There was an unusual quiet around the Southampton squad ahead of the final game of the 2011/12 season. Sitting second in the Championship, the mood was naturally confident. But everyone knew this preparation was different from the norm.

A win would guarantee promotion to the Premier League and cement the legacy of one of the greatest teams in Saints history. What was at stake? Something the city would remember forever.

READ MORE: Relive Saints' promotion with the players and coaches who made it possible

Nobody really wanted to talk about the magnitude of the occasion but everyone was aware. 

A win the weekend prior at Middlesbrough would have sealed the job but a 2-1 defeat ensured things dragged on. The following Monday, the players and their families gathered at club captain and goalkeeper Kelvin Davis’ house to watch West Ham play Leicester - knowing a Hammers defeat would be enough to see Saints up.

Davis had stocked up on champagne for a best case scenario. But once again, it didn’t happen - West Ham coming from behind to win 2-1 and keep things going for a few more days.

That left it in the hands of Southampton on the final day of the season. Three points against already relegated Coventry was what separated this special team from the Premier League and immortal status in the annals of Saints history.

Daily Echo: Lambert is mobbed on by Saints fans after securing promotion to the Premier League.Lambert is mobbed on by Saints fans after securing promotion to the Premier League.

“We were just trying to stay calm,” midfielder and captain Dean Hammond says looking back at the build-up to the promotion-decider. “We knew we would never have a better opportunity to get promoted. But it was an interesting build-up to the week, we actually trained at the stadium, instead of the training ground.”

“We did try to keep the pressure off,” assistant manager Andy Crosby says of how Nigel Adkins and the coaching staff approached the historic day. “No one at the start of the season would have expected a promoted team from League One to be challenging for the Premier League. So we did try to keep the pressure off, we tried to keep calm and remind everyone what good players they were individually and what a good team we were.”

This wasn’t a good team. This was a great team. This was one of the best teams to ever grace the Championship. 

Still, in one game, anything can happen. As Kelvin Davis says, “there was a tense atmosphere at the beginning because we still had to win the game. You were always concerned that if they got an early goal it could be a different day for us.”

Any of the limited conversation - whispers let’s say - in the week leading up to Coventry’s arrival on the South Coast was about one thing: getting off to a good start. 

“At home, we knew we’d have most of the possession of the ball, we knew we’d create opportunities and it was just about taking them,” Billy Sharp said.

Despite some early opposition pressure, they did exactly that. The now-Sheffield United striker, who only arrived at the end of January, touched Adam Lallana’s shot into the roof of the net to ignite the emotionally brimming St Mary’s.

“The place erupted,” Hammond recalls with a giant smile on his face.

Daily Echo: Billy Sharp celebrates Saints' first goal. Image by: PABilly Sharp celebrates Saints' first goal. Image by: PA

“Lallana hit it and I got a little flick,” Sharp recalls. “That was some feeling because the jubilation on the pitch afterwards was…memories forever.

“When we got the goal, you could see the relief on everyone’s faces and the fans started to sing a lot more, it wasn’t edgy in the stadium, they could start to enjoy it and we were certainly enjoying it when we were two and three-nil up, passing it around, knowing we had promotion in the bag.”

Amongst any nerves and apprehension, there was at least one player who didn’t feel any of that ahead of kick-off.

“Not nervous, just looking forward to it actually!” Jose Fonte chuckles. “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.”

After scoring seven times the previous campaign, Fonte hadn’t managed a single goal in the Championship. That was until the coolest man in the building stepped up (or rather stooped low) to direct a diving header in for 2-0 just three minutes after Sharp’s opener.

“Incredible,” Fonte says. “I’d waited the whole year to score a goal and in the end, it came when the moment was needed. So I was happy with that, I was happy I could help the team and we could achieve what we wanted to achieve.”

Daily Echo: Fonte celebrates with his teammates after scoring to make it 2-0. Image by: PAFonte celebrates with his teammates after scoring to make it 2-0. Image by: PA

With less than 20 minutes on the clock, the game was almost certainly over.

Hammond adds: “I remember when we were celebrating, probably over celebrating the first goal, Nigel was trying to keep us calm and get us back and say ‘look there's a long way to go yet’. Then we got the second goal, celebrating even more, Nigel again trying to calm us down. 

“You're trying to just stay in the moment and not get too carried away. But it was very difficult because we were so close to achieving something amazing.”

How could anyone involved not get carried away? Fans, players and coaches alike. This was a club that had been in the depths of administration three years earlier. Now, they were on the brink of the summit.

“The supporters deserved it,” goalkeeping coach Jim Stannard says. “Southampton in the years before that had had relegations and points deductions. And all of a sudden a few years later, you’re getting promoted to the Premier League. I remember going out that night in the city and it was unbelievable. Southampton supporters were fantastic.”

Saints' rise up the divisions was a football fairytale following a horrifc nightmare and thankfully, there was to be no last-minute twists.

Taking the two-goal lead into half-time, Saints came out and added a third just before the hour mark through Jos Hooiveld. 

“This was the moment that sealed promotion - that was the feeling everyone had,” Hooiveld says of his goal. “We knew the game was done, we don’t have to worry anymore, we’re up!”

Daily Echo: Hooiveld hoisted into the air by Saints fans at full-time.Hooiveld hoisted into the air by Saints fans at full-time.

It was over. This team wasn’t going to let a 3-0 lead slip. There was still 30 minutes left to play but that was purely a formality: these were Premier League players and this was once again a Premier League club.

“I didn’t realise it was 30 minutes - that’s news to me!” Davis laughs. “It certainly didn’t feel it! You can start to relax and enjoy it. And with the experience I had at the time, I was able to actually soak it up a little bit in front of the ‘home end’ if you like in the second half and listen to the crowd singing and asking me what the score was…quite a nice moment. When you’re on the pitch, you’re kind of in a different world and it was certainly a special place to be.”

“At 3-0 I was looking around thinking to myself ‘oh my god, I’m going to be a Premier League player,’” Rickie Lambert remembers. “And it was just sinking in. It was emotional, it was too much to take in.”

Of course, that wasn’t the end of it - because this Saints team always had more. Davis explains that they wanted to get Adam Lallana to the mark of 20 goals and assists and he was sat on 19 (10 goals and 9 assists). Four minutes after Hooiveld’s clincher, Lallana added a fourth - taking his tally to 11 and 9 - and if it wasn’t over before (it was) it certainly was now.

“I didn’t really train much during the week because I was carrying an injury,” Lallana explains. “But I was going to play no matter what. I got out there, we scored a couple of early goals and then I scored the last one. It was a special feeling, the icing on the cake really, to score the last goal in the promotion push. And it was a little bit of relief really because at 4-0 you know you’re home and dry.”

Daily Echo: Lallana is chased by joyous teammates as he celebrates making it 4-0. Image by: PALallana is chased by joyous teammates as he celebrates making it 4-0. Image by: PA

“It was amazing,” left back Dan Harding says. “There’s not many times in anyone’s career where you can just fully enjoy it but we were 4-0 up, promoted, it was impossible for anything to go wrong so you can just 100% be in the moment - it was special.”

The final half an hour was purely the start of a magical and extended celebration. At the final whistle all mayhem broke out - in the best possible way - as Saints fans flooded the pitch to celebrate.

We sat down with a dozen players and staff to talk about the emotional moment when Southampton officially returned to the Premier League. Click on the cards below to see what each member of the squad had to say…

A huge thanks is owed to Dean Hammond, Rickie Lambert, Nigel Adkins, Jos Hooiveld, Jose Fonte, Billy Sharp, Andy Crosby, Dan Harding, Jim Stannard, Kelvin Davis, Adam Lallana, and Dean Wilkins.

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