Saints often impressed in ’09-10, but never quite looked like pegging back enough of the 10 point deficit to squeeze into a play-off position. However, there was a fabulous day at Wembley – Sunday 28 March – when Saints defeated Carlisle United 4-1 in the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy Final. It was not a planet-footy shattering event, but it gave supporters a memorable day out – particularly those travelling by a hopelessly dysfunctional rail service.
The bottom dropped out of the 2010-11 season before it started. The poor opening was perplexing but the untimely death of Markus Liebherr, which was announced on the Echo website at 6.25pm on Wednesday 11 August, was dismaying. There can be no doubt that his intervention in the Club’s affairs had saved it from, at the very best, a protracted sojourn in the Football League. If one thing had become abundantly clear over the previous three seasons it was that – for all the hyperbole that helped oust Rupert Lowe from the chairmanship – there was no good fairy or fairies around Southampton with the inclination and economic resources to buy Saints, never mind buy Saints back into the Premiership.
Before it was thought tasteful to speculate on the future of the club without Markus Liebherr’s backing Alan Pardew was sacked. His replacement was Scunthorpe United’s manager Nigel Adkins. “Our Nige” won his first game (1-0 at Sheffield Wednesday) at the third attempt. Thereafter Saints rose sedately up the table.
On Tuesday 28 December, prior to taking on third placed Huddersfield Town at St Mary’s, Saints were sitting tenth in League One with 28 points from 19 games. On Saturday 8 January, when Premiership Blackpool hit town for the Third Round of the FA Cup, Saints had 37 points from 22 matches and were in second place, having netted 11 times (and much too cool for Blackpool, who were vanquished 2-0).
Second (to Brighton & Hove Albion) was where they finished the season. As fans and pundits bandied such words as “consolidation” Saints partook in three, seemingly, significant transfer dealings. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain followed Theo Walcott to Arsenal and Jack Cork (a loanee during season ’08-09) and Steve De Ridder were added to the squad.
The predictable choruses of “No ambition!” and “Manager: out of his depth!” Were soon echoing around pubs, clubs and fansites. Saints opened the season with a 3-1 home win over Leeds United, putting them in second place. That was Saints’ lowest placing all season. It was, indeed, their final placing.
Being pipped for the title by Reading was manfully born. Consecutive promotions was a fabulous achievement by any reckoning.
The first home match under Markus Liebherr’s ownership, a 2-2 draw with Millwall
Bristol Rover’s number 9 Rickie Lambert, was allocated the talismanic – for Saints – number 7 shirt on signing in time for a home League Cup tie against Northampton Town. He scored in the 2-0 victory.
Adam Lallana, Morgan Schneiderlin and Kelvin Davis, all part of the side relegated from the Championship in 2009, who played key roles in returning Saints to the Premiership in 2012.
José Fonte and Guly do Prado in their League One pomp.