looking for anything to add to their budding confidence and belief.

Something was brewing, something very special - and both consciously and subsciously - everyone at the club knew it.

Daily Echo: Saints fans invade the pitch after confirming promotion to the Premier League. Image by: PASaints fans invade the pitch after confirming promotion to the Premier League. Image by: PA

Returning for preseason ahead of the Championship campaign, Nigel Adkins stirred things further in his first team meeting of the year. There was only one target: promotion.

“Good people,” is Adkins assessment on how Saints’ managed back-to-back promotions. “It was just a special time with a special group of people. Everybody just working together. It was a privilege to be the manager.”

This might sound simplistic but it’s what he and seemingly everyone associated with Saints’ rise up the divisions genuinely believes.

This is a story of perseverance, grit and buckets of talent. But ultimately, above all, this is a story of a good group of people converging at the right time and with the right city to do something close to impossible and undeniably epic.

Told by those at the centre of it all, this is the story of Saints’ 2011/12 season ten years on: a dream that actually came true.


Summer 2011 with First Team Coach Dean Wilkins

Daily Echo:

Just days before Saints welcomed Leeds United to St Mary’s for the opening game of the 2011/12 season, Adam Lallana met with First Team Coach Dean Wilkins on behalf of a concerned cross-section of the squad.

Preseason was over and each player had only played one full 90 minute match. Lallana was afraid they weren’t physically ready.

Wilkins and Strength and Conditioning Coach Nick Harvy took the midfielder into a meeting room where they showed him all the physical stats from training - data that explained just how fit this team was.

“We were overloading the players within a shorter period of time,” Wilkins explains. “The data gave him great reassurance: ‘there’s no panic here, you guys are in excellent shape.’ The physical stats for that team were incredible - they were so fit. 

Daily Echo: Jack Cork in action for Saints against Werder Bremen in preseason. Image by: PAJack Cork in action for Saints against Werder Bremen in preseason. Image by: PA

“We were very much logical-based in the way we worked. But there were lots of meetings explaining why we were doing things. It gives everybody confidence in the work you’re doing: and that’s what I think that squad had - a belief that the work would benefit everyone individually and collectively.”

A preseason that took Saints to Switzerland before returning to St Mary’s, saw Nigel Adkins’ side win just one of their six warm-up games

“You’re conscious of it because you know that it can affect confidence if you allow it to,” Wilkins says. “I think that’s what probably prompted Adam to come in and speak to us. But the fact he came to us was a sign that the environment we’d created was one where players felt at ease in expressing their opinion - that was really important. We were all in it to achieve the same goal: promotion to the Premier League.”


Southampton 3-1 Leeds United, August 6th 2011 with Midfielder and Captain Dean Hammond

Daily Echo:

“We felt good, but obviously, we didn't know,” Dean Hammond says of the mood around the Saints squad ahead of their opening Championship clash. “We'd just been promoted and we were playing against an experienced team in Leeds who were probably one of the favourites to go up. 

“We had a really fit group. We'd made some good signings during the summer and we'd been able to keep the majority of the squad together. So there was a good understanding, a good hunger between the players - there really was to achieve something. The target at the beginning of the season was promotion.”

It took them just ten minutes for Saints to show why their confidence was completely warranted. Hammond collected the ball from Adam Lallana before striding forward and smashing into the bottom corner from 25 yards.

“Fantastic moment, I didn't score that many goals!” Hammond laughs. “So I enjoyed it. Why I hit it from that distance with my weaker foot, I'm still not sure. But I drove forward a bit and struck it. It just felt right. And if I'm honest, as soon as I hit it, I thought it had a chance. And then to see it going into that bottom corner and be able to celebrate in front of the fans, with the players. It was a great start.

Daily Echo: Saints fans celebrate the 3-1 win against Leeds. Image by: Chris MoorhouseSaints fans celebrate the 3-1 win against Leeds. Image by: Chris Moorhouse

“In that first half, we played with such a high intensity and tempo that we probably caught Leeds by surprise, if I'm honest. We were really fit and strong. We had some really talented players within the group but we were very fit and very strong. And we just out-ran them. We were a hungry group.”

Lallana added a brilliantly taken second in the 25th minute and Saints missed a number of presentable chances before David Connolly finished things off seven minutes after half-time with a well-placed finish from the edge of the box.

“A sunny day at St Mary's, a brilliant atmosphere,” Hammond beams. “I always say it's a special place to play - St. Mary's - and the home fans, it gave them something to smile about. It was just a perfect start.

“We knew it was going to be a challenge. But to win your first home game and to be that dominant and that convincing, it did give us belief. The next game we went away to Barnsley and won 1-0, where we actually played really well again. 

“Then we played Ipswich and won 5-2 which was probably one of the best performances of the season. So within 10 days, we had won three games in the Championship very convincingly against good teams. And it just gave us that belief to think, ‘Okay, we could do something here.’ And we just kept building on the momentum.”


Southampton 3-2 Nottingham Forest, September 10th 2011 with Striker Rickie Lambert

Daily Echo:

After a fourth win on the spin - 1-0 against Millwall - Saints suffered their first setback to close out the month - a 3-2 defeat at Leicester City.

Finally two weeks later, following the international break, Saints were given their first chance to bounce back from adversity. Momentum seemed to be moving against them when visiting Nottingham Forest took a 7th minute lead before Rickie Lambert scored moments later and again after 25 minutes to put Saints ahead.

But just before the break, Forest made it 2-2 and despite significant huff and puff, Saints could not seem to find the winner in the second half.

That was until Rickie Lambert threw himself at Danny Fox’s free-kick with eight minutes of normal time remaining. The ball smacked off the underside of the bar and a few yards over the line to cue the kind of scenes that would become so common.

“It kind of did go stale and didn’t really look like we were going to score,” Lambert recalls. “So when that went in it was a massive relief, the emotion that we got - back in front. 

“The three goals, the average distance must have been about three yards! I’ve never scored a hat-trick like that before! But it was a very important result.

“My favourite one was the second one - David Connolly flicks it on and I know I’m going to clatter into the defender and the keeper. But my desire to score was there to see because after I scored I clattered right into them! I really enjoyed that goal!

Daily Echo: Lambert celebrates scoring against Forest.Lambert celebrates scoring against Forest.

“The most important one was the winning goal, last few minutes, getting my head on it. It’s funny because it was kind of at the back of my head. So I didn’t know where it went, I was just thinking ‘I hope that’s on target!’. Then I saw it bounce over the line and that’s when you see me turn around and jump over the advertising boards and celebrate with the fans.”

Saints didn’t get knocked down often over the course of their two promotion seasons - they tended to be the bullies knocking others over. But whenever they faltered, they hit back with a vengeance.

“Without a doubt that was one of our major character traits: we kept going, we backed each other and whether we were 1-0 down, 2-0 down, we always thought we had a chance to get back in it. I can remember plenty of games like that. We had a belief that we could keep going right till the very end and either get the draw or get the win.

“It was a great moment - I remember being a little bit frustrated because they played really well. It was all highs up until then and if we’d drawn that game we might have dropped out of the top two. But that goal kept us in the top two and pushed our confidence onto the next level for the next game. 

“This set my confidence through the roof. My confidence was already high, I was in the best physical condition of my whole career so after this hat-trick as you can imagine I was just on cloud nine. I just couldn’t wait to play the next game and every game I knew I was going to score.”

Lambert went on to add another three hat-tricks to his haul that season as Saints did indeed remain in the top two - right until the end.


Reading 1-1 Southampton, October 22 2011 with Assistant Manager Andy Crosby

Daily Echo:

After winning seven of their first 11 Championship matches - enough for top spot - Southampton ran into a heavyweight gauntlet the fixture list had thrown up.

First, West Ham came to St Mary’s before Saints headed to Berkshire to face Reading four days later. The two other challengers for automatic promotion - all in one seismic week.

“The West Ham game - a team that had just been relegated from the Premier League, had Premier League players, a Premier League manager - we won that from a Jos Hooiveld header. A tight game, two teams that were obviously very competitive.

“And then we went to Reading on the Saturday and…didn’t play particularly well. Reading were the better team on the day and they got themselves in front. But we had real good impact from the bench - Steve De Ridder came on and scored towards the end of the game.”

On a cold Saturday evening, Reading controlled the match and eventually got their noses in front after 71 minutes. Things went from bad to worse for Southampton five minutes later when Dean Hammond was given his marching orders.

But up stepped De Ridder - only on as a 64th-minute sub - to drive away from a Reading defender and smash home with a touch off the crossbar. 

Daily Echo: De Ridder celebrates his goal at Reading. Image by: Chris MoorhouseDe Ridder celebrates his goal at Reading. Image by: Chris Moorhouse

“You have to find different ways to get results. You can’t always rely on your technical ability over a 46 game season,” Crosby says.

“Over a 46 game season, every player being on top of their game and playing really well technically - probably happens about five or six times. Some days you might have to rely on five players playing well technically and the other six are just going to have to dog around and work and run and block crosses and shots. And that’s the reality of a 46 game season, playing every three days.

“You’re not always at your best, you’re not always fresh. Sometimes you’re carrying injuries and key players are missing and others have to step up and that’s what that group of players did.”

De Ridder was a clear example of this team ethos. The Belgian played a total of 37 times in the Championship - just five from the start. Yet, he was ready to make a difference when called upon.

“We had a really good culture, a really good environment for the players to come in, they wanted to work hard, they had a great spirit and togetherness and whoever played - because it wasn’t the same team every week - came in and did a fantastic job.

“That was a group of players who spent a lot of time together away from the training ground as well, all of a similar age, their wives were close. I think when you’ve got all those ingredients and you’ve got a bond with each and every player - they know their teammates are doing everything they possibly can. They were prepared to work and run for each other, that spreads around and each player buys into it and it gives you a really good chance of success.”


Southampton 2-1 Hull City, November 29 2011 with Midfielder Adam Lallana

Daily Echo:

The Championship is absolutely relentless. 46 games spread across 37 weeks - a number of those international breaks. As soon as one game ends, the next arrives. 

The word Lallana uses is a “slog”. That applies to even the most joyful of teams. November ended with one of those weeks.

A trip to lowly Bristol City on the Saturday ended in a 2-0 defeat before they were back in action three days later when Hull City arrived on the South Coast. A dull half ended with Robert Koren giving the Tigers a shock lead.

Lallana remembers the evening vividly.

“That was a hugely important result. We were 1-0 down, it was a bit of a flat game - midweek - coming off the back of the Bristol City loss so it was a big 10/15 minutes for us and just a big momentum shift on a cold night in the middle of the week.”

Guly Do Prado erased the deficit two minutes after the break before Lallana darted to the front post and connected with a pinpoint cross in the 55th minute.

Daily Echo: Adam Lallana in action for Southampton in the 11/12 season. Image by: PAAdam Lallana in action for Southampton in the 11/12 season. Image by: PA

“Frazer Richardson whipped the ball in and I just remember making a good run to the front post and like a poacher out of nowhere, scoring with my head! It felt good and I remember it was a big win. It gave us a good bit of momentum and kept our promotion push moving forward.

“It’s always nice to score the pivotal goal but it was all about the team. It didn’t matter who scored, it was just about the team and getting the three points - whatever it takes.”

Of their 27 victories that season, a whopping nine came by three goals or more. But Southampton also won seven by just one solitary goal.

“Sometimes you have to grind out results and we did,” Lallana says. “We had enough men in the team, enough experience to know what was required and it just felt like a couple of big players coming up with a couple of big moments to keep the momentum going.

“Sometimes it’s not always pretty, it’s about getting it done. We had a team that knew that and understood that.”


Southampton 2-2 Blackpool, December 10th 2011 with Goalkeeping Coach Jim Stannard

Daily Echo:

Saints started the final month of 2011 in the worst way possible, falling 1-0 to struggling Doncaster Rovers.

Potentially even more worrying, injuries were starting to hit some of the team’s biggest names. Lambert missed the defeat to Doncaster and when Saints were back in action one week later, Kelvin Davis was absent against Blackpool due to a calf problem.

In his place, 24-year-old deputy Bartosz Bialkowski made his first and only Championship start of the season.

A deflected strike from the returning Lambert gave Saints the lead on the half-hour mark, but Blackpool pegged them back six minutes later. Shortly after half-time disaster struck when a tame Callum McManaman effort squirmed through Bialkowski’s hands and into the back of the net.

There’s a mantra Nigel Adkins lives and coaches by: ‘the blue line.’ After every game, mistakes must be addressed but as soon as the conversation happens - the blue line is crossed - and the moment to forget is forgotten.

That’s how the entire coaching staff - and club - operated.

Daily Echo: Bialkowski reacts to his mistake against Blackpool. Image by: PABialkowski reacts to his mistake against Blackpool. Image by: PA

“At the end of the game I used to sit down with Kelvin and Bart, we’d look at the laptop, look at the mistakes, where should we have done better?” Jim Stannard says. “My job as a goalkeeping coach is to lift them and make sure they become stronger for it. Bart is playing for Millwall now and doing a fantastic job.

“When you get promoted at any level, it’s not just the 11 players on the pitch, it’s the whole squad. At that time, Bart and other players not in the team, their attitude was spot on. Bart always had a smile on his face, he worked hard every day, he pushed Kelvin every day.

“For Bart I’m very pleased and going back to Kelvin, the guy was just a legend. His attitude, his work rate, his experience. And I think Southampton got that from him - steady, cool head at the back, fantastic for the club.” 

While Bialkowski no doubt felt the pain of the mistake, Saints rallied as they always seemed to do. In the 93rd minute, Lambert scored his second of the afternoon to rescue a point and avoid back-to-back defeats.

“This was a team that never gave up. They never gave in - that fighting spirit,” Stannard recalls. “It’s the mental strength of the team, of the players. Sometimes when you’re losing you have to find a way to get back into a game. When you’re not having a great time, good teams find a way. 

“Good players and good teams always find a way. And that particular season, whenever we felt we were struggling, we found a way. That’s what good teams do. Games like that are defining moments.”


Nottingham Forest 0-3 Southampton, January 14 2012 With left-back Dan Harding

Daily Echo:

Dan Harding started 35 games in Southampton’s triumphant 2010/11 League One campaign. But Danny Fox arrived in the summer and that number dropped to 12.

It says a lot about the culture of this historic team that the left-back not only understood but relished the challenge saying the club “brought in the right players at the right time to keep everyone on their toes.” Harding, whenever called upon, was on his toes - ready.

After a rough end to the festive period that saw Southampton lose back-to-back games for the first and only time all season - including a 3-0 defeat at Brighton - Harding was brought into the side to play right-back at Nottingham Forest.

“As a footballer, you just want to play. So if the manager asked me to fill in at a position, I was more than happy to do that. Especially with that team, you just wanted to be on the pitch - you just wanted to be a part of it because you knew you were surrounded by such special players. 

“Maybe playing slightly out of position was something I could help the team with - and you could ask any of those guys, one of the main things about that group was that there were no egos. We all wanted to help each other and achieve what we wanted to achieve.

Daily Echo: David Connolly celebrates his goal at Nottingham Forest. Image by: PADavid Connolly celebrates his goal at Nottingham Forest. Image by: PA

“Losing any game 3-0, especially to Brighton who were quite close rivals, is never nice but it shows the mentality of the group - to have a bad result and be able to turn it around. Because two losses can very easily turn into three, four and you lose your momentum. But we had great characters and strong mentalities, the older pros like Kelvin Davis, they just wouldn’t have allowed that to happen.”

It’s the attacking side of this Saints team that often gets remembered most distinctly. But this was the ultimate team effort and Southampton kept 18 clean sheets on their road to promotion.

“We had a defensive coach that came in - Wally Downes. And one thing he used to say was that goals win games but clean sheets win titles. That’s the mentality we had - if we could keep clean sheets we knew we would go on to do something quite special because we knew if those boys got half a chance they would score.

“That mentality gave us as a defensive unit such confidence. It was a massive psychological thing for us. As a defensive unit, we were happy to let those guys take the plaudits because we knew we could go on to achieve something special together.”

Just past the hour mark, Harding got the ball on the right side, cut onto his stronger left foot and curled a cross into the box. A well-timed deflection took it right into the path of David Connolly who made it 2-0 to all-but end the game before Morgan Schneiderlin added a third with 11 minutes to go.

Missing talisman Rickie Lambert as he served a ban for getting sent off in the defeat at Brighton, Southampton didn’t just recover from their recent defeats; they roared back like the steamroller they were.

“What I find quite funny…” Harding chuckles. “...is if you watch Man United or Chelsea now, these are some of the biggest teams in the world yet if one of their players goes down injured, they don’t have someone to fill that void. Whereas I felt like little Southampton in League One and the Championship, if one of our main players was injured, no problem. Someone can step in and do just as good a job.

“There were special special talents in that changing room and not just one or two. And to have that mentality - no egos - with such amazing players was something special.”


West Ham 1-1 Southampton, February 14th 2012 With centre-back Jos Hooiveld

Daily Echo:

No one scored more than Southampton’s 85 goals over the course of the Championship season. Goals came from everywhere including a remarkable seven from centre-back Jos Hooiveld.

Two of those occured in the two games against eventual third-place West Ham - two goals that in all likelihood denied the Hammers automatic promotion.

So which one was more important? The header to beat them in October or the late equaliser in March?

“In the end…both,” Hooiveld laughs after a long pause. “Because if I didn’t score the first one we would have ended up in a draw and if I didn’t score the second one we would have lost. But maybe the second one because we would’ve given them the extra points.”

Saints went into their mid-February date with West Ham on something of a slide. They’d beaten Burnley 72 hours earlier but that was just the second of two wins in their previous seven games.

“You know it’s a big game,” Hooiveld says of how he and the team approached the visit to Upton Park. “And you know you need to bring your A-game. Before we played maybe the…easier ones…and didn’t get the result, so your motivation goes up to perform in the big games where you can flush the whole bad feeling away from the ones before.”

In a supremely scrappy affair Matty Taylor was sent off in a scuffle after West Ham were awarded a penalty early on. But it seemed it would be more disappointment for Saints when Mark Noble converted from the spot and the ten-man hosts held the lead heading into the final 15 minutes.

Daily Echo: Hooiveld equalises for Saints at Upton Park. Image by: PAHooiveld equalises for Saints at Upton Park. Image by: PA

“It was a tough game with a lot of frustrations over how we played and how they played,” Hooiveld recalls. “They did everything to disorganise us. It was one of those nasty games - a lot of talking, a lot of free-kicks…a dirty game.”

Fortunately, while this Saints team will be remembered for some of the most swashbuckling football ever seen in the second tier, they could also get ugly when needed.

“It was just a hard game, the ball didn’t want to go in. We didn’t have too many chances and when the free-kick came, I didn’t even want to go up for it. But then I thought ‘come on man, we’re 1-0 down, let’s see what we can get out of it.’

“(Danny Fox) Foxy put it high and long, Rickie Lambert took it down on his chest and played it to me and I just got in front of my man and tapped it in with my left outside foot.”

It was another great night in a season full of them. West Ham finished just two points behind Southampton and while there are dozens of ‘defining’ moments the importance of this one wasn’t lost on anyone.

“It was one of those important things, because we took the points away from them,” Hooiveld says. “That was maybe the most important thing that happened. We were fighting for second place with them and as long as you can take points away it’s huge.

“That was one of those moments where we really thought ‘we’ve gone this far, had a bit of luck, now it’s time to push on.’”

And push on they did…


Leeds United 0-1 Southampton, March 3 2012 With Goalkeeper and Club Captain Kelvin Davis

Daily Echo:

Amongst the many great team and individual performances of this epic season, there’s one that seems to be mentioned by players and coaches more than any other: Kelvin Davis’ near-impossible rearguard at Elland Road.

How often do you see a goalkeeper mobbed by his celebratory teammates' other than after penalties? Well, when referee Nigel Miller called time on a game Saints somehow won, every player went over to the goalkeeper.

“The last action of the game was a goal-mouth scramble,” Davis recalls. “Everybody was putting their bodies on the line, Jos Hooiveld was on the floor making blocked challenges, everybody got to the line. When the final whistle went, it was a great moment for all of us. It felt like all 22 players were in the box at the time. It was great to have that kind of togetherness - that feeling as soon as the final whistle goes.”

On a warm March evening that signalled the impending arrival of summer - and the climax of the season - Leeds virtually camped out in Saints’ box for the full 90 minutes. But Rickie Lambert’s 20th league goal in the 16th minute proved enough, thanks to some terrific last-ditch defending and a catalogue of world-class saves from Davis.

Daily Echo: Davis mobbed by his teammates after victory in Leeds. Image by: PADavis mobbed by his teammates after victory in Leeds. Image by: PA

“In anyone’s career you search for the perfect game and you don’t have many - you really don’t. That was probably up there in my top three performances in my career - for that reason - for the 1-0 win and for having so much to do in the game and feeling like you’re contributing to that win. 

“Ultimately, to go on and get promotion on the back of performances like that - it sticks in your memory. The team we had at the time, the whole group, where the club was at the time, it was just a fantastic evening. To go to Leeds needing the win to stay in the top two, so close to the end of the season, it was great for the club.”

Picking a best save from the bunch is no easy feat, but one from the second half does stick out. Davis came for a cross and failed to get much on it. An open goal beckoned for Leeds striker Luciano Becchio and he made no mistake, directing his effort on target. 1-1. Nope. Out of nowhere, Davis dove backwards and clawed it away before punching the second ball clear.

It was one of those moments: the kind that doesn't get forgotten.

“I’d probably use the terminology ‘hail mary’ - I just thought ‘I’ll throw myself at it’ and hope it doesn't go in. And for it to come off my arm and stay out and then we end up keeping a clean sheet off the back of it, that was probably the save of the game for me.

“The football gods were in our favour and fortunately we had a goalscoring Rickie Lambert, a defending team and to contribute myself…it’s a game that will stick long in the memory.

“Everybody was obviously delighted - there was a real buzz in the changing room, I got man of the match and got presented with a bottle of champagne which I gave to the goalie coach. We were already preparing for our next game so I didn’t get to drink it! But I think there was a genuine feeling that it was a big evening in our promotion push.”


Peterborough United 1-3 Southampton, April 17 2012 With Striker Billy Sharp

Daily Echo:

Billy Sharp scored eight goals in Saints’ final eight games to help take them over the line to the Premier League but there’s a chance he wouldn’t have even arrived without another strike in December - one to beat Southampton for Doncaster.

Saints had tried to sign Sharp in the summer but he chose to stay at Donny while recovering from a serious injury. But they would return.

“When I scored against Southampton, I knew I was edging closer to going there," Sharp says. "I knew Nigel really wanted me and I’d made my mind up that I wanted to go to Southampton."

In October of 2011, tragedy struck the Sharp family when son Luey passed away just two days after his birth. Three months later, Billy moved away from home for the first time in his life - something he says was probably the “right time for a fresh start.”

“I didn’t know anybody but the lads were really welcoming. That’s what happens with promotion teams - you have a good dressing room, a good environment and people are all pulling in the same direction. I just wanted to be a piece of that jigsaw and help get them over the line. And I feel as though I did that and I feel as though Southampton fans appreciate what I did.”

Shocked by the intensity and fitness of his new team, Sharp scored on his debut against Burnley but was withdrawn at half-time of the 4-0 thumping of Derby a fortnight later. 

“Nigel sat me down and said ‘look let’s get you up to speed with a personal fitness programme.’ I had a few personal problems in my life and I wasn’t at my peak fitness. I trained hard with the fitness coach and he helped me get back in the team.

After more than a month on the outside, Sharp returned to the starting XI against his former club Doncaster in mid-March and scored the only two goals of the game. Two weeks later, he notched another brace against Portsmouth in a memorable 2-2 draw.

A win against Crystal Palace set up a virtual title-decider against Reading - but a 3-1 defeat saw that dream die. Meanwhile, West Ham were continuing to chase Adkins’ side with just weeks to go.

Up next, a Tuesday night in Peterborough.

Daily Echo: Sharp wheels away after scoring his side's third goal at Peterborough. Image by: PASharp wheels away after scoring his side's third goal at Peterborough. Image by: PA

“The Reading game was a big blow because we wanted to win the title. It was about bouncing back - we had West Ham breathing down our necks - and we had to forget about Reading and put in a performance and get a result - which we did. Quality got us over the line. We played so well that night.”

After ten minutes at London Stadium, Saints were 2-0 up, Jos Hooiveld getting the first before Sharp doubled the advantage. Sharp scored again in the 57th minute and although Peterborough managed a late consolation there was no stopping Southampton from taking another big three points.

“Southampton didn’t have many setbacks that season but to have one against a rival so late on, it could have gone horribly wrong. But we managed to keep our heads and get over the line in the end. 

“To be part of that squad, scoring goals, making memories together - the Portsmouth game, the Peterborough game, the Coventry game on the last day - some unbelievable memories to cherish.”

The Final Day

Southampton 4-0 Coventry, April 28 2012 With Centre back Jose Fonte

Daily Echo:

Guess how many goals Jose Fonte scored in Saints’ victorious League One campaign?


Guess how many he scored in the Championship?


But that one - oh that glorious one - was absolutely massive.

An extended build-up to the game finally ended when Anthony Taylor kicked things off at 12:30PM on Saturday, April 28th, 2012.

Facing already-relegated Coventry, any lasting nerves were destroyed within 20 minutes. Billy Sharp got a touch on Adam Lallana’s vicious drive to make it 1-0 before Saints won a corner shortly after.

“It was just a nice diving header," Fonte says of his goal to make it 2-0. "Incredible because I’d waited the whole year to score a goal. I wasn’t able to score in the Championship but in the end, it came when the moment was needed. I was just happy I could help the team and we could achieve what we wanted to achieve. 

Daily Echo: Saints celebrate Fonte's goal against Coventry. Image by: PASaints celebrate Fonte's goal against Coventry. Image by: PA

Some were nervous ahead of the promotion-decider, but not Fonte: “I was just anxious for the game to start,” he laughs. 

“If you look back - with the quality we had, the run we’d been on, the confidence we had in the team - it can only put you in that place of believing we are going to do it. We were playing at home in front of our fans and we just wanted to get it done and start the party.”

Blessed with ridiculous talent and a bond that each and every player admits is rare, this epic promotion could almost seem easy to those on the outside. But it took incredible sacrifice and determination - Fonte being a prime example of that.

“It was a difficult season for me, personally. I broke two toes quite early and I had to play the final 15 games with two broken toes and injections before the games. I couldn’t really train much, I was just doing the bicycle during the week and then one hour before the game I would get the injection and play. 

“Then after the game, ice bucket on my feet and I couldn’t walk for the next two or three days. It was quite hard, but I just had to do it. I had to do it because I wanted to be part of the team until the end and help the team.

“That was the spirit of the team. The togetherness was incredible, we were very close to each other and when you have a group of players like that…it was just incredible and I’m just very pleased I was a part of it.”

“I’m honoured and proud to have played for the club. Ten years go by quickly, it feels like it was yesterday. Southampton is a great club and I’m just proud I was part of that story.”

Click here to read more on an epic final day of Saints' 2011/12 promotion campaign...

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